The Art of Capture, Step 2: Convert from Paper to Electronic Forms

By Daniel O'Leary posted 09-02-2010 10:39



Part two in a series that examines the process of electronically capturing in Web-based forms the information trapped in today’s paper-based processes.
As Sun Tzu says, “Success in warfare is gained by carefully accommodating ourselves to the enemy's purpose. By persistently hanging on the enemy's flank; we shall succeed in the long run in killing the commander-in-chief. This is called ability to accomplish a thing by sheer cunning.”

You gotta love Sun Tzu.
Capture warriors, today we flank the enemy, and in doing so, fundamentally alter the rules. If your problem right now is the paper capture, we turn the tide by eliminating paper capture entirely. That’s right. Entirely.
So here is the question: If your forms and documents start as electronic documents and eventually get scanned and archived, then why do you need to have a paper lifecycle for them? (If this just blew your mind, go ahead and take a minute.)
If your goal is to capture information rather than paper, your first step will need to be preparing your documents to convert them into electronic forms. Creating a fillable PDF or converting from paper forms to a Word document is really easy. Chances are, you already have your forms in these file formats anyways. This is how we change the fight, this is our “sheer cunning.”
Based on my experience with LincWare, here is what I recommend as a best practice:
1.       Avoid proprietary tools. Unless you loved getting locked into long-term agreements with vendors, you should focus on using your existing forms and programs. Make it work first using your existing tools and resources before assuming a new tool will make things easier.
2.       Take inventory. Look at what forms you have and note those that create the most headaches. Focus on those forms first.
3.       Analyze the form’s life-cycle. Currently, where is that information being captured? Are you scanning? Doing manual data entry? Do you need to collect payments or signatures?
4.       For a Word document, make sure that you have all the relevant fields that you want to collect and process. Focus on things that will become metadata; SharePoint content types, for example. When you are done, save the document as an .ODT or .DOC to ensure portability. The  formats of .DOCX from Office 2007 and 2010 are not universally supported. And, make sure you take into account pagination, so if someone enters a lot of text, the format stays consistent.
5.       For a PDF document, you will be limited to the actual document itself unless you are able to modify things. Most likely though, the PDF will be more aggressively locked down. Again, ensure that you have all the relevant fields. You can then save the document as a PDF-A if you prefer that format. A fillable PDF is only a partial solution, since you still need to access the data, and avoid manual data entry.
LincDoc on the iPad
6.       Save all of your newly prepared forms in a secure, version controlled repository. We use a combination of our ECM system and a repository built into our eForms application that we access using a Subversion (SVN) client to manage check-in and out and all revisions. That way, if we need to make changes, we can easily update forms and maintain an audit trail.
7.       Next steps: What do you plan to do with your newly built forms? I suggest over-taking the enemy. But that’s up to you.
Next week, we’ll talk about the different methods of capturing signatures electronically. One of the most common reasons I hear from people about sticking with paper is the FALSE assumption that a handwritten signature is required. (Man, that is getting to be a tired discussion.)
So AIIM community, how did you prepare your first eForms project? Did you blow millions on a proprietary product before realizing you could have done it using Open Office, your iPad, and a summer intern? Still trying to figure out how to transform paper into electronic?

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