An Introduction to Forms Management
About the book
The book was first published in 1994. The translation has been made available for the Hamburg International Book Fair.
Patrik Lauwens is the author and co-author of books on internal and external business communication, forms management and logistics.
"A form holds a mirror to an organisation"
"Good forms stand for effective communication, cost cutting and efficient gathering of information. A bad form is a severe loss and a risk to be avoided. Which company or administration is willing to cope with that? After all, you have all reasons to take a form seriously starting from its first draft. A form is a logistic and marketing instrument. It accompanies raw materials or information throughout the production process. Each form sent to a customer or business relation is an opportunity for marketing. It should always be treated with care.
But, what is a good and efficient form? Moreover, gathering good forms does not necessarily mean a good forms management. And that is what it all boils down to: professional management of good forms."
Every person involved in forms logistics within a company, may obtain a better insight into the complexity of the various tasks of forms administration and can help valorize form applications through this book. We aim at product managers, people in charge of divisions or procedures, purchasing and wharehouse managers, organizational experts, people in charge of automation and production planning and other management levels.
Officials, who are directly involved with forms management (forms analysts, managers, designers, purchasers), are offered a scheme of thought, which, through particular rules of thumb, may contribute to a more efficient interpretation of their function. The different functions of forms managers, which are mentioned seperately in this book, are often part of the assignment of one polyvalent official. Forms logistics is in any way a dynamic and interactive happening between the different areas that are elaborated in this book.
What people expect from forms management, can differ enormously in each organisation. Insurance companies, mailorder companies and banks are all, no matter what their size is, large paper consumers: contracts, policies, statements, correspondence. For production companies the form is more of a secondary product. Therefor aspects such as forms management and design are of less importance in smaller production companies. The importance of costs and quality control as to form applications will increase with the volume of forms consumption.
For graphic companies and for developers of "user-friendly" software, this book will offer insight into the specific problems, the expectations and the needs of forms publishers. For printers forms constitute an important volume of work that requires a certain degree of specialization. This book pays special notice to the technical-graphical styling of forms. It integrates, with a well-considered lay-out, all aspects of forms analysis into a functional design.
This book is not designed to provide a better "filling-in" education for the user of forms. On the contrary, the responsability of all parties involved in forms logistics is heavily stressed, because they are the creators and managers of a working device that must be tuned as well as possible to the user's ease of filling in and interpreting and to all following treatments.
Forms logistics are essentially a professionally performed service to internal and external users.
There are more aspects to forms applications that mere filling in and completing. Forms help record data uniformily and systematically. These data are transformed, transposed, read, processed, reproduced. Recorded data are often transported, stored, filled, looked up and consulted. Form applications must be evaluated from each of the mentioned points of view, if a clear picture of the form as an informative-organizational aid is to be obtained.
A person filling in a form often is left with critical thoughts. A form ties the user down to the tight pattern of question and answer. The user feels limited in his freedom to communicate, asks himself why some information is to be revealed or does not see the relevance of certain questions at all. Moreover, the transmission of information by means of forms is, as a rule, 'slower' than oral communication. Forms have to be filled in or completed by e.g. writing or typing. The title of a form often reveals little or no information about its purpose, the gaps are too small or the lay-out is absolutely unattractive. Sometimes professional help is indispensible or much looking up has to be done in order to fill in a form properly. Most of the times the user can only be motivated by the mere result. A form is filled in e.g. to enjoy some kind of allowance or to obtain some advantage.
People processing forms can also have their grievances. They may for example be irritated when forms are not tuned to the processing equipment or to the files or if they can only be put into envelopes after lots of folding. Entering information from a document into a computer for example becomes a nerve-racking job if both form applications are not tuned to eachother.
Organizzations, who publish forms, consider the form as more than a mere 'piece of paper to be filled in'. Forms can help record information to be processed later and should reduce the risk of wrong or incomplete information. Form applications are designed to store, transport, reproduce, consult and process information. Filled in forms get a documentary character. Forms, that record agreements or engagements and are confirmed by signature, initials or a secret code even become pieces of legal evidence.
Forms management is a professional area in which the supplier, the processor and the inquirer of information are present as parties concerned..
The forms manager is assigned the task of analysing the process of gathering and processing information. This analysis is to result into designing user-friendly forms.
On the one hand forms have to be tuned to the user, on the other to the processor. The tuning to the user means that the form can be easily filled in, no redundant questions are asked, repetition of questions asked earlier is avoided. It has to be drawn up in understandable language.
In addition it has to give insight into the way the form is processed and to which result it will lead. The user must be able to fill it in autonomously with as little means as possible.
Tuning to the processor implies:
Saving reading and writing work;
Structuring information in view of later selection and sorting;
Only inquiring relevant information;
Offering control on security and accuracy;
Allowing quick processing;
Restoring mistakes is labour-intensive, both for the user and the processor and leads to delays. The inquirer for information has additional requirements: the form must reflect the background arrangement as accurately as possible, use correct terminology and reach the target group. The evaluation of the use, if necessary the correction of the concept and the circulation of the forms are other, not less important assignments of forms managers.
Besides the user-friendly design availability is essential to the accessibility of a certain form application.
The first question asked by a forms manager is which added value a form application creates. Only if a form has an added value, the application of a form has the right to exist. When asking this question, the purposes of a form are considered systematically. Also for existing form applications it is necessary to investigate the purpose and the right to exist in advance.
Forms must be efficient. The cost-benefit analysis of a form application has to be well-founded both in application and in production. Moreover, forms have to be effective. They have to obtain the intended target. These requirements are valid as well for commercial as for internal forms. After all, using internal forms represents a direct investment in labour time, in this case the user time. Let us, for example, have a closer look at a "production form". It is a form that is aimed to guide the succession of actions during a production process. Production accompanying forms mostly are not subject to the same design requirements as external forms, but this does not prevent the same questions as regards the contents about the added value, the right to exist, the user-friendliness from being imposed.
In this connection it is casually demonstrated that forms management is not limited to the services sector, but has also an important role to play in the production sector.
The added value of a production form can vary greatly:
Uniformization of the production process;
Quality surveillance by means of integrated controls;
Efficiency increase by prescribing the most yielding and time saving way of working or succession of actions;
Give insight into the whole part of the production process;
Failure detection and correction.
Efficiency and effectivity are requirements which must be met by e.g. official forms or even forms of non-profit organizations. The idea that official forms only have to reflect the background arrangement, which often stands for the legal arrangement, shows little or no care for the user. This assumption supposes that professionals could guide the applicant through the web of administrative formalities as a public service. Meanwhile, many authorities reconsider the form as a social marketing instrument. This pholosophy, by the way, goes as well for non-profit organizations, which essentially are "social profit" organizations most of the times.
The accessibility of forms is, for example, inversely proportional to the underconsumption of arrangements. Underconsumption stands for the phenomenon of too little people taking advantage of the arrangements they are entitled to. The authority is, among others, facing the challenge of responsibilizing its administration and making it accessible to the public. It will never achieve these targets, if efforts are not made to realize organization and logistic means.
Efficiency and effectivity can be expected from all form applications, either private or public, for internal or external services or for production.
Forms management can be best described as the investigation into the purposiveness of new and existing forms. A coordinated forms management should in the first place lead to rationalization of form applications based on their added value.
It is by no means cheap to use forms. Design, production and use represent a certain cost. Outstanders do not always think much of publishing forms, as if forms were used too voluntary and too much. Or, as if publishing forms is no more than an "administration for the administration's sake", which only seeks to confirm itself. Nevertheless, by now the tasks of forms management have evolved with the automation of data-processing. Besides traditional printed matter there has been an increase of electronically printed matter, final processing procedures are automated and fill-in displays make their appearance. Display applications are e.g. interactive with paper forms, which function as entering concept or outputform (e.g. listing, computer form). The total approach of both raises the efficiency of data transmission from paper to display and vice versa. Centralized or decentralized electronic printing allows printing of "custom-made" or size-made forms. Many forms are conceived in function of automatic final processing, such as automatic reading, folding, enveloping, franking. In case of a total approach of form applications "a conflict of interests" between paper and display is out of the question.
Controlling the effectiveness and the application of forms boils down to controlling an important aspect of costs.
Form designers more and more often use Desk-Top-Publishing programmes or Electronic-Document-Composition software to shape up form concepts. Texts are, for example, scanned into a desing system and integrated into the form lay-out. This process simplifies the copy preparation. Later on form designers deliver an electronic design to the printer on disk, film or bromure or, by means of telecommunication, send their designs to an automatic setting system or a composing system for electronic printing. Digitally generated forms are subject to the same graphic and functional design requirements that are valid for traditional printed matter.
In case of voluminous form files realizing the pre-press preparations within the company leads to considerable increase of efficiency and costs saving.
Economically a form is a physical (printed matter) or electronical (e.g. fill-in display) operational means, which prepares an assignment, firstly an mostly filling in data. These data become information after having been read, interpreted, processed or reproduced during the next step. During this process, which occurs repetitively and often spread over various locations by totally different users or readers, the point is to get to the necessary data, nothing more, nothing less, with the smallest possible failure margin. Additionally the processing of forms needs to be achieved within the shortest possible period of time. The influence of a form application on the labour costs is illustrated in the example below.
One form requiring a fill-in time of 10 minutes and an interpretation time of 5 minutes represents within the organization, when consuming 10 000 copies yearly, a labour volume of 150 000 minutes. If labour and logistic costs mount up to 30 USD/EUR per hour on average, this represents an operating cost of 75 000 USD/EUR. Considering a failure margin of 5% with an average correction time of 10 minutes, an additional cost of 2 500 USD/EUR is to be taken into account.
The cost, however, approached theoretically in this example, is difficult to detect within a larger company as it is generated spread over different parts of the company. This is the reason why form analysis, form design, technical-graphical realization and stock management (in function of the availability, continuous correction) is too often ignored as an administrative-organizational cost determinant. The internal and external communicative value of the form as a 'business card' of a company is probably even more difficult to estimate. When form coordination works out perfectly, problems will generally be avoided. Unfortunately, it is often the problems that point out the importance of a reliable forms management.
The forms manager controlls all aspects of forms logistics: form analysis, developement of a form concept, design, production and purchasing, availability, spreading and use, stock management and user support.
The leitmotiv throughout these activities is the normalization of the design and the application, which, together with cost and quality control create the framework for an efficient and effective approach of forms logistics.