We are exposed to forms and documents almost every day of our life, and to many of us they all look the same. Most of us think a form is a form or a document is a document. But the facts tell a different story. Judging a form software solution at a glance can be a huge mistake. It’s like judging a book by its cover or seeing someone on the street and making assumptions that they are rich or poor, very intelligent or friendly. Everyone knows you must get to know them before you learn the truth about them. Are they nice? Are they friendly? Are they powerful?

Business today moves at the speed of light, and when you are so busy with your primary tasks things are easy to overlook. Recently, I read a story of a busker who stood in a subway for an hour and played his violin. Joshua Bell, one of the best concert violinists in the world, played for free, for 45 minutes, on a violin worth $3.5 million at a subway station. Over 1,000 passed Bell; only seven stopped to listen to him play, including a three-year-old boy, and only one person recognized him. Most people walked by him as if he were not even there. His recent concerts, with an average seat price of $100, were sold out.

Business documents and forms are similar. They are right there in front of us every day, but we forget how much effort it took to create them and to maintain them. Thousands of companies are generating their forms on unsupported operating systems and using unsupported forms software, and the majority have not even realized it because every day for years they have taken documents and forms for granted.

Companies spend hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars researching the business software that will run their core business and only glance at the software that will produce the human-facing information their customers, employees, partners and vendors will see every day. They are so caught up in their day job that they assume the business software includes software to design and deliver their documents, forms and labels. Typically, a migration from legacy business software takes one to five years and is so overwhelming that they do not realize till the very end of the migration they need to present documents, forms, contracts, policies … and the software they used in the past will not do the job. Converting your existing forms and documents to work with the new business could take hundreds or even thousands of hours if you chose the wrong software.

Many companies are complacent with the presentation and delivery of the most crucial information being provided to their customers, employees, partners and vendors. In today’s world people expect information to be delivered the way they want it. They want their order acknowledgment to come to their phone or tablet. They want their statement to be in the portal and mailed (yes, printed and mailed!). They need to generate adaptive or responsive HTML, they need to generate PDF, PDF/A, PDF/UA, PCL, Postscript — but which is best, and which is required by law? 

Did you know that you can generate large batches (tens of thousands) of documents in a single file and save 80 to 90 percent of the storage space required? But not all software can do this. Can the software you are buying work in Asia, Europe, North and South America? 

I have been in this industry 25 years and have seen the forms business transition from 100 percent paper to electronic forms. I remember talking about the paperless world in the late 1990s and was sure that by 2010 most companies would be paperless. We are closer today than ever, but there are plenty of challenges ahead for most companies.

I was co-founder of the most successful e-forms company in the world in the 1990s. The software was installed in 100 percent of the Fortune 10, 76 percent of the Fortune 100, 71 percent of the Fortune 1000 and more than 10,000 unique companies. We were acquired in 2001 by the company typically considered the de facto standard for business forms. Since then, I have been dedicated to improving the enterprise forms and document software industry.

Today, the world is saturated with forms software companies and wannabe forms companies. Everyone claims they are the best. The demos all look alike, and the features seem to be the same. What’s most important for this critical software is: reliability, performance and features, in that order. Yet that does not mean features are not critical to your success.

If you are considering upgrading or replacing a legacy forms software, here are a few things you should consider:

  • Insist on testing the software on one or more of your most complex documents or forms.
  • Test the performance to be sure it meets your needs (especially if the pricing is based on per-CPU or per-server pricing).
  • Some packages pricing provides the same features for all customers. Scalable pricing is based on volume, so SMB can get the same features as the Fortune 10 at a reasonable price.
  • If you have high volume, interactive, distributed and/or batch processes, make sure the speed you need can be achieved before you buy.
  • With the demand for omnichannel delivery, and personalized and relevant information in demand for customer communications, make sure campaigns can be managed by non-IT teams like marketing, sales and legal.

Note: Many businesspeople have little or no knowledge of how much documents and forms can impact their productivity and their reputation as a leader. Don't underestimate the requirements or the time required to find the right solution and the right partner. Check to see if the software you own now is scheduled for end of life and if it is, prepare early to determine your options.

Steve Luke
Steve Luke

is the CEO of Eclipse Corporation, parent company of DocOrigin. DocOrigin is an enterprise document design, generation, presentation and omni-channel delivery software with a focus on customer communications. Luke is a true authority and has been in the document generation industry for 25 years. He and the team at Eclipse Corporation have assisted many of the world's largest companies, including the Fortune 10, in solving their customer communications management and electronic form, document and label challenges