| February 16, 2016

Journey from Paper to Mobile Forms


Mobile Forms Journey from Paper 

By: Russ Hanson, CIO

I wanted to take a look back at the technology journey of mobile forms from paper. I was a kid born in 1970 and grew up in a small town of Payson, UT. I remember like every other kid being taught the alphabet, how to read, and how to write in plain English as well as in cursive. I remember as I was growing up seeing reams and reams of paper in all of my homework and books I read. Paper was everywhere and part of everyday life. My parents read the newspaper every day to get the latest news. My mother was a teacher and everything she did was on paper for herself and for her students. My father was a general contractor and everything he did for his business such as bids, contracts, blueprints, etc were all on paper. The computer was a new thing. My first computer, the Commodore 64, was awesome but was mainly used for games at my young age. 

When I got to my junior high and early high school years, the early 80’s desktop computers were just starting to enter my world. Again, these computers were mainly for cool games like Asteroids, Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, and Space Invaders. They were just starting to offer basic programming classes in high school by the time I got there. Being from Utah, I remember this company called Novell that started up nearby that became a huge network computer giant. They allowed companies and schools to run on a network and share applications and data. I also remember that nearby was another company called Word Perfect that started up. Some of my classmates in high school even interned there and I knew other people in the community that worked there. This was the beginning of a powerful word processor that would replace the old typewriter. Now word processors were the mainstream tool to create visual words, thoughts, and documents with vs. typewriters and handwritten letters. Then another competitor to Word Perfect called Microsoft created a competing product we are all very familiar with, Microsoft Word. The world was becoming digital right in front of me.

As I entered college in the early 90’s, I took a liking to Computer Science and became a software engineer. Technology was all around me and I loved it! Now, I would be a part of actually creating software and technology that changed the way people conducted business or how people communicated data and information. Writing something with a pencil or pen on paper was becoming a very rare thing. Signing a check or writing my name in cursive was almost forgotten (Sad really!). By that time, people were writing books, articles, documents, etc in the word processors that had quickly become a staple. The internet was still a fairly new concept and was just beginning to evolve into something bigger at that time. Most software programs were still desktop installed or client/server applications.

A few years later into the mid to late 90’s, the internet was becoming its own new world. All of the sudden, you started seeing applications showing up on the internet. During that time, people who were used to filling out forms on paper and we were starting to see digital forms built and filled out on Word Processors. We also started to see HTML forms coming to light on the new internet. How awesome was that? Fill out some information online, submit it, and the data was available for others to see in another web browsers somewhere else in the world. It was the beginning of data communication over the internet in an interactive way and the beginning of e-commerce as we know it today!

In early 2000, I worked at a company that jumped onto the new e-sign legislation that was passed which allowed an electric signature in an electronic document to become legally binding. This was well before Adobe perfected electronic signature document management software. The company I was with was on the cutting edge and had a full electronic form document workflow with a legally binding signature on the document. Just as this new technology was replacing the old word processing software, this company was located in one of the original Word Perfect buildings in Orem, UT. I remember they had a big news day in Utah with two lawyers, one in Salt Lake City, UT and one in Saint George, UT giving a live demo of the online document workflow all on the internet, both signing electronically. The document was legally binding without a pencil, pen, or paper involved at all. It was truly groundbreaking. The company was later sold and ultimately evolved into some other business on the East coast during the boom. Many companies went on to master this concept, with Adobe being one of those. This technology has opened up so many avenues for companies to streamline and optimize the way they do business over the internet.With the latest technologies, you can now build or mimic a paper form you use every day in your business into a mobile or electronic form online where you only need to build the form once. It’s stored forever, and you can reuse as many times as you need to conduct business. This is an extremely powerful tool. No more lost paper, no more mistakes, no more trying to find where this customer or that customer’s signed document is located in some file cabinet somewhere. It’s all there right in front of you now… Online, when you want it, and in a format you want it in. It’s accessible from anywhere in the world! It’s easy to search and find business documents between you and your clients or you and your employees from your browser, and now not only on a desktop or laptop computer but from mobile phones or tablets. Amazing!

You can change the way you do business by transforming your paper business forms into mobile forms or electronic forms for any form you use today between you and your customers, vendors or employees. Everyone should consider looking into a solution that can get your forms online and go paperless, not just to be “green” and save paper, but to be streamlined, better organized and efficient. You will also preserve accuracy in the data transferred between you and your clients/employees. In fact, I would go as far to say that like the progression of paper/pencil to the typewriter, and the typewriter to the word processor, that leveraging digital and mobile forms in your business is absolutely essential! If you don’t have a solution in place now, you will soon need one in order to remain competitive in today’s marketplace.

In searching for electronic forms or mobile forms apps or software, you should find something that not only allows you to associate your forms with customers, employees, or other parts of your business, but make sure it also plays well with other business tools you currently use. Look for a mobile forms app or web-based software that can capture media including photos, video, and audio recordings, even when the mobile device isn’t connected to the internet. You’ll also want to make sure you find a mobile forms app that syncs the data back to the cloud as soon as the mobile device is connected to the internet. There are many forms tools out there to choose from. I encourage you to look at the big picture and find a solution that will automate all your business processes and streamline your workflows from beginning to end. Find solutions that work together with native integrations right out of the gate. Think bigger than selecting just a mobile forms solution. Don’t just think about using mobile forms for individual business functions. Think about how you can use mobile forms across your entire business. Think about how you can prompt employees to complete HR or injury forms when they clock in or out of your employee time tracking solution to improve the timeliness of form completions. Think about using mobile forms to track maintenance records while tracking assets in your asset management solution or work orders within your field service management software. Find a solution where your key business applications work together to manage all of your resources for labor, assets, forms, service scheduling and dispatch that work with your accounting and payroll systems. Simplify your life and avoid costly custom integrations to make all your business systems work together and play nice. Taking this approach will help provide you with a much more cost-effective solution and will ensure that you enjoy more synergy between the tools you use and ultimately give you more bang for your buck!

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