The complete guide to automated form processing
Whether purchasing a product online or visiting a doctor’s office, forms have become an integral part of how companies do business. Yet while many organizations are on the path to automating their processes for greater efficiency and time-saving, quite a few remain behind when it comes to form handling.
Only 67% of companies are using business process automation to streamline tasks like form data entry. This can open up additional risks for lost time, increased costs, and human error.
Whether a company works with paper or digital forms, the information collected must be uploaded or input into a database for storage and analysis to ultimately be useful. Automated form processing can solve these issues and more while helping organizations remain compliant with data collection policies and approval processes.
Forms are everywhere, even in a digital age when consumers are accustomed to encountering requests for their information. But many companies still struggle to make the most of the data they collect without wasting resources along the way.
Here, we’ll delve into what automated form processing is, how it works, and how it can benefit businesses. This article will cover:
- What automated form processing is
- How automated form processing works
- The benefits of automated form processing
What is automated form processing?
Automated form processing is a set of software procedures that handles the creation, completion, submission, and management of data generated through forms — both digital and physical — allowing for information to be aggregated into a centralized database. These programs manage everything from scanning paper documents to parsing and storing data collected in the proper fields.
By collecting, extracting, and storing data this way, companies can eliminate redundant and time-consuming data entry tasks while improving the overall quality of the data itself.
Automated form processing can be applied to any number of different form types, including applications, enrollment forms, invoices, taxes, and ballots. The goal is to eliminate ways for errors to be introduced to the data by streamlining input methods and reducing the need for human intervention.
Automated form processing can also be integrated with additional workflows to ensure that the data is not only input correctly but also prepared for reporting and analysis. Some of these are configured to do calculations on their own before or during the process of providing the information to the database. This allows stakeholders to better leverage the data collected by the company, often in real time or on a regular basis, depending on the volume and frequency with which the data is entered into the system.
How does automated form processing work?
Automated form processing works in several different ways, largely driven by how the data is collected. There are two main avenues for this — digital and physical.
Digital forms can be augmented with progressive fields that guide users through the process, including field validation to ensure consistent data collection. They can also be customized with automatic confirmations that can be sent out once the form has been completed. All of these form entries should be collected and stored in fields mapped to a centralized database for future review, segmentation, and analysis.
For data collected on physical paper forms, automation can be applied through the use of optical character recognition (OCR). This process converts text scanned by software into text that can be entered into a database. OCR software, relying on form templates, pulls the data based on where the template indicates it should pull information from and saves the content to a centralized database.
Automation tools can recognize which form was completed as well as the field type in use. Note that these applications can be designed to work with both typed and handwritten text as well as different field types, including plain text, checkboxes, or bubbles.
For either digital or physical form processing, form templates are pivotal to a system’s ability to understand where and how to map data. These templates often indicate the field types, names, and locations to be reviewed and processed. How these templates are put together and used depends on the type of form in question. Forms are generally divided into two different categories: fixed and semi-structured.
- Fixed forms. These include the same fields in the same place. Users select a form template for the software to reference. As the application scans the form input, the data is pulled in and stored in the appropriate matching fields based on the template. An example of this is a candidate application form for a particular job.
- Semi-structured forms. These lack consistency with fields placed in various places on different forms. Each document contains similar information that appears in different locations on the form. An example of this is the processing of invoices from different vendors.
Once the form type and template have been established, different tools can be put to work through the software application. While OCR is among the most common, recognizing standard letters, numbers, and symbols, a few other components can be used to process form data.
- Intelligent character recognition (ICR). Identifies handwritten characters transcribed in English.
- Optical mark recognition (OMR). Identifies bubbles or checkboxes completed by hand for either single or multi-select fields.
Form processing will also vary depending on the system in place but generally entails content being scanned in or uploaded to a single system. The application reviews the provided images and content and uses recognition tools to improve accuracy. Forms are then matched to their template, and the field-level data is extracted by the software and mapped into the corresponding system fields. The data is then saved to the database for human review and analysis.
For all of this to work, a bit of preplanning and configuration is needed. However, the upfront investment of time and resources for templates, field mapping, output definitions, and database setup are well worthwhile, especially for companies dealing with large or growing amounts of data.
The benefits of automated form processing
When it comes to automating form processing, whether digital or physical, the benefits are plentiful. Companies largely look toward automation to help streamline existing processes that could gain an advantage by relegating tasks to software previously handled by humans. Here are just some of the ways organizations can improve their data management by leveraging automated form processing.
Automated form processing is much quicker than manual form processing. Once the software is set up and the templates are established, systems are able to review and input data from forms with greater speed than possible with physical data entry. Keep in mind that these processes can also run 24/7, allowing for around-the-clock data entry that ensures teams keep up with the influx of information they are collecting.
Automated form processing also makes it faster for users to navigate, search, and locate the data they need once it has been entered into the database. With more consistent entries that are up to date, users are able to leverage the information with more confidence and by applying other tools that integrate with their databases.
The time savings can go a long way, with automation able to save employees 3.6 hours a week. This also impacts efficiency with less effort required to achieve the desired outcomes for data collection and review.
Eliminating or significantly reducing human intervention also limits human error when it comes to form processing. Applications are able to immediately identify data and enter it correctly both with the right data and in the right fields. Data extraction from forms governed by OCR and similar recognition tools also keeps information consistent from one form entry to the next.
Accuracy in data entry is critical to business operations. Companies need to be able to rely on the data that they collect as being correct to draw conclusions and make business decisions based on it. Better data quality reduces corporate risk, improves compliance, and more appropriately directs initiatives across the organization — including marketing, product development, and financial decisions.
Companies save in several ways with automated form processing. For one, they do not have to pay salaries to individuals for manually processing forms, opening up key talent to handle other tasks that are vital to operations. Another way companies save is through the reduction in errors that improved accuracy brings.
Ensuring the right data is in the right fields for the proper account or customer records streamlines other processes from human resources to marketing and accounting. The time saved through automation can also impact the bottom line, freeing up resources to focus on other tasks while making it easier for users to access and process data for strategic use.
With software programs responsible for the tedious job of reviewing form data and entering it into a database, employees are able to focus on higher level tasks. This can help improve team morale and output as they are released from manually inputting data and the threat of producing costly inadvertent errors along the way. Employees will also have more immediate and accurate access to the data they need to perform their jobs productively.
Requiring employees to carry through repetitive tasks that could be otherwise automated also affects the bottom line. More satisfied employees can reduce turnover, which can be costly to organizations. Disengaged employees can also result in 18% lower productivity and 15% lower profitability, further impacting operations and performance.
Form automation can speed up the process for those asked to complete forms as well. Instead of providing customers with manual forms requiring them to write in their details time and time again, automation can guide users through sections one at a time and carry over repetitive details with consistency. This results in a better user experience and can also ensure more accurate data entry along the way.
Automated solutions also allow for responsive forms that can fast-track completion and take less user time in the process.
Customer experience is a critical part of business operations, with more consumers expecting frictionless interactions with brands throughout their customer journey. Only 66% of people who begin a form online successfully complete it. Considering that there is no field validation or enforcement on paper submissions, automating the experience can help ensure higher completion rates and improve customer impressions of a brand at the same time.
Get started with automated form processing
Automated form processing stands to help businesses become more efficient and productive by streamlining data entry with an eye to accuracy and speed. While paper forms may be necessary in some instances, companies can incorporate automated processing to ensure that their hard-copy forms include the fields and templates that mirror their digital counterparts for broader consistency and accuracy.
Another way companies can take advantage of improved data processing includes thinking through the customer journey from the start and adapting data capture to customer needs. Collecting only the necessary data can reduce wasted database space as well as streamline the experience for customers who would rather leave a form incomplete than fill in dozens of fields.
Leaders can also benefit from learning about customer data management to create a bird’s-eye view of their customer profiles and develop greater insights into behaviors and target segmentation. Team leaders can also find an advantage by better understanding how data is collected and processed by the organization as a whole since batch and real-time data processing can lead to differences in when and how information is reviewed.
Adobe can help
Adobe Experience Manager is designed to help companies optimize their data entry through responsive forms that travel with customers across platforms and devices. From advanced targeting to personalization, brands are able to capture the data that means the most to their business success while ensuring a seamless customer experience that is scalable and powerful.