Today's form technology can replace paper-based "stupid" forms with electronic "smart" equivalents. Moreover, "smart" forms can provide increases in efficiencies and profitability by integrating and validating form questions with data resources of existing systems, storing valid form information which can be used for reporting and integration, provide seamless workflow processes for mission critical applications like time capture or expense/credit card management, automate workflow/approval processes, and store image and data content for new and improved ECM (Electronic Content Management). While electronic "smart" forms can improve the overall efficiency of gathering data, there are some differences that need to be pointed out.
Not all "smart" form applications are created equal. For starters, integration with existing applications is the biggest difference between form offerings. Those who "say" they integrate, don't have an elegant process of connection, and generally have only a one way integration (Downloading master information from your ERP tables). As applied to your automation, these forms can use the downloaded data for lookup questions, which provides EPV (Entry Point Validation) for basic form information, but generally cannot handle the more sophisticated lookups require to validate let's say, pay rates or per diem business rules which are required on more advanced forms. Also, "sort of smart" forms generally have a single dimension of integration. They are not capable of sending information back to your ERP system without customization.
Another aspect of "not-so-smart" form applications is routing and approval. Most of these system depend on the existing email systems for delivery and in most cases don't have any advanced routing (conditional or hierarchical). Since the inbox is part of the existing email system, important forms can be lost in the maze of emails that a person gets on a daily basis, or gets rejected by the firewall controls.
The most advanced solutions have integrated routing and approval options with some very advanced functionality. You can route based on many variables including a field value, dollar amount, group/class or condition. They include notification options for both inside and outside members of the organization using built-in, configurable portals. One system, Omnidek, has a robust inbox feature that incorporates a "Slack Style" collaboration panel with each form so that each member of the process can monitor or comment on the flow of the information through the route. Also, with Omnidek, the inbox is not cluttered with non-process related emails, and can be accessed and used by a mobile device from anywhere.
Also, there is filing of the forms. Generally these forms have to be dragged into existing document imaging or file systems and manually indexed for retrieval. This can be very time consuming. With several advanced form solutions, the filing of documents can be automatically integrated with your CRM so the document images and data can be used to provide a seamless indexing and storing functionality. Filing is a time grabber and having this functionality setup, can be a huge profitability opportunity because of the reduction of time and elimination of the paper.
The more advanced form solutions provide seamless integration with ALL tables of your existing solutions, in both directions. Also, for some solutions, this integration is part of the "out-of-box" features so there is no need for customization. An example of this is in time capture. Advanced form design of these solutions provides a unique multi-purpose opportunity for capturing time (and other data as well) within the form. Time capture can be adapted to various needs of the job or office by providing employee or crew based entry, or both. Each process can have a specific entry form that captures the information for that process. Once captured, the form (data) can be routed for approval or review, then seamlessly update the ERP time entry screens without any double entry. The data entry capture can be setup using either mobile, laptops, or desktop devices.
Finally, some advanced smart form solutions are re-engineering enterprise content management. Much like electronic medical records, this new concept rids the inefficiencies of paperwork based workflow, filing, and reporting and replaces it with a paperless process which eliminates the most time consuming aspects of the old. All the data that a typical form captures can now be validated and utilized in all aspects of the process. Having active data provides opportunities to utilize this information in all stages of the process. And too, this supports all the concepts set forth in MBSM (Management by Strategic Metrics) which moves management and reporting to a daily basis.