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Mobile forms help businesses go paper-free

Businesses that modernize paper-based processes by adopting mobile forms see an uptick in efficiency and cost savings. But IT must ensure that form data is secure.

Organizations can save time and money by automating everyday business processes with mobile forms that users access and fill out on smartphones and tablets.

Paper documents are a necessity for human resources, operations and other departments, but they require a big time commitment, are tough to organize and may not consistently gather data in case of user error. It can also be inefficient for organizations with remote workers who must send paper forms back to central offices. Software such as ProntoForms, Laserfiche, Citrix Secure Forms and others can digitize these documents and address these issues through automatic data entry and processing capabilities.

"Businesses that buy into these processes benefit, but businesses with old-school processes get left behind," said Jeff Peel, COO of Pesado Energy Services, a pipeline construction company in Mize, Miss. The company uses a mobile forms app from ProntoForms Corp., a software provider in Kanata, Ont., for its human resources department.

Before adopting ProntoForms' app, Pesado Energy Services' HR department would receive expense reports from remote workers in the mail, and then return them if they were filled out incorrectly -- adding days to the process. By digitizing these documents, employees can complete their reports on an iPhone or iPad and attach all necessary receipt images. ProntoForms also has an option for required fields, so users can't leave certain sections of a form blank. (Incomplete paper forms commonly caused problems for Pesado.) After completing all required fields of a form, employees can then upload expense reports to HR via the cloud.

Mobile forms save the department about five or six hours of work a week, Peel said.

Savings came from fixing an archaic process.
Jeff PeelCOO, Pesado Energy Services

"Savings came from fixing an archaic process," he said. "I don't have to get back to employees to find out what each expense was for. Now, that's all automated."

With ProntoForms, users can build their own mobile forms -- timesheets, invoices, inspection documents and more -- to run on their smartphones and tablets. By mobilizing these types of documents, it is easier for the business to track and aggregate important data regarding inventory, productivity and more. The numbers can sync to a spreadsheet to give executives an easy-to-read visual of these metrics.

"Paper-based processes are moving from paper to digital input into some kind of system," said Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst of Moor Insights and Strategy in Austin, Texas.

When making a paper process digital, it is important to include proper security measures, said Michael Finneran, president and mobile analyst at dBrn Associates in Hewlett Neck, N.Y.

Pesado Energy Services syncs data it accumulates, such as credit card information from employee expense reports, from ProntoForms into Google Sheets. When Pesado Energy Services' employees enter credit card information into ProntoForms, the data automatically feeds into a Google Sheets spreadsheet, which the company makes sure to secure, Peel said. It uses Sookasa, a software-as-a-service security offering, to encrypt all Google Sheets data. Authorized users have access to this data and can share it with other authorized users.

Citrix's Secure Forms, formerly known as WorxForms, integrates with its ShareFile product for back-end storage. Forms saved on ShareFile are encrypted until opened by authorized users, and the product complies with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard and other regulations. Secure Forms is currently in preview mode and will be generally available later this summer.

Pesado opted to use ProntoForms over other platforms because its offline feature lets users fill out mobile forms without Wi-Fi or cellular connectivity. Once an employee's device comes back online, any saved offline forms automatically sync back to the cloud. That's an important capability for Pesado's pipeline workers in remote areas, who fill out assessments, expense reports, inventory documents and other forms on a daily basis, Peel said.

"We've used it in just about every corner of our business," he said.

There are many use cases for mobile forms in other industries, too. Operations directors can use digital forms to perform inspections of restaurants on location, using checklists on their mobile devices to go through sanitation checks, inventory logs and more. Automobile roadside assistance companies can enter information about drivers faster on mobile devices, letting them handle more service calls per day. When filling out forms outside, documents won't be damaged by weather.

"It's cleaner, a lot less work," Finneran said. "Those are great things to have."

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