How to conduct a needs analysis for electronic forms

By Daniel O'Leary posted 02-16-2011 13:07


One of the best ways to analyze and refine your electronic forms projects is to conduct a brief needs analysis to determine what forms are targets for optimization and which can be eliminated or discarded. At their core, most paper forms represent business processes, for example, applications.

Since they are representations of business processes, their life cycle is easy to diagram and understand. Electronic forms offer the additional benefits of enhanced customer service, the elimination of paper, and the removal of manual data entry. With that in mind, here are some steps you can take to analyze your forms:

1. Set goals and expectations for your electronic forms and address individuals specific concerns or expectations. Consider why you even want to explore and implement eForms in the first place.

2. Gather the forms that you feel cause you the most headaches. I often focus my customers on the forms that are most common but often overlooked. The more often you see a form, the better it is to automate. Often, external facing forms make good targets, so see what PDF forms you currently have linked on your website.

3. If you can, physically walk through your office or facility and trace the journey of forms. If you can’t do it in person, try diagramming it on a whiteboard to better understand what people and departments are involved. When you look at the form life cycle, how many data entry processes are there? How much of the workflow is done ad-hoc?

4. Who is your primary consumer of forms, internal users or external users? The answer will impact your vendor selection since some don’t easily support external forms or processes.

5. Currently, in what format are your forms? Most often they will be PDFs, Word documents, and occasionally, spreadsheets. If your forms only exist on paper and no original can be found, you might want to consider redesigning or eliminating that form. I encourage LincDoc customers to use their existing forms when possible if they are appropriate, or make minor adjustments and improvements as they see fit.

6. Do your paper forms suffer from space constraints? Were they originally designed to cram as much information and fields as possible onto a single page? How would you feel completing such a form? Is some data hard to enter given the space constraints?

7. Do you currently require signatures on your forms? If so, why? I often hear from people that their forms require signatures but what they really mean is that they require approvals. If you do require signatures on forms, consider how you collect them now and what kind of security you need on the signatures.

8. When considering your other systems, is the data you are entering in your forms contained in other systems? For example, do you have HR information in Peoplesoft? Accounting data in Lawson? If so, you can often reuse that data in your electronic forms to speed up the data entry process.

9. What is your mobile device strategy? Do you want to provide access on things like kiosks, iPads and other tablet devices? If so, you will need to design forms that are easy to complete on devices without a standard keyboard.

10. What ECM / repository / content management platform do you use? Do you currently archive forms into that repository? This will also impact vendor selection, as most tools are proprietary to their own vendors. For example, tools like InfoPath from Microsoft requires custom development to integrate with systems other than SharePoint. If you want to avoid vendor lock-in with your electronic forms, consider applications like LincDoc that work with a wide variety of systems.

11. How can you make the entire process easy? As you engage with your forms ask yourself, “Am I making this easy for the user?” and “how do I feel when filling out this form?”. If you can create a user guided approach that walks a user through completing a form, you will be in better shape than recreating the mess of legacy forms.

12. Are you prepared for change? Seriously, this is the most important question since electronic forms will significantly enhance your workflow speed and efficiency. If your organization isn’t ready to be more effective, and your business processes aren’t up to snuff, you might hit challenges with implementing electronic forms. 

If you need help conducing an electronic forms needs analysis for your organization, please leave a comment or send me a message, I'm happy to help! 

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