Organizations, whether small or large in private or public sectors, local, national or international, use forms to conduct their business. Whether the business involves customer engagement relating to an account, service or purchase, or it is employee interaction for onboarding or benefits, these activities require specialized documents — forms — for their particular information requirements. In electronic or paper format, these forms collect and present information using formatted text and fields that hold variable information.
Forms may begin a process, be used or generated during a process, or be the end-result of a process. A process may involve one or more forms, at times several forms, before the end of the process. Consider typical customer engagement processes such as an application for service, agreements for service delivery, invoices for services rendered and statements of monthly activity. Whether delivered in paper or electronic format, these specialized documents are all forms.
Other business transactions may be for procuring goods or obtaining services or activities supporting the organization’s end outcome, such as product manufacturing. ERP systems contain many forms in electronic format, and this has replaced many paper-based systems of the past. Yet processes often require a printed form from the data in the ERP or other system. Examples include checks, receipts, work orders, bills of lading, driver’s license and ID cards.
Forms are all about collecting and presenting information that organizations rely on to conduct their business operations, whether these are with customers, the public or internal staff. Completed forms with the information entered are archived as formal records of transactions or events, often as legal records. The information entered may also be stored separately as data in systems and databases. This data may be shared and reused by systems, staff and external partners in other forms or processes. The information collected varies based on the business requirements at hand. Storage requirements vary based on the sensitivity of the data. Access and usage requirements and the deployment strategy of a form are defined by associated legal and policy requirements. How the information is collected affects forms’ design and development and involves different standards and conventions (e.g., postal standards, web standards). How the information is presented depends on the audience, media and technology.
These are just few examples of why forms need to be managed. Organizations need to be sure they collect accurate information so they can rely on it with confidence. Forms management programs exist to ensure exactly THAT. Forms are developed in a clear language, user-friendly and consistent manner, are compliant and meet requirements, and most importantly, collect the right information. The information and data are standardized within the organization for all areas and users to understand. Forms management programs act as an orchestra conductor that oversees the work and the contribution of all the players needed to produce and implement a form, whether these players are internal to the organization, external or both.
Some organizations have maintained a standard forms management program to oversee these documents while others have disbanded their programs through outsourcing, decentralization to lines of business, or decentralization to functional areas such as IT, user experience, information management and more.
Regardless of where within the organization the activities of document and forms management occur, this basic function happens. But unlike other business functions such as accounting or marketing or human resources, there are no college degrees in forms management to teach individuals who can lead their organizations in best practices of these functions.
Enter the Business Forms Management Association (BFMA), the professional organization for forms management and business processes. Founded in 1958, BFMA works to address the unique education and networking needs of this discipline. In January 2022, the BFMA published The Forms Management Book of Knowledge that defines best practices and guidelines in the delivery of forms management services based on roles and responsibilities. This book covers 10 areas of competency: governance, communications, project management, business analysis, process analysis, work simplification, information management, forms/template design and development, forms print production, procurement and contracting, inventory management and warehousing, and administration of a forms management program.
Beyond the nuts and bolts of day-to-day responsibilities for forms management, the Book of Knowledge can assist in developing the forms management mandate, establishing a governance and risk framework, developing the forms management strategic plan, determining staffing requirements, establishing competency requirements for staffing, establishing partner relationships, establishing a forms technology architecture and infrastructure, and so much more.
There is no formal training in colleges or universities in the field of forms management, but there are in related fields such as graphic design, computer programming and application development, business analysis, information and document management, project management, communications and marketing. These are all useful in forms management and recommended training for forms professionals, but they are not form specific. The Book of Knowledge, however, provides relevant knowledge specific to the forms industry that can be used not only for training forms professionals and managers of forms programs but also other professionals in information management, information technology, user experience, user and technical support and other partners and stakeholders. Using the Forms Management Book of Knowledge, the BFMA has developed a certificate program for specialized training in this field in the following areas: forms analysis including business process analysis, forms development, forms control, and program management and administration.
Whether your organization has maintained a traditional forms management program or has disbursed it to other areas, the function of form management remains the same. Even with a traditional forms management program, there are partners and stakeholders internal and external to the organization that make it possible to provide the full range of forms management services required by the organization. The roles and responsibilities approach to the function of forms management applies regardless of how your organization manages this function.
Louise Laperrière, BFA, FMS, is a longtime and active member of the BFMA. After embarking on a career in the Canadian federal public service, she started as a graphic designer and then became a forms designer analyst, business process analyst, head of forms management and project manager. She embraced technology and kept up to date on the many significant changes affecting the forms industry. She helped transition through a number of office suites, advised the project team responsible for the electronic document management system on Forms Management records specifications, developed design standards, helped develop an electronic forms reference model, and in one organization, managed to reduce the number of forms by more than half. She was a member of the Canadian General Standards Board committee on the standardization of forms management that published the National Standard of Canada on Forms Management in 2009. In 2014, she joined the BFMA’s Forms Management Education Development Board to collaborate in the development of a new certificate program.
Margaret Olson Tassin, CFSP, CFC, FMS, is president of Forms Doc, LLC. She was previously the manager of forms, records and information management for Pennzoil-Quaker State Company, where she initiated its forms automation project. She is a co-developer of Form Center, the only commercially available forms management database, and Forms Training Online. She served on the accreditation board for the Certified Forms Consultant (CFC) program sponsored by the National Business Forms Association (now Print Services and Distribution Association) and was a founding member and later chair of the accreditation board for Certified Forms System Professional (CFSP) sponsored by Business Forms Management Association (BFMA). She is a frequent speaker at BFMA conferences and webinars as well as those of other associations. She has been an active member of BFMA since 1982. She is the original chair of BFMA’s Forms Management Education Development Board that developed a new certificate program for BFMA.