For an effective and professional e-forms strategy, enterprises must first evaluate the important elements and considerations for an enterprise-wide program. For development purposes, we divide forms into four categories: e-forms (electronic forms), i-forms (Internet forms), p-forms (physical forms) and v-forms (virtual forms).
An enterprise-wide forms management program generally includes plans for: development; deployment; support; software standards; output strategy; management reporting; and cost-benefit requirements, including return on investment (ROI). These plans can vary widely between organizations and are dependent upon the organization's existing infrastructure and standards already in place. Each element has specifi c considerations that should be decided and published as a part of the Enterprise Forms Program Manual and Style Guide. Looking at each element:
Development addresses what department(s) and individuals are assigned forms development responsibilities. Frequently, anyone is authorized to create a basic design, describe the requirement and business process(es) supported and submit the request to a professional designer. There is generally a process in place for creating new forms, revising existing forms, declaring forms inactive or obsolete and assigning control numbers, such as form number, edition date and retention requirements. Multiple versions of a form (state, country, language, etc.) and various approvals (legal, regulatory, marketing, etc.) may be required. In addition, the information technology infrastructure must be considered in areas such as database access, server scripts, networks, email compatibility and more.
Deployment strategies include email support, servers, forms portals, user access controls, user submission of fi lled forms, security requirements (secure servers, e-commerce support, encryption, electronic signature support) and more.
Support includes issues such as user training, help desk support, instruction manuals, user guides and designer training.
Software standards must be developed and supported. This generally becomes an important consideration for the design software and any user-required software (i.e., fi llers, browser editions and Acrobat Reader edition). Designer software developed to support the unique requirements for forms design is very important; we would never recommend using general-purpose software. Any business professional must be provided with the required tools, and forms designers need the same consideration.
Output strategy defi nes how users will output the results of their fi ll sessions. One early lesson learned is that users must be able to save and print their work, or they simply will not use the electronic form. This is particularly true for the public doing business with your organization, but it also applies to employees. We generally think in terms of paper being unnecessary (after all, they are electronic forms), but this issue has stopped more than one electronic forms program.
Management reporting should include all statistics necessary to determine extent of use, forms users, development statistics, user requests for enhancements and usage trends. Any established program goals should have concomitant metrics and reports in place. One cannot manage what one does not measure!
Cost-benefit analysis is crucial to the long-term success of any program. For each form, the expected development and maintenance costs should be compared to the expected cost savings, including productivity improvements. ROI should be calculated, including expected payback period. If an acceptable ROI cannot be shown, the form probably should not be converted to electronic form.
Putting all this together into a coherent e-forms strategy statement is the responsibility of the forms management department, working closely with all other departments within the organization.
Ray Killam [firstname.lastname@example.org] is president and CEO of Essociates Group, Inc. and served as former president of BFMA, the association for forms and business process professionals.