A Very Short History of Paper Forms
Two hundred years ago, paper forms were the cutting edge in office productivity. It might be hard to imagine, so let’s paint the picture. At that time, if you wanted a copy of a document, there were few options. You could ask a printer to set type and print copies. Or you could ask a clerk to handwrite the material. Paper forms improved productivity by using printed directions and space for users to write in their information. In contrast to writing a business letter from scratch each time you had an order or request, it was a major advance. Today, we have a different opportunity — digital forms have arrived.
If you are already comfortable using paper forms, you might wonder why you should change to mobile data collection with digital forms. Let’s break down the pros and cons of using paper forms in your work.
Using Paper Forms and Clipboards: Pros and Cons
In many companies, paper forms are the status quo. So why should you consider changing? Take a moment to consider whether the pros outweigh the cons for switching from paper to digital forms.
- No power required. Paper forms don’t require a battery or Internet connection. If you have a flat surface, a pen and enough light to see, you’re in business!
- Easy to transfer. What if you need to leave work early? With a paper form, you can hand the form to a coworker and ask them to complete it.
- Low cost. Photocopiers and printers have made it cheap to make copies.
To be fair, let’s take a moment to look at the disadvantages of using paper forms.
The Cons of Paper Forms and Clipboards
- Difficult to read. Have you ever read paperwork written in a hurry? It’s tough to make out the details. If you have to pull your staff off the field to clarify what they wrote on their forms, that’s a cost to your business.
- No attachments. With a paper form, it is difficult to attach supplementary information. For example, describing an unsafe work site is easier if you can use photos and a written description.
- Slow transmission. Once a paper form is completed, it needs to be transmitted back to the head office. That could take hours or days depending on your location. These kinds of delays make it more difficult for you to manage your business.
- The cost to process. A single paper form may need to be reviewed by multiple departments, especially if approvals are involved. Transporting the paper form between each department slows the entire workflow.
- The cost to protect and warehouse paper. A Deloitte study identified three significant long term costs to paper records: warehousing, retention, and retrieval and destruction.
- Difficult to transfer form information to a computer. Analysis is difficult. When your company receives a paper form, transferring that information into a computer is difficult. Even with scanners, you have to inspect each form to make sure the information came through clearly.
- No analytics. There’s no easy way to analyze the data contained in a paper form without re-entering it into a spreadsheet or separate system. Without trend data, how can you make effective management decisions?
- Security problems. In contrast to digital information, there is no way to encrypt paper forms. That means a lost paper form can easily be read! As fraud has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry, think carefully about accepting this risk.
Digital Forms and Reasons to Switch Now
Back in the 1990s, there was a lot of excitement about the paperless office. Several critical technologies — such as reliable mobile devices — were missing at that time. Today, becoming a paper free office is achievable.
Idea Rebel, a Vancouver-based digital agency, operates completely without paper. In fact, the company’s founders believe in the paper-free approach so strongly that they refuse clients who insist on paper contracts.
The Pros of Digital Forms
Digital forms are a useful tool to help you move toward becoming a paperless office. In addition to cutting down on paper and printing expenses, digital or mobile forms deliver these benefits:
- Support For Mobile Devices. Whether you use Android or iPhone, choose a mobile forms solution that works on both platforms.
- Keep Your Workflows. There’s no need to change all of your work habits. Digital forms are made to adapt to your workflow (e.g. requestor, approver, analysis).
- Integrate With Your Other Software. Do you use Dropbox? That’s just one of the online services that you can connect to your mobile forms.
- Avoid Paper Storage Fees. If your company is spending money each year to store records off site, it is time to address that expense. Digital storage is inexpensive especially when compared to a traditional records management provider.
Ready to replace your paperwork? It's time to get started with digital forms.