AIIM, Process-Critical Forms and the Mobile Workforce, 2012
Making the digital savings.
Look around any business and you will see a myriad of forms-centric processes. Processes are triggered by forms,
monitored by forms and approved by forms. And in most businesses, the majority of these forms still involve paper. In
some cases, the forms are scanned in advance of the process and the data is captured electronically for use in the
process. In others the blank form is distributed electronically as a PDF file or as a fax image. But in most cases, the form
is actually pre-printed on paper, distributed physically, filled-in using a pen – often just to collect a signature – and
managed through the process as a paper document.
These days, of course, there are many forms that can be filled in entirely electronically on the web, most famously the tax
forms that we are all familiar with. We are quite used to filling out order forms, survey forms and registration forms on the
web. It is generally more convenient, the data is likely to be more accurate, and it certainly achieves a much quicker result
than mailing and manual processing.
But it only works if we are next to a computer screen. And that is a problem if we are walking round a factory or a shop, or
if we are at a patient’s bedside or a customer’s house, or we are walking down a street or in a vehicle. This is where we
traditionally resort to filling in paper forms or checking off printed lists. And we frequently place the form on a clipboard for
convenience. The physical form, and its hand-written signature, may often form the basis of a quality system, a customer
or patient approval, or a legal agreement.
This is not to say that handheld data collection devices are new or unusual. Shelf-stackers in stores, courier delivery
drivers, and even waiters in restaurants have been using them for years, and some will collect signatures as well as
numerical data. What is new is the ready availability of slim, lightweight, always-on and always-connected tablets, such as
the iPad or the more specialized “digital clipboard” products. These products also offer the possibility of taking photoimages or voice recordings, and they know where they are geographically.
In this report, we will look at how these products open up forms capture and mobile-to-process applications to produce
dramatic savings in turnaround time, data accuracy and productivity. We will also look at the trade-offs between ubiquitous
“personal tablets” and those dedicated products that are built specifically for mobile data capture, incorporating encryption,
secure communications, pre-built process interfaces and a degree of ruggedization.
The True Cost of Paper
The financial and environmental arguments for reducing the amount of paper used in the office are well rehearsed. It is not
the purchase cost per sheet that matters, but the handling and add-on costs that result from photocopying, faxing, mailing,
storing and disposing of paper. In a recent AIIM survey in our Industry Watch series1, respondents estimated an office
floor-space saving of 8% would result from an electronic-only filing policy after five years. When it comes to handling
costs, however, forms are very much a special case.
Forms printing, distribution, collection and sorting represent a considerable overhead even before we try to strip the data
from the completed form – whether manually or by scanning and capture. No matter if the blank forms are volume printed
and mailed to customers, or are 15th generation photocopies distributed in an ad hoc way to employees, they represent a
cost – not least of which is the policing of out-of-date and superseded forms. If the forms are personalized or part prepopulated, the costs rise further. However, the costs mount dramatically once the forms have been completed by the user,
and need to be transported safely, securely and quickly to the start of the appropriate process, wherever that may be, and
whether or not it includes a scanning and capture element.
In the AIIM survey mentioned earlier1, we asked respondents to estimate how much it costs them, per document or form,
in printing, distribution, mailing, collection and sorting, prior to either scanning or paper-based processing. Eliminating 14
responses of over $75 per form (which may well be valid for certain very specialized applications or remote locations) the
average cost per form is $4.56. The median (mid-point) is $2.00, but for 20% of respondents the cost per form is $10 or
more. In all cases, it is somewhat more than the raw cost of the paper itself.
In the next section we will see how scanning and capture of forms into electronic format provides a considerable
productivity saving within the process itself, but even so, if the form was initially completed on paper, the scanning cost
needs to be factored in, and here we included the preparation, scan and capture process costs, including QA (Quality
Approval). In our survey, the average cost of capture per form or document was $2.84, and the median $1.50, with 25%
reporting $5 or more per form. Taking these two numbers together, we can consider that a direct entry mechanism for
forms data will generally save between $3.5 and $7 per form compared to paper origination, even if the core process is
Process Benefits of Capture
The business process management and workflow benefits of using electronic forms within the process itself are well
documented. In one AIIM survey2 we asked, “How much more productive do you think the administrative staff in your
organization would be (or are) if their processes were work-flowed, using scanned forms and documents, with automated
data capture.” The average was a 33% improvement with a third saying 50% or more. We consistently measure a
payback period for the investment in scanning and capture of 18 months or less for more than half of organizations1. In
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Process-Critical Forms and the Mobile Workforce
- making the digital savings White Paper
terms of customer response, nearly 30% of a recent survey1 estimated that speed of response to customers, suppliers,
citizens or staff has been improved by 10 times or more following their investment in scanning and capture.
If we play that out to electronic data capture at first point of entry, then a number of additional benefits flow. Firstly, we
remove the costs of handling paper forms and of either scanning them in, or worse, hand-keying the data. Secondly, we
speed up turnaround times as the data will be ready for processing immediately on creation, without the elapsed time of
collecting and scanning the paper form. Thirdly, we are likely to improve the accuracy of the data entered, as it can be
validated against data held in the application – no more unreadable forms, invalid ID codes or out-of-range answers.
As we mentioned in the introduction, on-screen forms filling becomes more difficult away from the office. As we can see in
Figure 1, 36% of organizations use mobile devices for forms capture for field service personnel, ranging down to 6% who
capture mobile data directly from their customers. In some applications, the availability of immediate connection to the
process provides a step-change in customer service or staff productivity. For example, immediate loan or claim approvals,
customized contract sign-off, appointment scheduling options, triggered health or safety warnings, etc.
Figure 1: Which of the following employee roles make use of forms capture from portable/mobile devices in your
business unit? (AIIM IW Survey1, N=69 with staff who use mobile devices)
Quite a range of devices are in use, including portable scanners, smartphones, tablets and specialist terminals. In the
survey cited, 14% use portable scanners to capture supporting documents, and 11% use them for scanning forms.
Smartphones are more likely to be used for capturing photo-records (12%) with only 6% using them to scan and possibly
OCR (4%) forms or supporting documents. Tablets are seeing rapid growth with 6% of organizations using them to directly
capture forms data. Companies adopting paperless processes see an increase of 28% in productivity. We can see from Figure 2 that the always-on benefits of Wi-Fi and 3G are making big inroads on
more traditional batch download.
Figure 2: Which of the following locations/connection types apply to your portable forms apps?
(AIIM IW Survey1, N=95)
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0% 5% 10% 15% 20% 25% 30% 35% 40%
0% 5% 10% 15% 20% 25% 30% 35% 40%
On-premise (shop-floor, warehouse, etc.)
- batch download
On-premise – Wi-Fi
Customer site – download back-at-base
Customer site – 3G connect
Travelling – 3G/hot spot