How Mobile Forms Stack Up Against Paper and Spreadsheets in 2021

The role of paper and spreadsheets is shrinking across a variety of industries. Companies today rely more and more on integrated digital solutions to manage their data, allowing workers in the field to capture, share, and analyze crucial information faster than before.

However, many enterprises still use paper to collect and distribute data. Our 2019 Trends & Insights report revealed that almost half (48%) of the participants still use paper as their primary means of data management. A vast majority (77%) still use spreadsheets to manage data, and they routinely use paper forms to capture that information in the field.

If your company plans to use paper or spreadsheets to conduct inspections, audits, and evaluations in 2021, it might be time to consider a digital transformation. With a mobile solution, you have all the tools you need to collect, share, and analyze data on a smart device. Workers in the field can easily capture mission-critical data and rapidly communicate issues with the home office.

Let’s look at how a mobile forms solution stacks up against paper and spreadsheets and explore why a digital transformation can make a huge impact in 2021.

 

Data quality

When workers collect data using paper, there’s always a chance of receiving inconsistent, erroneous, or conflicting reports. With spreadsheets, it’s typical to require manual transcription or double-entry from paper forms. By entering the data by hand two times, the risk of error is essentially doubled.

We helped one company that performed all their asset inspections on paper and manually transferred them into a digital system of record. A lone employee filtered a towering stack of forms, separating the previous day’s evaluations into severe and minor issues. If the worker handling the filtering and re-entry missed a day of work, received a form with illegible handwriting, or lost any data due to human error, small problems could rapidly escalate into disasters.

Data quality

Not only was manual entry challenging, so was the cost versus the value and the t tradeoff between the financial cost and the time spent. With a digital solution for collecting and sharing information, data entry can be guided within specific parameters, preventing form-fillers from going “off book.”

Field validation ensures that any entered data complies with the form’s expectations; if a range of 1-100 is specified, 101 will not be accepted. Meanwhile, easy data uploads make transcription by hand unnecessary. Workers simply fill out their forms, and when they’re connected to the internet, their device will automatically send their completed tasks to a central database.

 

Operational efficiency

Double data entry is just the cost of doing business when you rely on paper. On top of that, the logistical burden of printing, distributing, and returning paper forms is cumbersome and creates a barrier between issues and their resolutions. Similarly, spreadsheets with complex formulas and calculations require a technical expert to maintain them. Any changes have to be carefully monitored, and version control can be a major challenge.

Going back to the example of the company above, the issues revealed during inspections needed to be escalated and paired with a work order. A supervisor was required to sign off on any corrections before repairing or replacing the problem asset. This complex, multi-step paper process took days or even weeks, creating significant delays between discovering an issue and resolving it.

Operational efficiency

A mobile forms solution slices through the paperwork by connecting issues directly with the next steps via workflows. These workflows can handle virtually any manual, paper-based process, such as alerting supervisors the moment a problem is discovered. Workflows can even enable administrators to assign follow-up tasks as soon as a report is delivered, pairing it with a custom deadline and status.

In addition, mobile forms are easy to change and maintain. One admin can deploy a form to thousands of workers with the push of a button, and in-form calculations and formulas provide all the functionality of a spreadsheet within an easy-to-use interface. No more version control, and no more confusion from editing or managing complex spreadsheets.

 

Data availability

While your workers are re-entering data from paper forms into spreadsheets or another system of record, your data is essentially in limbo. It can take hours or even days before form results are accessible Worse still, you lack any real-time oversight into what’s happening in the field.You may connect with the data when it’s ready—and not a moment before.

If your organization is like most, you’re dealing with mountains of data every day, standing idly by while results trickle in. Waiting on actionable data increases the time it takes for leaders in your organization to make decisions, which causes delays in decision-making, launching new strategies and understanding the results.

Data availability

Simply put, a delayed reaction is hardly an improvement over no reaction at all. With a digital solution, your data becomes available in real-time. The moment an inspector or auditor syncs their device, you can access the results.

Additionally, with built-in data analysis tools like reports and dashboards, you gain immediate clarity into bite-sized cross-sections of your data. Digestible, shareable reports make it possible to visualize your data as colorful charts and graphs instead of columns of cells in a spreadsheet.

 

Integration possibilities

As it’s probably becoming clear, paper and spreadsheets create a physical barrier between your leadership and data captured in the field. Workers must re-enter, scan, or otherwise import evaluations and inspections collected on paper into a digital database. Using paper, your workers are forced to take a number of extra steps just to position information into useful insights.

This cacophony of data dissonance is even more significant when you’re working with multiple, separate systems. Using paper and spreadsheets in conjunction with your tech stack (which may include a work order scheduler, a system of record, and ERP functioning together) quickly gets complicated.

Integration possibilities

Wouldn’t it be beneficial to directly integrate these applications and systems to work seamlessly together? A digital forms solution with a configurable integration layer can essentially “talk” with all your other systems, sharing data, tasks, and API calls between them.

That flexible integration can eliminate manual processes. For example, they can automatically trigger a work order based on inspection results or digitize complicated escalation paths where teams or individuals bounce priority between them.

 

Visibility and accountability

When you work with sensitive or confidential data such as medical information, health inspections, or employee records, you want to be certain about its chain of custody. If someone makes a mistake or improperly handles the data, you want to know where and when the data breach occurred. More critically, you want to control who can access this information and have complete oversight into any actions taken with it.

Spreadsheets allow a modest degree of version tracking. You can password-protect them and access info on who edited a spreadsheet last. But to get that information, you need to find, open and view the document. When working with paper, it’s nearly impossible to get clear audit trails, control user access, and ensure data security.

Visibility and accountability

Similarly, some information like patient records needs to remain unidentifiable and locked behind layers of encryption. The kind of technological safety net needed for this degree of privacy is virtually impossible with paper. When you capture data with digital forms, audit trails are immediately accessible to company leadership and management teams.

While encryption methods might vary by use case, they can provide a much-needed layer of security where paper simply doesn’t. And unlike spreadsheets, custom user access levels and permissions allow you to define which employees can view or change specific forms. This gives you total control over how, when, and by whom your data is collected, shared, and acted upon.

 

How FORM.com can help

If you’re still working with manual spreadsheets or paper forms, it’s time to consider a digital transformation. The best way to begin your transformation is to integrate and automate your form-based processes with a mobile solution. FORM.com specializes in helping organizations mobilize flexible forms that match their existing process perfectly. Learn more about how we can jumpstart your digital transformation by getting in touch with a solutions expert. Or, upload your current forms, and we’ll configure a sample mobile app based on them at no cost.