Like the bad houseguest who has overstayed his welcome, paper-based forms are familiar, seemingly harmless, and difficult to dislodge. But if we look objectively at the impact that paper forms have on organizations that use them, it quickly becomes clear that their flaws outweigh their advantages. It’s also clear that it’s time for a better, 21st-century alternative, such as a PDF converter.
On the positive side, paper-based forms are independent of hardware and software. They are simple to distribute. They can be signed, and a hand-signed original may be a useful form of evidence. But these advantages are overwhelmed by the structural inadequacies that afflict paper forms at every stage of their life cycle:
- Inflexible: Once paper forms are printed, you’re stuck with them. Even the slightest change to the template will require redesign, reprinting, and disposal of the now-obsolete copies.
- Difficult to process: Media disruption occurs when the data collected in a paper form must be transferred to an electronic system. The process is time-consuming and error-prone if employees must re-type information.
- Bad for workflow: Any business process that depends upon moving paper forms (or the data they contain) is slowed by the “friction” of extra steps: documents that must be located, data that must be transcribed, time spent in transit, etc.
- Burdensome to store: Paper forms take up enormous amounts of space, which can generate huge costs.
- Hard to retrieve: When legal action, audits, or regulations require you to produce a specific form now, good luck! Deloitte & Touche has estimated that around 25 percent of any company’s paper documentation goes missing, never to be seen again.
It’s no wonder, then, that many organizations have adopted alternatives to paper-based forms. Some of the alternatives are tentative steps away from the inefficiency of paper-based forms, such as creating PDFs with forms, and distributing them electronically. Many organizations are also creating forms with the PDF standard but requiring the user to convert PDF to Word or convert PDF to Excel, print them out and complete them by hand.
PDF software: Forms meet function
The best alternative is take advantage of the full potential of the PDF standard. This means leveraging both the availability of the PDF format as a means of displaying documents consistently and securely, across all computing platforms; and the capacity of today’s advanced PDF software to perform electronically every stage in the life cycle of forms – from design, to user guidance, to distribution, data capture (forms completion), data processing, storage, and retrieval on demand.
Forms created with PDF software can be displayed correctly on any common operating system, requiring only a free PDF reader or popular browsers such as Firefox and Chrome. Fillable PDF forms can be completed by entering data directly on the screen, then submitted electronically and/or saved for the user’s reference.
And when professional PDF software such as Nuance Power PDF extracts the relevant data from a fillable form and delivers it to CRM, ERP, or HR systems, the humble form becomes a source of real-time data for automated decision-making processes.