The next time someone asks me to fill in a Microsoft Word document form, I'm going to ask him if he can punch me in the face instead. Really -- a recent encounter with a consultant's "convenient electronic form" was that painful.
My experience isn't unusual. Even enterprise software that allows for ad hoc data capture using a web form typically isn't usable, or at least easily usable. So Word forms become the standard drill:
Fans of fillable form documents point out that PDFs aren't as horrible. OK, they're not as horrible, but they're still horrible. What version of Adobe Reader do you have? Have you tested the form on all of them? Will the people using the form get a message that they can't save the form without the full version of Adobe Acrobat? If it sounds like I am speaking from experience, I am on this one, too.
Sorry, Adobe. You had a chance with PDF forms, and you blew it. And the world needs to move on.
The alternatives smell a lot like cloud computing, and that means that enterprise employees and enterprise IT staff alike feel like they somehow need permission.
[Stop looking for the silver bullet when it comes to data security. Read Security Armchair Quarterbacks: Go Away.]
And that's the crux of the matter: If we don't want to waste an hour or two per employee every time we seek ad hoc employee input, we must do two things:
The cloud options are easy and inexpensive. SurveyMonkey will work in some cases. Google Forms is flexible and free. Wufoo has more features, as does FormSite, and both are inexpensive. One caveat: For employees who are more comfortable mulling over a form before filling it out, it's courteous to provide the option of viewing the entirety of the form before data entry.
Two wins: First, the collector gets the form data back… as data. (PDFs and Word documents can, but usually don't, come back as tabular data.) Second, employees are less frustrated.
The key to making this work is communication. IT must reach out to everyone in the organization, including contractors and consultants, who collects data. Make it clear when it's OK to use cloud options. Understand that there are labor and frustration consequences of using 1990s .docs and .pdfs to accomplish 21st century work.
Crappy forms and data collection reflect poorly on the organization. Permitting and enabling employees to use modern tools, whether or not they come from IT, will create a more effective organization, even if it's in a small way. The small ways usually add up to big wins.
Apply now for the 2015 InformationWeek Elite 100, which recognizes the most innovative users of technology to advance a company's business goals. Winners will be recognized at the InformationWeek Conference, April 27-28, 2015, at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Application period ends Jan. 16, 2015.Jonathan Feldman is Chief Information Officer for the City of Asheville, North Carolina, where his business background and work as an InformationWeek columnist have helped him to innovate in government through better practices in business technology, process, and human ... View Full Bio