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8 Great Ways to Use Forms & Workflows to Automate Processes

by Siv Rauv

09 Oct 2020

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Even the simplest manual tasks – when done over and over again - can waste an enormous amount of time and resources.

Sadly, organisations are still being weighed down by inefficient manual and paper-based processes.

A big culprit? The dreaded paper forms.

In this blog post, we’ll explore why your organisation should move to software for form automation and automated workflows.

We'll then help you understand the possibilities of online forms and workflows for increasing efficiency and helping stakeholders across all areas of your business.

The real cost of paper forms

One paper form may seem innocuous. But think about what it means for organisations to print, process and store thousands of forms. The real cost of paper forms includes:

  • Filing cabinets, boxes and storage space needed
  • Paper supplies costs
  • Environmental costs
  • Delivery and postage costs
  • Financial and legal risk of not meeting regulatory compliance
  • Administration hours wasted on processing simple forms (scan the form, input details into the system, get signatures and/or approvals from managers and file forms)
  • Administration hours wasted on processing complex forms requiring approval from multiple stakeholders (especially when stakeholders are in different locations)
  • The time employees spend locating and retrieving the correct and updated version of forms
  • The time to retrieve forms for annual internal or external audits
  • The cost to productivity and efficiency for misfiled and lost forms

Suddenly the real cost of using thousands of paper forms isn’t so small. While moving to online form software will require an initial investment, the ROI will be immediate and it will be significant!

The power of form automation workflows

It’s safe to say, we’ve all dealt with the nightmare of chasing paper trails, whether it’s gaining approval from a busy HR manager or figuring out who is currently in possession of a paper form.

Form automation software, also known as form workflow software, streamlines and automates the process of sharing, managing and getting approval for digital forms.

Often times this process involves form approval workflows, whereby a form is submitted, and the appropriate people are notified to provide approval. Workflows can be approved or rejected via email or the form dashboard interface. This speeds up approvals and removes the need for an administrator to manage the flow of forms.

Form automation workflows can be as simple or complex as needed. For example, routing rules that are implemented can define whether the workflow needs to be skipped, reassigned, ended or passed to another user. When action is required from another user, notifications can easily be set up to alert them, with notifications sent periodically until the action is completed. Fields can also be hidden or visible at different times of the workflow depending on who is approving the form.

And of course, all of this is fully trackable. Each and every form that’s processed can be kept for auditing and management purposes.

Tip: Combine your forms and workflow with an intranet or portal. You can ensure your form appears alongside contextually relevant information. For more insights, check out 'The Power of Forms and Workflows for Intranets and Portals'.

 

Forms and Workflow Webinar Mar 2020 - Small Blog Banner Image

 

8 ways to improve efficiency with forms and workflows

1. Capturing Website Enquiries

One of the key website best practices to follow is to optimise your website to move visitors through the buying process. All websites, from informational sites through to e-commerce sites, will likely have to host several online forms.

And while there is the option of letting visitors contact you via email, forms let you capture the exact fields required, to deliver the best possible service to prospects and clients.

How forms and workflows help

  • Visitors can request the organisation contact them to answer general enquires or provide support
  • Prospects can book a consultation or demonstration of the product
  • Customers can immediately order or purchase a product
  • Prospects can provide contact details in order to instantly receive access to gated content
  • Administrators can create one enquiry form, where the field a visitor selects triggers notifications to different departments and/or staff to follow up
  • Administrators can easily keep track of form submissions via a central dashboard
  • New customer details are automatically captured into integrated systems 

Australian Parachute Federation Example

The Australian Parachute Federation (APF) is the peak body for the administration, regulation and representation of Australian Sport Parachuting. Their website serves as both a public information site, as well as a membership system when staff members are logged in.

Forms and workflows are critical for them. They have been able to write a database query that retrieves data and presents it in a form to the user.

For example, members fill in online forms on the APF website to upgrade their membership. As part of this form, members can select from a field which skydiving Chief Instructor should be reviewing their form. The Chief Instructors can see forms assigned to them in their ‘to do’ box on the membership system.

Because it’s coming from their database, the options in these form fields are automatically updated when appointments change.

2. Managing Events Online

Using email and spreadsheets to run an event is hopelessly inefficient and extremely frustrating. Instead, manage the whole event from one place, helping you both before and after.

From training courses and 'lunch and learn' sessions for staff, to public events on your website, forms and workflows can be used to manage any formal or informal event.

How forms and workflows help

  • Organisers can book a room and equipment through a facility booking system
  • Organisers can create a new event via filling in a form which is then published after it is approved by an administrator
  • People can register for the event, submitting any custom information needed, such as dietary requirements, and allowing them to ask any questions
  • Once a person registered, it can trigger a series of follow up steps for the organiser and relevant people
  • Organisers can coordinate the event by viewing who has registered and keeping an eye on numbers
  • Feedback can be gathered after the event from attendees 

3. Processing Customer Applications

New customer applications often require several steps; the customer filling in the form, notifying several departments to perform their own checks and processes, notifying external parties for form approval flows and checks, processing payments, requesting additional information from customers, providing next steps to customers, and so on.

Not surprisingly, this process can take a long time.

Yet, the speed and ease in which you process applications can be the difference between a satisfied long term customer, and a frustrated short term customer.

How forms and workflows help

  • Customers can fill in and submit application forms online, on any device
  • Payments are processed instantly via a secure third-party payment gateway
  • Digital signatures can be captured by signing with a mousepad on a larger device or using index fingers on a mobile device
  • Customers can digitally attach supporting documents to fast track approval
  • Workflows are automatically triggered either in linear or parallel flows to relevant staff members and external parties to approve, process and perform checks
  • Administrators can monitor where in the workflow process a form is
  • New customer details are automatically captured into integrated systems once the application is approved 

Northcott Healthcare Example

As a result of the acquisition of over 100 accommodation services, Northcott, one of Australia’s largest not-for-profit disability service organisations, needed to efficiently manage the complex quoting process to request funds from NDIA (National Disability Insurance Agency) for their Supported Independent Living (SIL) customers.

The solution was to implement a form and workflow that automates the quoting process for requesting funds from NDIA.

Once a form is submitted, it triggers workflow paths depending on the criteria supplied, with different staff members being notified to action an item such as supplying or checking information. They can then approve it to move it along the workflow or reject it, which either moves it back to the previous person or on a different path. 

For instance, touchpoints could include the assigned contact who is responsible for overseeing the process, house lead, financial reviewer, senior manager and the claiming and compliance team.

4. Managing Common HR Processes

Individual employees, managers and HR functions need to complete a lot of people-related processes. These include appraisals, manager approvals, updating HR information, applying for jobs and getting promoted.

By supporting employee and manager self-service, forms and workflow software, particularly those housed in intranet solutions, empowers staff to complete simple tasks themselves and relieve the burden on HR professionals.

How forms and workflows help

  • Streamline simple form approval workflows for HR-related requests such as annual leave, sick leave and travel requests
  • HR teams can publish and collect informal poll answers to gauge employee opinions
  • HR teams can collect company-wide or department specific survey responses
  • Departments can collect company-wide or department specific survey responses
  • More complex HR processes, such as 360-degree appraisals and performance reviews, can be automated so they are more efficient 

5. Automating Content Creation (With Form Approvals)

As part of business as usual processes, certain information needs to be collected on a recurring basis. And it should be collected in a standardised and property formatted way that can be searched via a database.

With forms and workflows, you can bring automated content creation to business processes, from faster publishing to better tracking management.

Some process you might automate:

  • Staff need to submit recurring reports for their medical research project, as part of one of the projects for a health organisation
  • Staff need to submit work incidences from their work site, enabling a construction company to easily keep track of and report on incidences
  • Visitors want to submit a local event they’re organising, on a local council website

How forms and workflows help

  • Notifications can be set up to trigger a user to fill in a form
  • Security permissions can be added to forms so they are only seen by select user groups
  • Users can access online forms via a central interface to submit information
  • Notifications can be triggered requesting approval from administration staff prior to publishing
  • Articles are automatically published via a templated article based on the form’s values end users have submitted
  • All articles are housed in a central interface that can be searched and filtered for easy reference

STAR Group Example

STAR Group is a privately owned Tier 1 electrical, communications and maintenance contractor specialising in electrical, data and communications, high voltage, audio-visual, engineering and wholesale services.

As part of their commitment to safety, they have a HSEQ (Health, Safety, Environment, & Quality) section with news, quality checklists, safety datasheets, project HSEW setup form and incident tracking.

Historically it has been challenging to keep a record of all incidences and to see what incidences have occurred, since staff work in many different locations. Now staff simply fill in an incident notification form for workplace injuries, equipment damage and other incidents. This triggers a workflow requesting approval for the form submitted. Once approved, the system generates an article that appears in the Incident Library, which can then be found via search or filtering through all incidences. It can also trigger support tasks to be completed to enable efficient tracking management.

Star Group Intranet Mobile View

6. Handling Support and IT Tickets

Automated form workflows can drive a self-service approach to the use of technology, easing the pressure on the busy IT helpdesk, from streamlining simple processes to quickly assisting users and tracking their support issues.

Better yet, it can be used to support both an internal and external audience.

How forms and workflows help

  • Staff can access a range of self-service forms for IT related tasks such as requesting a new work device
  • Staff and customers can submit a support ticket
  • When logged into the interface, form fields are automatically populated with user contact details
  • Notifications are automatically triggered to relevant IT staff to review once a form is submitted
  • When appropriate, support tasks to be performed are automatically triggered on form submission, to enable efficient tracking and process management
  • All tickets can be viewed on a central interface and sorted by status, such as open and closed tickets

7. Onboarding New Staff and Volunteers

Mastering the employee onboarding process is challenging for both staff and the organisation.

Joining a company can be bewildering, with a multitude of people to meet, a huge list of tasks to complete and a mountain of knowledge to assimilate, all at the same time!

Making new employees feel welcome when they first join helps increase employee retention, drives engagement and allows people to get up to speed more quickly.

In the same vein, onboarding new volunteers can be a long process involving several departments and people.

How forms and workflows help

  • Staff and volunteers can fill in new employment related forms such as medical and emergency contact forms prior to starting at the company
  • Managers can request new IT equipment IT departments
  • Managers can request new office supplies from the administration/operations teams
  • Workflows can be triggered to notify all relevant parties to undertake the processes and checks above for new staff members 

Further reading: [Guide] Employee Onboarding Best Practices

Saint Ignatius’ College, Riverview Example

Saint Ignatius’ College, Riverview is a private, independent Catholic school for boys in the Jesuit tradition located in Sydney.

Saint Ignatius are continually improving how they utilise their forms automation software tool. They have built a workflow process to onboard parent volunteers.

This involves several steps including completing a children’s check, booking and completing WHS induction training, and agreeing to a code of conduct.

8. Supporting Professional Training Opportunities

A big part of employee satisfaction is ensuring staff receive the professional ongoing training they need to progress within the organisation. This can be difficult given the number of people working from home or from a remote location.

Externally, membership organisations may find themselves needing to provide training opportunities to their members.

A lot of these processes can be automated with learning management systems to deliver courses online and intranets or portals which provide supporting contextually resources. But did you know forms and workflows can help too?

How forms and workflows help

  • Staff and members can submit and apply for external professional learning programs
  • Staff and members can submit and apply for internal learning programs
  • Managers receive automatic notifications to approve learning programs for staff
  • Members can automatically be enrolled in learning programs after enrolling via a form, and have payments processed automatically if needed
  • Other departments can be notified e.g. finance to handle costs and HR to add leave dates for training.
  • Surveys easily gather feedback from training. 

Related reading: [Blog posts] 8 Key Benefits of an Intranet for Your Workplace and Why Your Organisation Needs an Enterprise Intranet.

Conclusion

Duplicated effort, the risk of mistakes, the ability to lose the form, lack of speed, the waste of paper and the inability to derive data from the process, make paper forms (and even forms within documents that are sent around via emails) highly inefficient.

These monotonous, low value tasks often consume a staff member's time that can be used towards higher-value more interesting and rewarding work - work that fuels productivity and improves an organisation’s bottom line.

Online form automation and workflow approvals replaces inefficiency and wasted effort. Now everybody can get on with the more interesting aspects of their roles!

Next Steps

Interested in seeing what a sophisticated form automation and workflow software could do for your organisation? Check out Elcom Forms and Workflows.

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