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The Forms Management Profession

For several years, Essociates Group, Inc. has been discussing several mega-trends within the forms management industry.

The following article was recently written by Ray Killam and should be of interest to Forms Professionals.


CURRENT STATE OF FORMS MANAGEMENT

by Ray H. Killam, CFSP, CFC

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 that later.

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 contention.

4   Continuous forms were largely being replaced by cut sheet forms in standard letter size

4   Multiple part forms were replaced by single part forms

4   Desktop printers could add graphics while printing variable data, so inventories of pre-printed forms could be reduced or eliminated

4   Printing was decentralized to the desktop

4   Offset printing was to be replaced by digital printing in many cases

4   Printing could be on-demand and forms obsolescence cost (a major expense) could be eliminated.

4   Since computer applications such as MS Word were installed everywhere, users could simply design their own forms as needed.

With all these trends, forms management would not be needed (or so management thought).

Electronic Forms

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.)[1] 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 performing processes.

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[2]. What these studies generally do not show is the astronomical cost of bad data. Two examples illustrate this point:

4   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.” [3]

4   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 company database.[4]

 

Evolution of Forms Management

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:

1.     The invention of carbon paper

2.     The widespread 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 manufacturers

3.     The introduction of “all-points-addressable” printers in the early 1970s, which could print graphics

4.     The introduction of personal computers and the desktop printers they used. This enabled printing to be de-centralized throughout the enterprise.

5.     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”

6.     The introduction of “desktop publishing”, which included software for creating electronic forms

7.     The introduction of browsers in the mid-1990s, which enabled non-technical users to access the Internet

Throughout 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.

Forms Categories

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:

4   pForms – 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.

4   eFormselectronic 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.

4   iFormsInternet forms that require only a browser to use. They are typically HTML and JavaScript forms.

4   vFormsvirtual 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.

Many people 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 designed vForms.

iForms can 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 process solution.

Five Components of a Form

We believe 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.

We view forms as containing five components:

1.     Intent – the reason for the form’s existence. This includes workflow, process, forms and design analysis and results in selecting the form type.

  1. Container – includes drawing and proofing activities, as well as field mapping. It includes alpha testing.
     
  2. Data – 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.
     
  3. 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.

     
  4. Media – 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..

Best Practices

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 example.

Building a 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:

4   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.

4   Develop an 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.

4   Determine the proper reporting Structure – forms management should be an enterprise-wide function and should report to a shared services area.

4   Implement proper 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.

4   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.

4   Implement Forms Control – this essential function supports all department and forms development activities

4   Identify and Implement Specialized Forms Technology - includes the forms database, design software, mapping software, deployment tools, analysis tools, and more.

4   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.

Where Should Forms Management Report?

Transferring 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 functions.

Placing 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.

We generally recommend a separate department called Operational Excellence, which also includes document management and records management.

The Forms Development Workflow

The forms development workflow generally includes ten processes:

4   Workflow Analysis

4   Process Analysis

4   Forms Analysis

4   Design Analysis

4   Container Design and Proofing

4   Forms Mapping and Programming

4   Forms Testing

4   Deployment Management

4   Forms Control

4   Metrics Tracking and Reporting

Staffing Levels

Many forms 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.

To 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:

4   Manager, Forms 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.

4   Business Analyst – 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.

4   Forms Analyst – 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.

4   Forms Designer – 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.

4   Forms 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.

4   Form System Administrator – 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.

Many Best 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.

Proper 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 levels.

There are many factors that influence staffing levels in a Best Practices department. These factors include the following fourteen points:

  1. Size and structure of the organization

4  industry type

4  total number of employees

4  headquarters office only

4  branch offices (many or few)

4  divisions and/or subsidiaries

4  off-shore locations

  1. Number of forms in the population and their incidence across the entire organization
     
  2. Existence of formal, published forms strategy, standard processes and procedures
    (forms control / Forms Manual / Style Guide)
     
  3. Existence of forms coordinators in the user community and what their assigned duties are
     
  4. Perceived number of rogue forms currently in use within the organization
     
  5. Incidence of formal

4   process analysis

4   forms analysis

4   design analysis

4   format analysis (pForms vs. eForms)

4   reorder analysis

  1. Whether forms design (layout) is done by forms staff or by outside resources

     
  2. Ratio of pForms to eForms, iForms and vForms and how much of staff is assigned to which format

     
  3. Relationship with IT department

4  Is IT responsible for fielding?

4  Is IT responsible for deployment?

4  Is IT responsible for form changes?

4  Is IT supportive or controlling of databases?

  1. Concentration within forms population of items that require special approval cycle(s)
    (for policy and/or legal compliance)
     
  2. Variations of form versions

4  by state

4  by product

4  by language

4  by form type

  1. Requirements for special handling (design, disposition, training) for Section 508 Accessible forms
     
  2. Administrative workload

4  budget controls

4  staff training

4  reporting requirements

4  employee turnover (hiring, firing, periodic reviews)

  1. Non-forms-related duties also managed and executed by the forms management staff and the percentage of time required to complete those additional duties

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 practices:

No. of Forms2

High-Intensive3

Medium-Intensive

Low-Intensive

 

Regulated1

Non-Regulated

All

All

10,000 +

600 forms/person

700 forms/person

700 forms/person

800 forms/person

5,000 – 10,000

350-600 forms/person

400-700 forms/person

500-700 forms/person

600-800 forms/person

1,000 – 5,000

250-350 forms/person

300-400 forms/person

400-500 forms/person

500-600 forms/person

500 – 1,000

3 people minimum

2 people minimum

1 person

1 person

<500

2 people minimum

2 people minimum

1 person

1 person

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.

Forms Software

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 www.essociatesgroup.com.


[1] Essociates Group, Inc. 2006 survey of state and federal government web sites using a search form forms process.

[2] Beginning with the Hoover Commission on Paperwork Simplification (1955) and updated several times by companies such as The Gartner Group, Microsoft Corporation, and others.

[3] A quote from Robert Barnett (www.rbainformationdesign.com.au), author, publisher and a recognized expert on forms management

[4] Study performed by Margaret Tassin, CFSP, CDC of Forms Doc LLC


 

 


 

 

 

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