This might be the information age but we are still obsessed with paper. As much as 62% of important documents are still archived as paper, according to content management association AIIM.
Worse still, we often fail to use electronic forms of delivery when our fascination with the printed word is broken. Rather than simplifying business processes, electronic formatting too often adds a further layer of complication.
Electronic forms – or e-forms – are a digital version of paper forms that should help eliminate the need to rely on paper. E-forms should also help firms encode data for multiple purposes, so that electronic data can be used in various ways to help improve information processing.
But rather than implement a simple and disciplined approach to electronic form-filling, too many companies have multiple versions of ‘the truth’ stored in many different formats, from paper to spreadsheets and onto online forms of encoding.
The simple message to technology leaders facing this morass of information is stop and think about the way your firm processes data. Analyst Gartner has produced a five-stage maturity model to help businesses bridge the paper-to-digital divide.
The model provides a way for firms to deliver a return on investment as they move from paper-based data gathering to an optimised management process at the final level.
However, there is some worrying news. Just 20% of large enterprises will have reached the fifth level of Gartner’s maturity model for e-forms by the end of 2010, according to the analyst.
More attention, then, needs to be paid to e-forms. Even more critically, real concentration must be centred on how information is collected as part of the end-user experience.
Gartner’s fifth stage of maturity suggests that the e-form should become the single graphical user interface. Such an approach optimises data gathering, database management and customer engagement. To quote Gartner: “It’s a form, but it’s also a rich application”.
Using rich internet applications (RIAs) – fully-featured software that runs in a browser – should allow your business to gather relevant data and complete transactions quicker. The whole user experience will be centred in one place, without the need for individuals to complete extraneous e-forms.
Such speed and convenience will mean your business can move towards an optimised management process. But becoming one of the firms that has a mature approach to e-forms will mean you need to act intelligently.