How to Shape, Manage, and Control Your Business Information: Tips for Using E-Forms Effectively

The ancient Greek philosopher Plato viewed everything as a form, and every form as an ideal version of an object. His notions hold true with an increasingly popular business tool: electronic forms (eforms), which allow organizations to stipulate the ideal form for content so it enters their organizations as consistent, desirable, and ready to use. (Had Plato lived to see eforms, I think he would have approved.)

To generate desired efficiencies, electronic forms demand meticulous attention to detail. Each form must shape the content it captures to maximize meaning and usefulness for those who rely on it. When they’re well designed, forms gather quality content and use it intelligently. Built-in controls provide tools to capture and make meaningful information useful wherever it has value. This article will help you understand considerations in designing and using online forms so they will supply the control, compliance, and results you’re looking for.
The basics

Web-based forms that are part of an integrated document and process management system ensure:

* Form content is standardized, consistent, and complete
* Content is available and searchable within moments of creation
* Forms can be accessed, amended, routed, and submitted securely from anywhere, anytime
* Authorized persons can view, edit, and delete forms and their content
* Audit trails of content creation, access, and transactional use are always available, allowing quick response to reviews, reporting requirements, litigation, etc.

In essence, eForms make your people more productive, efficient, and compliant.
What eForms provide that paper forms don’t

If you think you can just scan your paper forms and forego this article, you’re right…and wrong. Scanning paper is a big step forward. However, creating content digitally – rather than scanning the paper later – renders significant added controls:

* increasing the probability of productive search;
* promoting quick completion of collaborative forms;
* making submitted content available instantly;
* enforcing governance policies; and
* promoting significant cost savings (no paper).

Creating eforms isn’t difficult, but reaping the rewards requires more than replicating paper forms. If you plan to automate processing using eforms – a huge benefit — you need to don your thinking cap before you start designing. Here are some standard steps for eforms projects and questions you should ask yourself before you begin.
Conduct a form inventory

Analyzing your forms leads to effective streamlining, ending the collection of duplicate information for different uses and reducing inevitable errors.

Ask:

* What form types do we have (expense reports, applications)?
* What purpose does each serve? (Documenting form function will help users select correct forms when multiple options exist.)
* Is there data duplication between forms?
* Can form types (or content) be eliminated or combined?

Gather accurate information

Research claims 5-10% of your time should be allocated for quality control. Assuming your workers’ error rate is typical 3-5% – or even 1% — errors and correction are costly. Rules-based eforms enforce your rules, collecting clean data by:

* Regulating data collection protocols
* Confirming procedural compliance
* Creating automated reports by throwing form contents against your business rules

Ask:

* What specific information is needed (First name, document ID number)?
* Can content be extracted from existing data sources (line-of-business software, customer database)?
* Must data sources be re-executed when documents are updated?
* Which metadata (such as an invoice number you plan to import from your accounting system) should not be subject to change?
* Which fields should be mandatory? Which can be optional?
* In which order should questions be answered to enable logical, quick form completion?
* What data restrictions would help to ensure accurate data entry? (Examples: prescribing an acceptable date range or the number of digits for an ID number; forcing users to choose responses from drop-down menus.)
* Can we automate numerical calculations using existing data?
* Is the information users will need for successful search marked mandatory?

Classify content so forms and information can be found quickly

Indexing is critical to a successful eforms implementation, since it catalogs crucial information people expect to retrieve. These questions will help you wrap your mind around classification so diverse users can find the information they require when they need it, without fail.

Ask:

* How would I describe this form type and its function(s) within our organization?
* What metadata will workers need to search for historical, reference, or legal purposes (name, document type, customer ID number, etc.)?
* How are documents currently grouped – by department, function, or another method?
* Does it make sense to adapt current practices as an indexing scheme, or can they be improved?

Enforce adherence to governance policies

Purchasing eforms as part of an integrated document and business process management suite lets you control how they are accessed and used throughout the document lifecycle. Your security settings follow each form throughout its creation, storage, and useful life, leaving a clear, continuous audit trail from generation through destruction.

Ask:

* Which groups of users need to access to this form type or its contents?
* Should users be permitted to re-index documents after they have been classified?
* Which feature rights should each user group have, such as the right to retrieve, view, annotate, email, or delete this form type?
* Should metadata values (such as accounts over a certain sum) be used to restrict form access?
* After this form serves its purpose, will we need it for historical, legal, or reference purposes?
* How long must this form be retained in order to comply with regulations?

Since regulations keep mounting and penalties for non-compliance are increasingly severe, governing who has access to your information and how it is used is critical.
Regulate the flow of work

Artist Donald Graham once quipped, “The world seems to be made up of a never-ending series of overlapping forms. There always seems to be something in back of something else.” So it is in business; processes typically use multiple forms that overlap and depend on each other. The greatest efficiency is when eforms automatically launch routine processes, expediting the distribution and completion of work. Even if you implement forms simply as a way to collect and store information, keep your eye on process automation, where the greatest savings and benefits occur.

Ask:

* Which data on each form is needed for processing or decision making?
* Is the entire form needed, or just specific data?
* At what point in each process is the information needed?
* What integrations would allow seamless data transfer from other systems to the form?
* When the completed form is submitted, should it automatically create a PDF?
* Should form submission launch one or more specific processes, email acknowledgements, or other actions?

What you need to know

Version control: Form completion, review, and signoff can involve multiple people, so versioning is critical. Make sure your product tracks when saved documents were created, edited, viewed, and deleted. It’s helpful during the forms lifecycle, audits, and eDiscovery.

Ease of use: Like any technology, this is vital to adoption. Assess whether your product has a user-friendly interface with tools to help users, such as flexible windows, moveable work spaces, and interactive user guides. Although training is important, tools that are easy to use will shorten the learning curve.

Browser-based access: As employees become more mobile, web access to work is becoming crucial, offering flexibility, round-the-clock service, and saving trips to the office. Even if you don’t think you need it now, you will – so think ahead.
Summary

Successful forms management demands that you:

* Invest ample time in design so you consistently get what you need;
* Create a thorough indexing plan with input from all levels of staff so diverse users can consistently find what they need to be efficient;
* Understand and leverage the interrelationship of the forms and processes in your business through eforms and process automation so you can offer better service and realize significant savings.

With these goals in mind, along with these guidelines to help you on your way, you’re on the path to enable smart, sustainable business practices that will make your business more agile, profitable, and successful.
Why choose DocFinity?

Powerful. Reliable. Affordable. The architecture behind DocFinity creates a powerful, flexible document and process management suite that is reliable, easy to administer, and scalable to varied needs. All products are designed around the most contemporary and reliable server architecture, with complete functionality underwritten in web services that are published to clients for easy, thorough integration.

* Browser-based forms let you submit, access, work on, and route forms from any location.
* Configurable security and feature rights ensure sensitive information is protected.
* DocFinity is easy to use, administer, and support: one logon gives authorized users and administrators access to documents, content, and prioritized task lists.
* An intuitive interface with configurable options such as moveable and resizable windows and adjustable column widths maximizes each worker’s productivity.
* Seamless integration with DocFinity document, content, and business process management/workflow software and your existing information systems enables quicker turnaround, better service, and significant cost savings.
* Affordable pricing with licensing and subscription pricing options for organizations of all sizes.

If you’re looking for state-of-the-art technology that you can afford, with friendly and quality support and services wherever you need it, we can help.

*****

Optical Image Technology offers an integrated suite of imaging, document management, and workflow software, including document archiving, lifecycle management, electronic forms, and email management products. To learn more about our products and services visit our website at http://www.docfinity.com, email [email protected], or call us at 800-678-3241.

The Truth About Business Information Products

One of the most saturated markets on the Internet is the “How to Make Money Online” or “Business Secrets” market. There seem to be endless Ebooks, DVD’s and audio downloads available but are they any good? You can’t buy them all, which should you choose?

I’ve bought quite a few of these products. Many were worth the money, some more than others. Some products are more fluff than substance and when you finally got to the substance that was actually going to benefit you, you found it was regurgitated from some other guru.

The fact is in any given particular sub niche of the make money market there will be a considerable overlap on what each info product will be offering. Say you want to learn about Pay Per Click marketing. There are so many Ebooks out there about Google AdWords and all the other PPC systems. And I would guess something like 75% of the information is the same in almost all the ebooks.

The question is which one should you choose? In a lot of cases Ebooks are written by someone who has read another great Ebook. Then they basically re-write it in their own words. In most markets there are a few people who are the true experts that have been doing it for longer than everyone else and have the most success at what they are teaching. Those are the people to seek out. It’s normally a good idea to go to the source of the information rather than get a watered down version

There are also products out there that have information on a new innovative ways to do things. These are also worth buying. The problem is knowing when there really is some original and unique benefit to a product. The people selling these products by definition should be marketing experts. That means, if they choose, they can probably sell you a sub par product by making it look way better than it really is.

My advice would be to be cautious when choosing products and use plenty of common sense. Go through the information on each product you think you might want to buy and compare them. If their product is any good then they should be giving away some very useful information just to convince you of their product.

Generally if their marketing is all fluff and no substance with claims (founded or not) of wild sums of money, but no actual information on how they did it then the product is probably of less worth than others. When the product is worth buying you will normally be given an outline or teaser of what they are going to give you that really shows you some worth and makes you want to buy the product to get all the information.

If the product mainly appeals to your emotions and you want to buy it because they’ve reminded you of the great car you’ll be able to buy, or wonderful life you’ll have then I would recommend not buying it.

The best advice I can give is to use lots of common sense and delay your purchasing decision a day or two so that you can be sure you aren’t just being swept up in the moment. One great way to learn how to market is to look at as many of the sales systems of these products as you can. Not only will you pick up a thing or two but you will gain experience of which products are worth buying and which aren’t.

At the site below I try to give away as much useful information as I can and recommend only the best and most worthwhile products. I would recommend that you check it out (but then I would say that wouldn’t I!).

Business Information – The Double Dip Dilemma

We keep hearing that the economy is still in trouble, there’s even talk of the dreaded double dip recession. So if that’s what we facing, of even if we’re just in for a slower recovery, does that mean that you have to put your plans on hold?

The simple answer is no. But be smart about what you do. A downturn, or even a period of very slow growth, can present real opportunities for the smart business owner.

Whether you’re running a business now, or just thinking about getting started, these tips can help you make the most of the economic climate.

1. Look for the opportunities.

Some of the weaker businesses will fail. Those that don’t take the right actions to keep afloat, and that means there is a market share up for grabs. Look at how you can benefit from that. What new products can you introduce to take advantage? What new market areas could you move into? If you’re just starting up in business how can you position yourself to move into these gaps in the market?

2. Rethink your offering

Is what you’re selling, or planning to sell, still right for what your customers want today? If not what can you do to change it? Sometimes it’s just a case of changing how you sell the same product, or stating the benefits in a different way.

3. Seek out alliances

Look at other businesses around you and see if you can enter into a mutual arrangement to refer business to each other. Many other businesses will also be looking for ways to get more customers and this can be a great way to do it.

4. Do more networking

Make the time to find people who either could be your customers, or who could put you in touch with your potential customers, and spend time developing a relationship with them. You can do this at formal networking events or at social and sporting occasions, or at any other opportunity.

5. Increase your marketing

One of the first things many businesses cut back on when the belt has to be tightened is marketing. But actually it’s one of the last things you should sacrifice. Your business depends on income; your income depends on customers. You get new customers by marketing. If you increase your marketing efforts while your competitors are cutting back you will be able to increase your share of the market.