Forms Management Trends
The forms management profession is making a
comeback. The signs seem clear now. After about two decades of
slow and steady decline, when many companies downsized,
outsourced, re-structured and/or eliminated the forms management
department, executives are beginning to realize that forms
development is a complex process that requires skills, training,
and practice to get it right. As we know, all companies use
forms, and forms don’t just materialize. Well-designed forms
make business processes work better, more efficiently and at a
much lower cost than poorly designed forms. The development cost
for forms is but a very small percentage of the total cost of
using the forms and the very high cost of correcting and dealing
with data errors that result from badly designed forms. More on
After the PC revolution of the 1970s and
the birth of the modern Internet age in the 1990s (with the
introduction of the browser), many executives believed that
electronic forms would completely replace paper forms and that
electronic forms development would be an IT (Information
Technology department) responsibility. The convergence of
several well-documented trends seemed to support that
Continuous forms were largely being replaced by
cut sheet forms in standard letter size
Multiple part forms were replaced by single part
Desktop printers could add graphics while printing
variable data, so inventories of pre-printed forms could be
reduced or eliminated
Printing was decentralized to the desktop
Offset printing was to be replaced by digital
printing in many cases
Printing could be on-demand and forms obsolescence
cost (a major expense) could be eliminated.
Since computer applications such as MS Word were
installed everywhere, users could simply design their own forms
With all these trends, forms management
would not be needed (or so management thought).
Turns out all these trends have only
heightened the need for professional forms management. There’s
an old saying that if you automate a bad process, you just get
bad results quicker. Electronic forms development has presented
more of a challenge than originally expected. For example, some
twenty-five years after eForms were first introduced, eForms
largely remain as “print-on-demand” or “fill-and-print” forms
(particularly forms available to the public on the Internet.)
Many software developers have come and gone over that period, as
the market never really materialized.
There is little question that users want
eForms. Users generally prefer to fill out forms on screen and
to save and submit the data without re-keying the data. In the
absence of eForms from the organization, they frequently create
their own; using whatever desk top application they have
available. These “rogue” forms proliferate in most
organizations, as every “call for forms” project we have done
shows. In fact, rogue forms usually out number registered forms!
The result is hidden data (not available to the enterprise),
improperly collected data (asking for data they are not supposed
to have), incomplete data, poor company image and poorly
There are many other issues involved. The
lack of a professionally staffed forms management department not
only increases forms development costs, it increases process
costs. Many studies have shown the high costs of using forms.
What these studies generally do not show is the astronomical
cost of bad data. Two examples illustrate this point:
A quote from Rob
Barnett: “For example, in one recent case study in Australia, we
found one form costing the government $10 million per year just
to correct the errors people made. These are tangible costs, not
just wild guesses. And that's in a country with only 25 million
people. Imagine the huge costs if extrapolated to the USA with
its much larger population. Even after some redesign the cost
dropped but it was still $5 million-a figure that was far too
high. I would have accepted 5% errors as being reasonable.
Our success in Australia has come
about through organisations realising what the bad forms are
costing them. The biggest project to date has been with our
social security forms through the Centrelink agency.”
At a major company
in Houston, TX, 100 completed form records were sampled and
examined field-by-field. When the errors of missing, incomplete
or incorrect entries were extrapolated to the total annual usage
of the form, over 500,000 erroneous entries were possible in the
As the forms management
profession, and the forms industry, grew and developed over the
history of the industrial revolution, many changes have
occurred. The industry started as a local industry, with forms
reproduced as needed in very small quantities. As businesses
grew, several inventions had a profound impact on the industry
while others provided incremental improvements. I call these
major inventions “seminal events”. Generally speaking, I have
identified seven such events:
The invention of
adoption of mainframe computers and the high speed printers
attached to the mainframe gave rise to the explosion of
continuous forms and the rapid growth of large forms
The introduction of
“all-points-addressable” printers in the early 1970s, which
could print graphics
The introduction of
personal computers and the desktop printers they used. This
enabled printing to be de-centralized throughout the enterprise.
The introduction of
large, high speed digital printers (such as the Xerox DocuTech),
which started to replace offset printers and created the
“electronic print shop”
The introduction of
“desktop publishing”, which included software for creating
The introduction of
browsers in the mid-1990s, which enabled non-technical users to
access the Internet
this evolution, the forms management profession evolved.
Developing continuous forms required exact spacing, forms
designed to withstand high speed processing, post-processing
requirements, and more. Business processes were re-designed to
accommodate the new technologies. Workflow and process analysis,
forms analysis, design analysis, and graphics design were widely
practiced skills within most large forms management departments.
A thorough understanding of printing technologies, paper
specifications, forms, label and envelope manufacturing
requirements, and forms processing was required. As eForms were
developed, these skill requirements continued and additional
skills such as database design, field properties, and electronic
distribution were added. And, IT became more involved.
For the most
part, two additional categories of forms were not well defined (iForms
and vForms), understood, or even recognized as forms. Let’s take
a brief look at all definitions:
– paper or other physical substrate forms (such as
pressure sensitive labels). These are traditional and still
widely used forms. Products include unit sets, mailers, checks,
continuous rolls, envelopes, tags, self mailers and many more.
– electronic forms that require the use of proprietary
software. These are the most commonly used forms. This category
includes MS Word, Adobe PDF, Lotus Forms, and many others. These
forms many be distributed via the Internet but do not operate
within the browser environment.
– Internet forms that require only a browser to use. They
– virtual forms that exist only as code until a script or
application executes which results in a visible form displayed
on the screen or printed as part of the application.
do not recognize vForms as “forms”, which is one reason why
these forms are typically poorly designed. They do not follow
normal forms development processes and generally do not consider
usability issues, style guide requirements, zoning, grouping and
sequencing, or other standard design principles. Our experience
is that many, many data collection errors occur from poorly
have specific design requirements and can provide many
processing advantages over traditional eForms. Generally, some
combination of form types can result in the most effective
Components of a Form
that 80% of effective forms design is in workflow and process
analysis. A well-designed form is supposed to solve the business
problem defined in the analysis. It implements business rules
associated with the process. It provides the interface between
the users of the form and the needs of the process. It
incorporates technology to maximize the utility of the form
throughout its life cycle.
forms as containing five components:
– the reason for the form’s existence. This includes workflow,
process, forms and design analysis and results in selecting the
includes drawing and proofing activities, as well as field
mapping. It includes alpha testing.
– the capture and display of variable data is generally the
primary activity of the form. Data can come from many
sources (scans, bar codes, MICR, databases, keyboard and
mouse entries, and more). It can also require validation,
masking, restrictions and qualifiers, special calculations,
unique handling and more.
Image – user
interaction with the form can make or break the
effectiveness of the entire process. Issues such as
security, privacy, accessibility, proper projection of
company identity, regulations and registration requirements
and more are a part of image.
requirements of retention, eDiscovery, display, storage, and
backup are important considerations for container design.
Note: This 5th component has not been fully accepted, as
designing to a specific media is considered just another
container. For many years, the industry has had to
accommodate different container requirements, such as Mac vs
PC, various browsers, etc..
For all the
above reasons, forms management is an essential function within
any business, but particularly within regulated and
paperwork-intensive businesses. During the past few years,
progressive executives have come to realize the enormous costs
and risks associated with understaffed forms management
departments. They have experimented with diffusing the forms
development activities throughout their organizations and are
finding that such an approach does not work very well. Business
upheavals such as the Enron scandal and resulting legislative
requirements have highlighted the importance of proper business
development and management processes. Most of these processes
are rooted in forms development and design. Knowledge workers,
while highly skilled in the use of technology, are not trained
in proper process analysis and design skills. Specialized
applications require specialized skills and forms are a classic
Best Practices Forms Management department involves several
important steps and is the product of proper implementation of
all these steps. Leaving any one out will result in a less
effective program. These steps are:
Periodic review and
documentation of Current State – any process, left alone, will
deteriorate over time. A periodic review and comparison to best
practices standards is essential.
Enterprise Forms Strategy – forms management includes many
issues that require support across the entire enterprise.
Beginning with agreed-to definitions, Best Practices includes at
least twenty-three specific areas, and more when appropriate.
proper reporting Structure – forms management should be an
enterprise-wide function and should report to a shared services
Staffing levels – proper analysis and management requires an
adequate number of well-trained specialists. Individualized
training plans are required, as is a department succession plan.
Develop and Publish
Policies, Process and Procedures – this includes the company
Program Manual and Style Guide, which describes new form and
revised form procedures, security, privacy and signature
policies, and much more.
Control – this essential function supports all department and
forms development activities
Implement Specialized Forms Technology - includes the forms
database, design software, mapping software, deployment tools,
analysis tools, and more.
Measure and Report
on proper management metrics – begins with an understanding of
what metrics are important to management. It provides for
measuring net contribution, a key management metric.
Should Forms Management Report?
forms management responsibility to the IT department has not
provided the answers to forms management. Most organizations
still have large numbers of paper forms, which require different
skills such as printing procurement, warehousing,
requisitioning, edition management, obsolescence management and
an understanding of production specifications. Even eForms,
iForms and vForms require design skills and knowledge of
usability and style issues usually not possessed in IT job
forms management responsibility in an administrative services
area generally encourages viewing forms management as a clerical
function. Funding is often severely restricted and it is
subjected to outsourcing. Placing the management in Legal often
gains the department respect, but there are many forms in the
population that Legal simply isn’t interested in. Placing forms
management in Operations can lead to political squabbles over
turf and whose work gets priority.
recommend a separate department called Operational Excellence,
which also includes document management and records management.
development workflow generally includes ten processes:
Forms Mapping and
departments are still badly understaffed to perform all the
functions required for effective design and management of a
large population of forms. As a result, critical functions such
as workflow mapping, process analysis, design analysis and forms
analysis are scaled back or not performed at all. The resulting
inefficiencies associated with forms use and the data correction
time requirements far exceed the cost of forms development.
understand staffing requirements, it is first necessary to
examine the forms development process and the skills required.
It is not uncommon to find organizations that combine these
skills into the same job description, but that can also have a
lot of risk. Essociates Group defines the following jobs:
Management – in
addition to providing overall management of the function, this
person is the Forms Officer for the organization. This includes
keeping up with technological developments within the industry,
providing management analysis, leading the development of an
enterprise forms management strategy, and developing a thorough
understanding of all the organizations business systems. This
person manages the department training and succession plan.
– this position performs workflow and process analysis, which
includes developing and maintaining process maps. This person is
involved early when any significant changes are considered
within the organization. This person also has overall
responsibility for the Forms Program Manual and Style Guide
development and maintenance.
– this position performs analysis of each form in the population
on a regular or scheduled basis, performs macro analysis of the
forms population as a whole on a periodic basis, looking for
improvement opportunities, and performs ad hoc analysis on a
project basis or as requested. This is an essential function to
eliminate duplication, manage obsolescence, ensure effective
forms, and to provide service to users.
– are the persons responsible for using the proper tools to draw
form containers, add fields, add programming, provide proofing
and alpha testing, and to ensure that the style guide
requirements are followed.
Technicians – perform
the forms control functions, including maintaining form
development files and records, ensure proper form numbering and
form titles are assigned, provide project tracking, perform beta
testing, and provide proper metrics tracking and reporting. They
also coordinate regulatory approvals, perform proofreading
services, and more.
maintain the forms database and other tools, coordinate with IT
on database, deployment and technical issues, coordinate more
technical programming support requirements between designers and
programmers and research new technological developments related
to forms development.
Practices forms management departments have levels within each
job, such as Senior Business Analysis, Senior Forms Analysts,
etc. The primary differentiator is the degree of strategic
importance and degree of technical difficulty of the projects
they work on.
staffing levels are generally determined by proper metrics
tracking. A key measure is the time spent on each project by
each function. All time in the department is either associated
with a specific project or it is overhead. Tracking projects
over time yields the metrics needed to determine staffing
many factors that influence staffing levels in a Best Practices
department. These factors include the following fourteen points:
- Size and structure of the organization
total number of employees
headquarters office only
branch offices (many or few)
divisions and/or subsidiaries
- Number of forms in the population and
their incidence across the entire organization
- Existence of formal, published forms
strategy, standard processes and procedures
(forms control / Forms Manual / Style Guide)
- Existence of forms coordinators in the
user community and what their assigned duties are
- Perceived number of rogue forms
currently in use within the organization
- Incidence of formal
format analysis (pForms vs. eForms)
- Whether forms design (layout) is done
by forms staff or by outside resources
- Ratio of pForms to eForms, iForms and
vForms and how much of staff is assigned to which format
- Relationship with IT department
Is IT responsible for fielding?
Is IT responsible for deployment?
Is IT responsible for form changes?
Is IT supportive or controlling of databases?
- Concentration within forms population
of items that require special approval cycle(s)
(for policy and/or legal compliance)
- Variations of form versions
by form type
- Requirements for special handling
(design, disposition, training) for Section 508 Accessible
- Administrative workload
employee turnover (hiring, firing, periodic
- Non-forms-related duties also managed
and executed by the forms management staff and the
percentage of time required to complete those additional
As a result,
it is difficult to establish general “rules” that point to
proper staffing levels. However, we have conducted surveys on
this issue and can provide very general guidelines for best
No. of Forms2
5,000 – 10,000
1,000 – 5,000
1 - Does not include legal staff
2 - As staffs get larger, more
specialization and automation can occur, resulting in a higher
number of forms per forms department employee. As forms
populations increase, more forms analysts are required. However,
forms can generally be grouped and automation applied, so one
person can handle more forms.
3 – High-intensive industries require more process analysis.
High intensive industries include insurance, financial, medical,
and others where there are a large number of white collar
(knowledge) workers as a percent of total employees.
Low-intensive industries include mining, construction, farming
and others where there are typically a smaller number of white
collar workers as a percent of total employees.
Specialized forms software needs to be
selected such that overall productivity is maximized. Best
Practices forms management departments select design, mapping,
portal, and analysis tools based on requirements and not because
the organization “already owns it” or because IT chooses whether
or not to support it. Professional design tools must support the
full range of forms development projects including pForms,
eForms, iForms and vForms. Features such as mapping tools,
deployment support, adding customized code, connecting to
databases for data submission, standard server script
development, and more must be out-of-the-box supported. Portals
that support forms management and deployment should be selected
as opposed to other tools that might already be “available”.
We have witnessed many organizations that
require forms management personnel to use general purpose
products such as MS Word to design form containers. While these
tools may or may not support forms-specific requirements, they
generally are not very efficient and require a lot of IT support
for mapping and database connections. There is no expectation
that the sole tool to tabulate and track in Accounting is MS
Excel; there should be no expectation that the sole tool to
design in Forms Management is MS Word. Professional design tools
have specific objects, mapping capabilities, and database
connectivity as standard features, greatly reducing the need for
direct IT involvement. In general, use of web design tools, word
processors, spreadsheets, page composition software, generic
portals, and related tools is not sufficient for today’s best
practices forms development.
Essociates Group, Inc.
Essociates Group, Inc. has developed many
tools, white papers, analyses, and processes that support Best
Practices in Forms Management. Our extensive experience working
with many different companies on all aspects of forms
development has resulted in our view of Best Practices. We have
consulted on best practices projects for several large
organizations. We are all long-standing members and past
officers of the Business Forms Management Association, the forms
management professional association. For additional information
as to our qualifications and experience, please visit