Posted in Forms Automation

How to Automate Your Document Management Workflow

A typical organization deals with dozens of kinds of documents. These are everyday things like invoices, new hire paperwork, student records, 401(K) change request forms, contracts, purchase orders, absence records and so on.

Truth be told, you’re still likely to find large filing cabinets and folders filled with documents in many offices. People still print out their documents, stick them in a folder and put it in the corner filing cabinet. Of course, paper documents are hard to find, maintain, modify, send around etc. – the usual problems. They’re also vulnerable to disasters e.g. a fire could destroy years of information.

What Is Document Management Software?

To get around the problems associated with paper documents, many organizations now use document management software, such as M-Files or SharePoint, to store, index, and find (i.e. manage, as the name implies) their documents.

This software allows you to save invoices, purchase orders, employee files etc. in electronic format (e.g. PDF). The advantages are numerous:

  • Electronic documents can be pulled up from anywhere at any time.
  • DMS software indexes documents so you can easily find the relevant document e.g. by searching by name, PO number, date etc.
  • Employees can email electronic documents easily.
  • Backups & disaster recovery plans ensure that business documents and data are not irretrievably lost.

Document management systems also commonly have a built-in workflow module. Once the system captures a document (most frequently by scanning a paper invoice, for example), it can route the document internally for processing.

For customers, the challenge today is to get rid of the paper invoice and the scanning process in the first place. Why receive a piece of paper in the mail, scan it in, index it (OCR and the inevitable manual corrections) and then store it digitally?

Organizations Routinely Deal With Lots of Forms

Organizations know that most of their business processes start with one or more forms that then get routed either around the organization or externally for signatures, approvals, review and comments. For example:

  • The Procurement Process might start with an employee filling out a purchase requisition form. Their manager approves the purchase request. Perhaps, a VP or the CFO must also approve for large $ amounts. Eventually, finance generates a Purchase Order. They scan the PO to the document management system and email the PDF to the vendor.
  • A Time Off Request process starts with an employee filling out a leave approval form. Once again, their manager approves it. HR processes the request, scans it to the DMS and notifies the employee.
  • Universities and K-12 schools deal with dozens of student and parent-related documents. They range from consent forms to emergency contact forms, student transcript requests, and course schedules. In the vast majority of cases, they’re filled out on paper and manually processed or scanned into the DMS.
  • When you onboard a new employee, they typically fill out numerous forms. These forms often have duplicate information, multiple signatures etc. Eventually, someone in HR checks the forms. They scan the paperwork into the DMS, file Federal and State forms etc.

Examples like this abound across organizations in all verticals in all departments. The business world is awash in forms and the associated paperwork.

Excel and Word Forms Are Ubiquitous

As computers spread through organizations, many of them turned to Word or Excel documents instead of using paper forms. It’s surely better than paper but there are still many problems.

Excel-based forms can become very complex with hundreds of fields, multiple pages, and paragraphs of confusing instructions.

  • Employees use the wrong version.
  • They forget to fill out fields or enter bad data.
  • They deal with unnecessary data entry (e.g. fill out part numbers or inventory into Excel when the same information is available in SQL)
  • People fail to follow instructions correctly and email the Excel to the wrong person for approval.
  • Employees have no idea where their approval is. So, they waste time on the phone or email trying to figure out why the PO is still pending.
  • When someone needs to sign the form, they have to print it out, sign and scan it back to PDF.

Everyone’s dealt with these and other issues associated with Excel-based forms and workflow.

What is Forms Automation Software?

As a result of all the issues with paper and Excel, forms automation software like frevvo has become commonplace in most organizations. Using this kind of software, an organization can digitize their forms and create electronic versions (e-forms). Users can fill out these e-forms using a standard web browser or any mobile device.

Forms automation software like frevvo addresses many of the above considerations:

  • frevvo’s electronic forms are easier to fill out e.g. they offer context sensitive help, guide users through the process, and provide instant feedback e.g. a typo in their email address.
  • The forms automatically validate all data. Users cannot submit a form with missing fields or errors. Sophisticated validation can use regular expressions to check formats and can even connect to a back end service to ensure that the data is correct.
  • Dynamic behavior adjusts the form based on the data. Optional sections are visible only when users need to fill them out. Calculations are performed automatically. Repeating elements are added on-demand e.g. a purchase requisition has a table row for each individual item. Users can simply click a + icon to add a new row as required.
  • Forms just work automatically on mobile devices. You don’t have to do anything. They’re responsive (adjust to the screen size), look natural (e.g. date fields use the natural date picker on the device), have slightly bigger fields and buttons (so they’re easier to click with a finger) and look beautiful. They can also take advantage of mobile-specific features like GPS and the camera.
  • Integration with SQL and other business systems reduces unnecessary data entry. For example, a form can connect to the database and retrieve part or inventory numbers. When connected to the HR system, they ensure that an employee cannot request vacation that they aren’t entitled to.
  • Electronic signatures eliminate printing. Users simply sign using the touchscreen on their mobile device or the mouse on their computer. The system transfers the signature to the document.
  • frevvo can also generate custom PDF documents. For example, the new hire onboarding process requires a Federal or State W-4 and a Federal I-9. The employee fills out each unique piece of information and signs once and the system generates all the documents, including adding signatures to your PDFs.

As a result of these and many other capabilities, e-forms have spread wide and far throughout the business world.

Workflow Software Automatically Routes E-Forms for Approvals

Time Off Request Workflow

Of course, in the real world, forms don’t live on an island. As we’ve described above, forms are routinely sent around for signatures, approvals or some sort of processing. Yes, you can email Excel sheets around but we’ve already seen the disadvantages of doing so.

Forms workflow software routes online forms electronically for approval. It speeds up the process, lets users complete workflows much faster, and address numerous issues with email:

  • The software automatically notifies users that they need to sign and approve an e-form. If they don’t act within a specified period of time, it reminds them. It can even escalate to a different user if necessary e.g. the person is on vacation. As a result, employees don’t have to chase down signatures by phone.
  • Real workflows are complicated with all kinds of dynamic routing e.g. send to this particular VP if the amount exceeds $5,000 and the department is Shipping. Workflow software takes care of these details so people don’t have to remember and they don’t make mistakes.
  • With built-in mobile support, managers can approve requests anytime, from anywhere. It reduces delays and speeds up needed approvals.

What Are the Benefits of Forms and Workflow Automation?

Forms and workflow automation software eliminates many of the issues mentioned above. Companies that adopt automation see enormous benefits:

In fact, electronic workflows prepare your business for a world awash in data. Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies powered by Machine Learning (ML) are becoming increasingly prevalent. In fact, AI has the potential to increase profits by up to 38%.

But, AI and ML rely on analysis of large volumes of digital data. This is your proprietary business data that’s unique to you. Your daily operational workflows generate the vast majority of this data – except for unique circumstances e.g. historical patient data, you cannot buy it.

That’s why workflow automation is crucial to the long-term and it’s also why organizations are increasingly turning to a data-first approach.

Automating your Document Management Workflows

Circling back to DMS, these automated forms and workflows ultimately generate documents. The last thing you want is to have fully electronic workflows but you’re still manually saving PDFs to the DMS and indexing them by hand.

Fortunately, with frevvo, you don’t have to. Our workflow software integrated with numerous document management systems such as M-Files, Xerox DocuShare Flex, DocuPhase and others. If you wish, you can even use Google Drive as an inexpensive or free DMS system.

Check out the short video above from our partner TEAM Informatics for an example. You’ll see how a frevvo form and workflow with the full power of our automation software is used for new employee onboarding. The system saves the resulting documents – which include form data and signatures – automatically into M-Files DMS software. Crucially, it also electronically indexes the documents.

There’s nothing to do manually, no mistakes or errors, no delays. You get the best of both worlds – powerful, sophisticated forms that are easy to use on all devices, automated routing for approvals and fully indexed documents in your DMS.

Modern, visual tools for dynamic forms and workflow.

Photo by Mr Cup / Fabien Barral on Unsplash


Ashish Deshpande has worked in the process automation space for over 20 years. He has been instrumental in successfully deploying frevvo’s software at hundreds of organizations such as HBO, New York University, and Boston Public Schools. Ashish has contributed to leading publications such as Forbes, and Ashish received a PhD in Computer Science from Yale University, and a Bachelor of Technology in Computer Science and Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, India.

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