Forms Automation vs. Fillable PDFs

The difference between taking a process online and truly automating that process is one that a lot of HR clients don’t realize until they see it in action. Just the relief of going paperless can mask the fact that getting new hire forms filled out and distributed is tedious and time consuming – even if it’s done electronically. That’s because onboarding systems that take the approach of simply replacing one format for another don’t really speed up the process that much. They also don’t address the problem of entry mistakes or fields that are left blank.

What’s Important?

If you are evaluating onboarding software, one of the first features to look at is the forms. Most forms issued by the government (W4s, I9, etc.) are now available in fillable pdf format. This means they can receive typed data in the specified fields and the information can be saved. The end result is an electronic equivalent of a paper form that can be filed for future reference. As a bonus, software may be interfaced with these forms to transfer new hire data into an HRIS database which eliminates an extra data entry step.

However, this method does not represent true business process automation. It’s not enough for an onboarding vendor to simply collect all the government’s forms in one place without improving the way they are used. So, at Emerald Software, we’ve taken a different approach. The electronic “forms” presented to new hires in the Universal Onboarding system are actually part of a data collection wizard that’s more like TurboTax than simply filling in electronic forms.

The Universal Onboarding Difference

Unlike a fillable pdf that simply offers blank spaces, each field in this data entry process is linked to a specific set of rules that are enforced consistently to eliminate errors and omissions. An employee can’t move to the next screen if fields are left blank or contradictory selections are made. Correct formatting is applied to items such as phone numbers regardless of how the new hire enters the number (e.g. using dashes or parentheses).

Plus, identically tagged fields are linked throughout the process so that, for example, once the employee’s name is filled out all other matching fields in subsequent forms are automatically populated. This is an enormous timesaver for new hires since it eliminates redundant data entry. Onboarding systems that treat each electronic form as a completely distinct and separate document are not able to accomplish this; while those systems might cut the onboarding forms process from 2 hours down to 1, truly improving the process as we do can get it down to 10 minutes or even less!

At the end of the wizard-based transactional onboarding process, the data collected is used to create a package of final pdfs for viewing and signature. This is done according to the regulations specified under the E-Sign act of 2000 so that the electronic forms are considered fully equivalent to physical documents for legal purposes. Finally, all the information gathered can be immediately routed to not just one, but multiple backend and third party systems according to your business rules. Now that’s automation!

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