Since all organizations have a forms management function (even if they don’t formally recognize it), it is important that they develop and implement a forms management policy and a common strategy. After all, most organizations are trying to achieve operational excellence through continuous improvement, and since about 70% of documents used in business are forms (paper, electronic, Internet and virtual forms), it seems logical that this function would be fertile ground for improvement opportunities.

Essociates Group recently conducted an informal study to find out where the forms management function typically reports. We try to keep this current by asking two questions: Where does your forms management function report, and how is that working for you? The answers are all over the place for “where” but fairly consistent for “how:” It is not working very well.

About 25% of forms departments report to an administrative services area and another 25% report to information technology (IT). About 20% report to an operating department, 15% report to financial services and the remainder report to procurement, communications, legal and others. The most common reason given for dissatisfaction is a lack of understanding of “what I do,” which results in insufficient support, funding and staffing. Too often, reporting decisions are made without a clear understanding of the forms management strategy. This often results in placing responsibility for the function in an area that cannot provide effective support. Next to strategy, proper structure is the main determinant of success for a forms management program.

"About 25% of forms departments report to an administrative services area and another 25% report to information technology."

We usually recommend that a best practices forms management program be enterprise-wide in scope, encompass all forms and that a formal process be in place to support the organization for forms development activities. Since everyone uses forms, and since forms are usually at the core of any business process, professional design, deployment and management of forms is essential to achieving operational excellence.

Of course, forms are not created in a vacuum. Cooperation and effective communication with all user departments is essential. This requirement can usually be met by establishing a forms committee and by implementing an effective system of forms coordinators within all major user departments. Since the forms management function needs to be enterprise-wide, visibility at the senior management level is required.

Our usual recommendation is that forms management be a part of a larger group called “Operational Excellence.” This group, led by a senior manager, should also include functions that are also enterprise-wide in scope, including document (content) management, records management, printing services, distribution services and business analysis (process management) services. It generally would not include IT, which is a separate department that supports all functions.

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With this organizational structure, each function can utilize the distinct skill sets required for the function while leveraging technology and training. Communications can be improved, since there is some natural overlap between these functions. All functions can focus on continuous process improvement.

The forms committee consists of representatives from all the major departments, plus legal and information technology. This committee participates in the development and review of the forms management strategy, reviews forms policies and procedures, provides input for priorities, approves any data to be collected from the public and reviews and recommends changes to workflow to resolve inter-departmental issues. The committee typically meets once a month and does not get involved in the day-to-day activities of the forms management department.

Forms coordinators are the primary point of contact within a department for all forms-related issues. This function should be formalized into each appropriate job description and training should be provided. The forms coordinator will “own” forms within the department that do not have another specific owner. This means they are the ones that initiate any forms projects and coordinate proofing requirements. They are the ones notified of reorder points and of routine forms analysis projects.

A best practices forms management function provides significant contribution to the overall organization. The benefits include increased revenues, better customer service, improved customer retention and lower operating costs. The contribution can be measured and quantified and is usually substantial.