The difference between operating with disparate forms versus streamlined workflows is more than a matter of semantics. It’s indicative of whether or not an organization embraces the digital-first mindset.
Workflows automate and scale to bring you to revenue faster. Forms ensure your staff stays entangled in repetitive data entry and engaged in battles of “he said, she said” when the questions start flying over why a process went horribly wrong.
Let’s explore the most important distinctions between workflows and forms, why it matters, and explore some of the benefits of embracing automated workflows vs. the status quo of paperwork and forms.
What’s The Difference Between a Form and a Workflow?
If you’ve visited a doctor’s office, applied for a discount card at your local supermarket, or signed the agreement for the internet service you’re using to read this right now; chances are you understand more about the ins and outs of forms than you do about the algebraic equations you just had to memorize back in school.
Forms are used in a wide variety of applications. They often collect pertinent personal details, grab payment information to ensure monetary exchanges are completed correctly, and share important terms and conditions. A W-9 is an example of a tax form and a sales contract is an example of a business form.
Forms are also often the building blocks of a workflow.
A workflow signifies a series of tasks that, when completed in a certain order, achieves a specific outcome.
Workflows are present all around us. Just look at the steps in a recipe, the instructions for building a treehouse, and the process your HR team uses to onboard new hires.
While workflows can certainly be simple, in a business setting they’re often complicated enough to require numerous sub-processes, approvals, and forms.
Virtual, paperless workflows are becoming the standard in today’s business landscape where modern enterprises are in the process digital transformation.
Digital workflows utilize computer programming to stitch together the documents, PDFs, forms, and other content that’s vital to achieving your outcome. Good digital workflows do all this intelligently by prioritizing user experience, eliminating redundancy, automating data entry, and more.
Forms and workflows go together like Milton and his precious red Swingline stapler. But unlike the tortured Office Space staff, you can harness and customize the power of out-of-the-box software to digitize your processes, accelerate your time to revenue, and grow your bottom line.
Why Does it Matter if I Use a Form Versus a Workflow?
Forms create a paperwork problem. While that might not initially seem like a big deal; disjointed forms often prove to be the inefficient, expensive, and time-draining foundation upon which business-critical processes are built.
Take for example the forms you’re often asked to complete at a medical office: The new patient form, the proof of insurance form, and the medical history form.
By the time you’ve worked your way through all three; you’ve probably filled out your basic contact information three times, your address twice, and read through at least tens of fields that have absolutely nothing to do with your health. Not to mention squirmed at least once as you jotted down your social security number under the watchful eye of the nosey patron next to you pretending to read a grossly-outdated People Magazine.
As you hand your paperwork over to the office staff, they begin filling out the same exact forms except in their system. With any luck, you and they will have both gotten everything completed correctly and you’ve only wasted 20 minutes of the hour you took off work for this appointment.
But imagine a world where these forms are replaced by a single workflow—and a digital one at that.
When you enter the medical office, you might sit down at a computer or pull up a link on your own device. You give your contact information once. You watch as any sensitive information is automatically encrypted. Pertinent fields appear and irrelevant ones disappear as you answer questions about the reason for your visit and your medical history.
In minutes, you’ve provided all the information the office used to collect on paper forms. And without any additional time or effort, your data was instantly mapped to the appropriate databases and documents where the staff can securely store and access it.
Workflows aren’t just a digital facelift for forms. While they may still utilize forms in some fashion, they do so with an experience that actually revolutionizes processes for your workers and customers.
Here are just some of the ways your organization will scale better, arrive at revenue faster, and become more secure when utilizing workflows instead of forms.
7 Benefits of Utilizing Workflows Instead of Forms
1. You’re Always Prepared for Growth
Form-heavy processes that rely on paper and people to make them work aren’t realistically scalable for businesses that must cut cost and increase efficiency in the age of digital transformation.
When you’re thinking about growth, eliminating bottlenecks makes for quick, powerful wins. Look to areas where higher-volume and lower-skill tasks can be automated to free up talent for more deep-thinking work.
Digital workflows help make sure the right fields are filled out, the right people see the right forms at the right time, and your business is able to scale—all without interrupting Maryanne from HR during her third honeymoon Mai Tai.
2. Better User Experience, Especially on Mobile Devices
As a company that specializes in using technology to bring business practices into the 21st Century, creating exceptional user experiences is what we do. And empowering your clients, customers, and users to more effectively purchase and use your offerings on each and every device is exactly what your workflows should do.
Take for example the soul-crushing task that has damped the joy of many a home buyer and stalled the commission of countless realtors: The monkey wrench known as a mortgage agreement.
Zooming, scrolling, and other carpal-tunnel-inducing acrobatics await every party who is doomed to wade through this shrunken, 75-page PDF.
It’s already tough enough on paper or a large monitor. You can forget about a mobile device. Until now.
Today’s best digital workflow tools effortlessly guide users through reading and completing even the most complex documents and forms right on their mobile devices.
Buyers get to accomplish what used to be days-long, eye-straining work in a matter of a few scrolls and taps. Realtors, bankers, sellers, and everyone else involved get quick turnaround on even their most complex requirements.
3. Less Time Wasted on Redundant Data Entry
With digital workflows, the information a user enters can be mapped directly to specific fields in your company database or third-party software.
That means there’s no need for your staff to spend their valuable time on your clock reentering the exact same data a user just documented—sometimes even more than once if you use several systems for follow up communication, billing, etc.
When redundancy is eliminated; completion time, rates, and accuracy skyrocket.
Just ask Instacart, an on-demand grocery delivery service that saw contract completion rates improve by 270% when they replaced their manual forms with Dropbox Forms’ to adaptive onboarding workflow.
4. Human Error is Eliminated with Real-Time Form Validation
There’s a reason paperwork is known to pile up—it’s often fraught with honest human errors that take way longer to correct than they do to make.
If a vendor misreads a paper form and fills in their phone number where they were meant to enter the number of units they want to order, staff on both your side and theirs now has to spend time recognizing the error and tracking down the person who needs to correct the error before the order can go through.
However, digital workflow software is often outfitted with real-time validation. Fields can be customized to send an automatic alert to the user if they accidentally enter letters in a number field, use hyphens (like in a phone number) where there should only be commas (like in a number of units to order), or some other information that doesn’t fit the expected format.
As an added bonus to faster processing with fewer errors—you don’t have to cross your fingers and hope you’ve successfully translated illegible handwriting!
5. Complex Routing and Approval Steps Happen Automatically
Complex workflows that initiate important actions, such making large purchases or hiring key team members, will often need to go through several levels of review and approval.
Using digital workflow software, you can create as many steps as you need to make sure certain information is signed off on by the right people in the right order. Better yet is the automatic nature with which the workflow is executed. Forms no longer languish in overflowing inboxes and sensitive information doesn’t end up on the wrong desk.
And with automatic approval and routing, when a form reaches the final stage of the workflow that last recipient can rest assured the necessary approvals were given and the process can move ahead without delay.
6. Audits and Security Become Effortless
Electronic workflows effortlessly create audit trails at every step in a process by automatically attaching information such as date, time, owner, and other data to each completed field.
For better or worse, these trails make it easy to track when certain actions were approved and by whom, which can be helpful for your own edification or in the case of actual audits.
When ownership and transparency are built right into your everyday workflows, it won’t be long before they’re honored cultural cues in your organization.
In addition, digital workflows are inherently more secure than those in which data is stored on hard copies that take up space and can be easily destroyed.
At Dropbox Forms, we build stringent, bank-level security measures right into all of our workflow content automation software so your data is always safe. Our documents are stored behind firewalls and are encrypted at rest using AES 256-bit encryption. We even comply with Privacy Shield and eIDAS and are backed by AWS backup recovery.
7. Customization for Every Business Need
With just a little bit of technology savvy, you can create beautiful, modern, and best of all customized digital workflows in an afternoon.
Dropbox Forms doesn’t just take advantage of cutting-edge conditional logic and data validation; we make it easy to improve the quality of your data by implementing any public API with our software.
Use addresses a ton? Quickly integrate the Google Maps API to populate accurate addresses. If weather data is vital to your process, you can incorporate your favorite open weather API.
The customization is only limited by your creativity.
Where to Get Started with Digital Workflows for Your Business
Hopefully all the awesome benefits of digital workflows over disjointed forms have helped you imagine areas in which you can take advantage of this technology in your organization.
We’ve helped clients in nearly every industry simplify even the most complex workflows and totally transform their businesses.
Here are just a few ways you can get started with workflow content automation software today:
In Your HR Processes
With the rise of the on-demand economy; chances are contractors, freelancers, and part-timers—and the paperwork that accompanies them—are becoming more and more common in your workplace.
In the past, getting a completed W-9 might have meant waiting for a potential worker to track down a printer (Hello, public library!) and send you an email attachment of a cell phone image of their signed W-9. I mean, is that even legal?
However, a digital workflow empowers your HR team to ensure that new hires are getting not only the right tax documentation filled out quickly and securely but also reviewing NDAs, employee conduct documentation, and anything else they need to be successful.
With Leasing Documents
If you’ve ever moved into a rental property, chances are you provided just about everything but your first-born child before you were approved to sign the lease.
The problem is that rental contracts, co-signer forms, verification of rental insurance, credit checks, etc. often ask for redundant data and cannot adapt to to remove extraneous information depending on how users answer.
And it’s not because the real estate industry isn’t going digital. In fact, when the average realtor uses 7 to 12 digital tools, they might be going too digital. With intelligent workflow software to consolidate their efforts, deals get closed faster and they spend less time processing, correcting, and securing loads of data.
In Medical Office Paperwork
Thinking about all your medical information sitting out there in a filing cabinet can be kind of scary. Thinking about how someone entering or handling it incorrectly can influence future treatment is downright terrifying.
When forms that collect your proof of insurance, medical history, and new patient information are a matter of life and death—or at least of health and sickness—the many benefits of secure, self-validating, and transparent digital workflows really shine.
Just because a workflow needs to be complex doesn’t mean it has to be slow, convoluted, or confusing for users or your workers. Take it from a team who’s seen it time and time again: Your revenue-focused processes can and should be faster, easier, and scalable.
Don’t waste another second embroiling your most valuable asset—your human capital—in soul-sucking processes that haven’t made sense since software became a thing. Ditch the forms and invest in digital workflows to empower your staff to do the work that boosts both their morale and your bottom line.
Ready to Get Started?
Dropbox Forms reimagines forms by bringing them online in an entirely new way. Use Dropbox Forms to transform any set of document into a Dropbox Forms workflow and see completion rates for your workflows rise to 96%.