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Top tags: forms  FAFSA  business process  process  process improvement  usability  BFMA Conference  Body of Knowledge  Chicago17  electronic forms  Forms Management  fun  INS  IRS  Launch  plain language  privacy policy  signatures  workflow 

BFMA Announces Body of Knowledge & Certificate Program

Posted By Shantelle L. Boatright, Friday, February 3, 2017

Unlock Your Potential!

Coming – A New Body of Knowledge for Forms Management – and Certificates

By Margaret Tassin, CFC, CFSP and Lisa Lee, CEBS, FMLI

Based on requests to our association, The BFMA Board of Directors has long desired a certificate program as a way to provide training to those new to the forms management profession.  As part of the effort to develop the certificate program, a new body of knowledge has also been developed.

BFMA is announcing a new Body of Knowledge for Form Management. This body of knowledge is comprehensive and entirely updated. It covers the principles, practices, technology, terminology, and issues addressed by today’s Forms Management Programs. This Body of Knowledge (BOK) will become the basis for all BFMA education, including the new certificate programs, the CFSP, the annual conference, webinars and more.

This is a milestone in BFMA history. It is only the second time the association has produced a comprehensive list of knowledge needed for our profession, and the first time was twenty years ago. It’s obviously time for an update!

We are very excited to introduce the Forms Management Body of Knowledge at the 2017 BFMA Annual Conference in Chicago on May 1st to 3rd, 2017.  The Forms Management education track will be dedicated to providing our community with orientation to the BOK, and relevant related topics.  For more information and details about the annual conference, and all the benefits offered, please visit 2017 BFMA Annual Conference

For twenty years BFMA used the content outline from its Certified Form Systems Professional (CFSP) professional certification as a basis for its educational programming.  Based on a constant review of the CFSP content outline simultaneously with the new BOK, we know there are many, many more topics covered in the BOK than in the CFSP content outline. We believe this is significant and speaks directly to the wide-ranging nature of the forms management profession.

Both the new body of knowledge and the certificate programs are exciting news.  To support the body of knowledge outline, there will be a new book dedicated to forms management best practices.  The book means the forms community will have a resource for day-to-day work and reference.  The book will also serve as the information resource for the certificate program.  Learn that body of knowledge, prove it via a test, and earn a certificate.

All members of the professional forms community can benefit from the new BOK and certificate program.  Education in forms management is hard to come by.  The certificate program will be set up to meet your schedule and interests. You will be able to enroll in certificates on demand. You will be able to show your management that you have demonstrated knowledge for each topic that you choose. Plus, the certificate travels with you. Should you change positions it can be used to establish your proven knowledge to your new management.

It has been even harder to prove to management that being proficient in forms management takes more than a transfer into the forms department.  The certificate program will help to demonstrate that there is a defined body of knowledge for the profession. It will provide a method to demonstrate knowledge of essential information for different job roles.

Stay tuned for more information on this exciting announcement!

Tags:  BFMA Conference  Body of Knowledge  Chicago17  Forms Management  Launch 

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The Evolution of Forms Management

Posted By Kelly Halseth, Tuesday, March 22, 2016

​​ 

by Ray Killam

 

The history of the “Forms Industry” is really two different histories. One is the forms product industry and the other is the forms management profession. They are two very different aspects of what we do.

We have long talked about the forms product industry. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, forms were mostly printed in very small, local printing shops and consisted mostly of single sheet forms. That began to change with the autographic register, which enabled multiple part forms presented on a small machine. The forms product industry really blossomed in the 1950s with the introduction of high speed computer-driven printers that used continuous forms and could print at 1100-2000 lines per minute. The forms manufacturing industry grew exponentially and we shipped forms by the truckload.

In the 1970s, digital printing grew rapidly with all-points-addressable printers that, for the first time, could print graphics. Over a relatively short time frame, continuous forms gave way to cut sheet form and pre-printed forms were replace by blank paper. Today, the forms manufacturing industry has all but disappeared, either out-of-business or diffused into the commercial printing business. Forms products are shifting from paper to electronic format. Virtual forms, including web forms, are the real growth.

There is quite a different story in the forms management part of the forms industry. Forms Management, as a profession, is and has always been about business process efficiency. Beginning with the Cockrell Committee1 (1887-1889), a major shift in focus started. This effort was one of the earliest attempts to improve process efficiency. Many inefficient processes were identified in the US Government, mainly due to burgeoning record generation and no easy way to find things. Since most business processes begin with a form, finding a way to streamline forms development and records retention came into focus.

In 1935, the National Archives published a report that stated:  “A forms management program eliminates extra paperwork, improves office communications, reduces operating costs, and reveals inefficient or unnecessary procedures.” It went on to say “Efficient forms provide accurate, dependable and readily accessible information for policy formation, decision making, and the direction and coordination of operations.” It made many recommendations for improvement to administrative processes. However, World War II intervened and not much was implemented.

After the war, the first Hoover Commission took up the challenge. In the mid-1950s, the Second Hoover Commission provided additional recommendations. It was this commission that published the assertion that “for every  $1 spent producing forms, it cost $20 to process the forms.” This placed the real focus on improving those processes and not solely on the cost of the forms themselves.

 1For a detailed view of this work, and that of subsequent committees, visit:  http://americanarchivist.org/doi/pdf/10.17723/aarc.21.2.j1337301gv1625h0

It was the rapid growth of continuous forms, with their inherent complexity, the spurred the creation of forms management departments.  Management understood the special training and expertise needed for these more complex forms. In addition, keeping track of the proliferation of forms became a paramount goal. Forms Management departments grew rapidly, as did forms training requirements. Companies were spending millions of dollars on forms and the need for control was evident.

During this time, process efficiency was considered to be an important role for forms managers and process analysis and forms analysis were a major focus. However, as continuous forms matured and became more of a commodity, forms manufacturers offered inventory and warehousing services as a means to differentiate themselves from the competition. They usually offered these services as “forms management” and process efficiency faded to the background.

During the 1990s, as forms products matured and the shift away from continuous forms accelerated, and as electronic forms grew in popularity, some management people saw a diminishing need for forms management and the trend to downsizing and outsourcing began. Process analysis and process improvement were not considered as a part of forms management. This trend accelerated again with the World Wide Web.

Forms Management as a profession is at a cross roads. While the profession has always been about efficiency and process improvement, this contribution has not been in focus or well understood. As web forms continue to grow as a percentage of the total forms population, the need to manage forms development, deployment and design efficiency has grown in step. A new breed of web designers and programmers are just discovering how important usability principles are in forms development, as if this is something new. Forms Management can, and should, provide an important service in this area.

Managing all those electronic forms is another challenge. Forms decline in efficiency over time as processes change and evolve. Forms become obsolete and need to be retired. Edition and version controls need to be applied. Forms, regardless of medium, require the ability to implement process requirements, and their business rules, by proper selection and implementation of elements in a forms container.

Still, after all these years, we can learn from the lessons of the Cockrell Committee and return our focus to why we even need forms, and forms management – to improve business processes. That is, and remains, the primary role of a Best Practices Forms Management Department. Some things never change!

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An Old Lesson-repeated Again! by Ray Killam

Posted By Kelly Halseth, Friday, January 8, 2016

From a recent article in the Washington Post

 

“Heaving under mountains of paperwork, the government has spent more than $1 billion trying to replace its antiquated approach to managing immigration with a system of digitized records, online applications and a full suite of nearly 100 electronic forms. A decade in, all that officials have to show for the effort is a single form that's now available for online applications and a single type of fee that immigrants pay electronically. The 94 other forms can be filed only with paper. This project, run by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, was originally supposed to cost a half-billion dollars and be finished in 2013. Instead, it's now projected to reach up to $3.1 billion and be done nearly four years from now, putting in jeopardy efforts to overhaul the nation's immigration policies, handle immigrants already seeking citizenship and detect national security threats, according to documents and interviews with former and current federal officials.” (read full article here)

 

I realize that this was a major undertaking, involving new back-end systems and more. However, I think it demonstrates what we in the forms management community have known for a long time: if you automate bad processes you just get bad results quicker.

 

So most of the work would have been done in studying the existing processes, determining how to improve these processes, developing the new process requirements, and ONLY THEN, deciding what technologies would be employed to implement the new processes. While I cannot say for, sure (I wasn’t there), it appears to me that did not happen; rather, technology was first selected and the processes were developed to fit that technology.

 

To be sure, automating 100 forms just isn’t that hard, once you know exactly what the requirements of the back end processes are to be. Adding fields and field properties, along with proper scripting, enables the form to be connected to a database and the data automatically captured upon submit. The data are then available to support any back end operations, including pre-filling related forms with the data already captured.

 

The hard part is mapping each of the business processes involved, streamlining each process, understanding the business rules that the form is required to implement, and developing a central depository for the data (the technology!)

 

I can see how starting with the technology and trying to make the processes fit could be a recipe for disaster.

 

I wonder how many forms professionals were involved in this project.

Tags:  electronic forms  FAFSA  forms  INS  process improvement  usability 

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Clear privacy policies

Posted By Lisa Lee, Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Do you have a hand in your organization’s privacy policy? Here’s an interesting take on privacy policies and plain language. http://time.com/3986016/google-facebook-twitter-privacy-policies/

Tags:  plain language  privacy policy 

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Signing forms in the wrong place?

Posted By Lisa Lee, Saturday, August 1, 2015

A Harvard professor says that if forms are signed at the top that users are much more likely to be truthful, because they are reminded that they are giving their word right up front. Could that be? She has a study that demonstrates it. Read the story here.

The problem is that signing at the top isn’t our convention. We’re used to signing forms at the bottom. Companies don’t want to move the signature block so radically. Just imagine dealing with the change-resistance on that one, customer by customer.

Have you ever considered changing up the signature block? One of my colleagues, Bill Hill, swapped the position of the date and the signature fields on some forms. Next thing you know, they were changed back.

Change is hard. Even when there may be good reason for it.

Tags:  signatures 

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Forms in Song

Posted By Shannon Lerner, Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Filling in a form is a universal experience, for better or worse. As forms professionals, our goal is to make the experience better, but often completing a form is the butt-end of a joke. At the risk of being labelled a romantic, here are a couple of love songs with lyrics about completing a form.

 

Completing a simple customer experience survey? There's a song about that. In George Strait's Check Yes or No, Emmylou gets caught passing a note to her childhood crush in class:

Do you love me?

Do you wanna be my friend?

And if you do, well then don't be afraid to take me by the hand, if you want to.

I think this is how love goes. Check 'yes' or 'no'.

Although her question didn't follow best practices by combining two distinct questions in one—I mean, what would a nice young man answer if he only wanted to be friends?—Emmylou's survey question was successful at obtaining a clear answer: the song ends with a 20th anniversary celebration.

 

Is it a contract? Or a request for service? The Beatles covered both in When I'm 64:

Give me your answer, fill in a form:

Mine for evermore.

Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm sixty-four? 

Despite the confusion about the purpose of this form—establishing ownership of one's heart versus an agreement for long term care—this hit endures.

 

What songs did I miss? Comment with your favorite song lyrics about filling in a form!

Tags:  forms  fun 

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A solution that’s too good to implement?

Posted By Lisa Lee, Sunday, March 8, 2015
Updated: Sunday, March 8, 2015

What do forms and the IRS have in common? Everybody loves to hate ‘em.

Here’s a rare moment when the IRS could actually shine. The IRS could be super helpful and make life easier for college aid applicants by prefilling the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) with data from previous tax filings. That, together with a rule change, could dramatically improve the process of applying for financial aid. The improved process would lead to a form that is easier to fill out. More people would actually complete the form and more applications would be received.

Oops, new problem. Find out here why this solution probably isn’t going anywhere soon.

Tags:  business process  FAFSA  forms  IRS  process 

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Forms and Complex Processes and Bad Press - by Lisa Lee

Posted By Kelly Halseth, Friday, March 6, 2015

A form is getting some attention at the moment, and – guess what – it’s not the good kind. The form is the Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), completed by virtually all US college aspirants seeking to qualify for financial aid. This form is the cause of such widespread aggravation that the president and first lady are talking about it.

What’s the problem? Well, the form is considered by many to be intimidating and difficult to complete. Let’s take a look at why this form is problematic. It stems from the requirements that are reflected in the form.

The FAFSA is a combined form. A brilliant idea when it was created. It replaced the separate applications issued by institutions of higher education. It meant that applicants would complete just one form, and the information would be used by all the participating institutions. Not only that, but the separate associated fees charged by each institution were eliminated.

Great so far. However.

There are many questions on the form and, of course, there are reasons for all of them. The institutions need to obtain the information required to make financial aid decisions, and other parties have information requirements too. The combined form must serve the needs of multiple stakeholders. By the time all the fields for all the stakeholders are added the form becomes complicated, and usability goes down.

Simplifying the form would have downsides to consider as well. Removing fields could produce less efficient processes, because not all the information is available up front. It could lead to the creation of supplementary forms, possibly with associated fees. Proliferation.

Not so great.

Processes with complex rules make for complex forms! Without examining the workflow, it is impossible to ascertain the quality of the form. But the form gets the blame.

It if were easy to gracefully meet the needs of both the business (information) and the form fillers (ease of use), of course, this problem would have been solved long ago and it wouldn’t be a pain point. It wouldn’t be in the news. But solving it isn’t easy.

What’s the business perspective? When the stakes are high on a business process, it is important to collect pertinent and accurate information to support the process and make good decisions. There can also be a desire to collect comprehensive information up front in the process, even when that information is not always needed, to avoid having to go back to the user later.

What’s the human perspective? Just skimming a complex form can be discouraging. A form that asks for information not readily available may require interrupting the form filling task to do research. The form becomes hard to complete. Applicants may give up before they even begin filling it, or quit part way through, and not submit the form.

This behavior is called form abandonment, and it means that the form is failing. The user did not accomplish his/her goal, and the organization providing the form lost a transaction. The business process was not initiated. Bummer for everyone.

How many times have you faced complex forms that ask for information that is not easy to provide? I remember working on a claim form for long term disability benefits. It is an important form. It has to communicate with the claimant and collect a lot of information to enable timely claim decisions. I remember contemplating this extensive form and resolving, at a deep level, that I was never going to become disabled because I didn’t want to have to fill out that form!

As a forms professional, how do you balance the legitimate need to collect information for a business process with compassion for the form filler? Forms people occupy that critical middle space to be able to understand business requirements and also be an advocate for the users.

Keeping forms reasonably easy to complete is critical to prevent form abandonment. Understanding the business process and working with your form sponsor to identify the right information – and no more – to include on the form is essential. Designing for usability and clear writing can help. Pre-populating fields when possible, using conditional questions, employing reasonable edits and testing can help. Revisiting business processes to find appropriate opportunities to move collection of selected information to other parts of the process can help.

The most significant improvement that can be made is also the most difficult to pull off. It entails studying the workflows behind the application form. Are all those questions really necessary to make an assessment? Do they provide essential information or are they just "nice to have"? Can the process be simplified, using fewer elements? This kind of solution depends on a strong partnership with your client, among other factors, and provides the biggest payoff.

Forms should not be dissatisfiers. Just look at the bad press the FAFSA is getting. We don’t ever want to give our users grief or – even worse – have a form be the cause of reputation damage.

Forms should not dissuade people from accomplishing their goals. Unless it’s actually part of a diabolical plot to dissuade them, and get rid of those pesky transactions. But that’s not really what we’re about either. We don’t want users to abandon our forms.

There are legitimate reasons why some forms are complex, and thus more difficult to fill out. When there are no easy solutions, we can bring our knowledge of the art and science of form systems to these challenging situations. We can help develop solutions that address both business and human needs in order to produce the most successful form possible.

We can’t make all of the people happy all of the time, but with a little luck and a bit of skill, we can provide forms that let users accomplish their goals while they never really much notice the form. With a little more luck and skill, our organizations will be considered easy to do business with. That’s the reputation we want to be known for. Put that in the news.

You can find the news story here.

Tags:  business process  FAFSA  forms  process  process improvement  usability  workflow 

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add an image to blog

Posted By Robin Miller, Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, September 30, 2014
add a subject, text and at the bottom, "Attach an Image or File"

 Attached Thumbnails:

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