Forms Modernization – Lessons Learned from Practitioner Experience

In a recent Doculabs Practitioners Roundtable, participants spoke about their experiences championing forms modernization and the lessons that they’ve learned along the way. In this post we share highlights from the discussion that may help you in your efforts.

Drivers to Overcome Obstacles to Forms Modernization

We’ve seen clients struggle at times to get forms modernization efforts off the ground, but we’ve also seen successes. Both web accessibility standards and user experience (UX) have worked as forms modernization drivers for roundtable participants.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Can Drive Forms Modernization

Multiple roundtable participants shared that accessibility requirements – particularly the 2018 update to the web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG) – have become a significant driver.

For example, one participant knew she wouldn’t be able to make old VBA forms created in Microsoft accessible, so they engaged Doculabs to generate a recommendation and roadmap for transitioning to an accessible format. The expert recommendation helped procure funding and get the project off the ground.

And because one of the company brands was new, the company had no choice but to launch with accessibility because of the WCAG requirements. (Accessibility wasn’t just a nice-to-have). That gave staff an opportunity to educate executives about accessibility and get their support for the forms modernization effort.

Accessibility has been such a huge driver that one of the roundtable participants now has carved out roles for in-house accessibility consultants and digital accessibility champions.

Beyond the Basics of WCAG

Beyond the basic mandated guidelines, companies need to be able to implement brand standards that support (or at least don’t detract from) the WCAG. Who should create them? How they should be enforced?

Determining the best approach depends on the organization. One participant firm initially struggled with answering these questions, and then ultimately chose for QA to oversee accessibility compliance for forms and documents. Some participants developed their own guidelines within the Forms organization, and then got buy-in from the marketing & branding.

UX Is Also a Significant Driver for Forms Modernization

UX (both internal and external) has also been a huge driver of forms modernization for practitioners at the roundtable. One participant was hearing from customers that their forms were far too long. These complaints helped accelerate the digitization of forms. In addition to the UX enhancements for customers, the new more consistent formats make it easier to process the forms when they come back to organization – particularly increasing speed and accuracy during the capture process.

Lessons Learned from e-Signatures

Practitioners mentioned that it makes a lot of sense to bring e-signatures into the same ownership with forms, and that e-signatures shouldn’t be treated as an afterthought. For example, some are being proactive in analyzing which forms make sense for e-signature. When forms are returned with wet signatures, those forms are assessed for possible transition to e-signature.

One participant noted that when their organization first started a digital forms program a COE (center of excellence) was created to manage it. This same governance structure was not initially replicated with e-signatures. After about a year, there wasn’t much progress with e-signatures, so they were brought into the forms COE, yielding significantly more progress.

While the success of e-signatures across various devices and platforms depends on how the forms are built and deployed, generally participants are realizing benefits. One financial services participant noted that e-signatures help show the positive ROI of digitization, and that has helped sway some of his internal business partners. His organization realized an estimated 45 percent ROI when measuring returns on the document management aspects of e-signatures.

Managing Forms Modernization

Modernizing a portfolio of hundreds (or thousands) of forms is daunting. Participating practitioners are managing modernization with a combined approach of maintenance and change management.

One insurance/financial services participant took content management out of line-of-business and brought it into a combined operation with forms. This allowed them to scale and achieve consistency. While still working to manage the past, they have created standards, including standard templates for look and feel. They have also developed a forms library with metadata associated, which allows for better tracing and management. And now they’re building out a workflow (with input from Legal) to establish the process for requesting changes to any template.

Participants are using (or considering using) tools such as Pega, AEM Forms and Salesforce to manage workflows. One noted that it’s a struggle to find a great purpose-built tool to handle all three of the major workflows related to forms:

  • Design & development
  • Request, review, approve
  • Distribution to right channels

A variety of approaches to managing work intake were also discussed. One participant set up Agile teams to handle particularly large projects. These projects have to be thoroughly vetted and spec’d before going to production. Another participating firm currently has a team to triage requests, but is looking for a new intake product that will have some workflow associated with it.

How are Practitioners Using Fragments in Forms Modernization?

There was also significant discussion around the value and approach to fragments. For one practitioner, fragments proved to be invaluable when a logo change was made. In fact, the logo change was nearly seamless.

Other lessons learned and shared concerning fragments include:

  • If you’re starting fragments from scratch, you should inventory them as unique items, the same way forms are.
  • You need to version control fragments.

Through all the discussion around fragments it became apparent that enterprises define fragments differently. One practitioner shared that if a piece of content repeats on 5 or more templates it’s treated as a fragment. Otherwise it’s considered independent content. So for example, this organization’s privacy wording would be considered a fragment. Would that definition of a fragement resonate with your organization?


It was clear to us from this spirited roundtable discussion that practitioners are eager to move forward with forms modernization. Finding the tools that best meet their needs, and determining the practices that will work well for their organizations, are keys to success. If you’re a practitioner working on forms modernization, reach out and let us know. We’ll invite you to the conversation.

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Rich Medina
Amy Smith
I am the digital marketing diva for Doculabs, and a Nielsen Norman Group certified UX professional.