Should You Use the Same System for Document Publication and Forms Processing?

Enterprises are always looking for ways to bring together the worlds of print, digital, and mobile. That’s why so many organizations are tempted to use one single customer communications management (CCM) tool for both document publishing and forms processing. They shouldn’t.

Recently, my Doculabs colleague and I were working with a banking client that was trying to use the same document composition product both to publish and to do forms processing. The bank had been lured into this approach by a vendor that said its product had both “multi-channel” and batch attributes, promoting its product as a kind of on-demand Swiss army knife. In the meantime, though, it’s been a struggle for the bank.

Most firms make a mistake in trying to use the same tool for both publishing and forms processing. Using one tool for both tasks used to work well when the channel was just printing paper or when forms themselves are flat, static, and uni-directional in terms of interaction with the customer.
But the situation is very different when an organization interacts with users or with customers using forms that are dynamic and logic-driven. Whether static or dynamic, both approaches and processes have profound impact on the customer and user experience. And that’s critical if you’re seeking a frictionless customer experience.

The flat, static approach works when communication is one-way, but it fails more often than not if communication between the company and its clients needs to be two-way. One-way communication is more like old-fashioned publishing. Two-way communication, on the other hand, allows you to interact with a customer, as he or she builds choices using intelligent forms.

The Pros and Cons of a Single-Tool Approach

If you’re using the single-tool approach to CCM, you may be in danger of:

  • Providing a poor user experience
  • Creating unnecessary delays for your development team when that team builds new modes of communication with fresh content
  • Delaying production when you transition content from one system to a newer system
  • Spending too much money. Indeed, too many companies pay a relatively small amount in license fees, but wind up paying five or ten times that small licensing fee in resource or development costs, as a result of not having made the right investment upfront.

That said, there are some good reasons why some organizations might elect to use a single tool. These include:

  • The challenge of obtaining funding for two systems
  • The ability to leverage developed, entrenched skills within your workforce
  • Single process and single vendor to deal with
  • Ease of content reuse. You may have blocks of content in a publishing tool that you can use in your forms (e.g. the insurance industry and the plethora of regulations across 50 different states).

Still, there are also some very good reasons not to go with using a single tool. For instance:

  • The fact that publishing tools are not designed for data capture
  • The need to optimize the value of round trips (Many companies publish forms on web sites. Users or customers fill out the forms. The “round trip” is the information that comes back to you.)
  • The difficulty of managing multiple use cases using one solution
  • Potentially multiple user types (e.g. content owners, branch staff, customers)
  • Few (if any) vendors that are really good at both interactive forms and high- volume publishing.
The Bottom Line: Understand Your Use Cases—and Your Requirements

Outward communication employs a publishing model. But round-trip communication should be optimized for multiple channels: print, web, and mobile. Each channel provides completely different user experiences. Tools designed for outbound don’t have the same values or embedded experiences as tools that help users provide information that’s returned back to the organization.

How do you figure out if you can manage with one system, or if you’d be better off with two? Doculabs has worked with plenty of organizations which have struggled with this problem. Here are our recommendations for how to make the decision for your own organization. (Bonus: This checklist also helps you evaluate potential vendors!)

  • Know your use cases. What is the business goal? The bank, for instance, has processes that are customer-facing or customer-direct. But it also has branches where bank employees fill out forms on behalf of customers. These are two different use cases, with two different sets of requirements.
  • Define the key functional and user requirements for each use case.
  • Define the customer journey and the user experience for each use case.
  • Understand how electronic signatures impact your current and future plans.
  • Know your non-functional requirements: volume of data, users, performance, speed, scale, security needs, and governance concerns. Do you need to do this thousands of times a day? Do you have hundreds or thousands of concurrent users? Is 1.2 seconds too long a delay?
  • Before you buy, test and prototype potential solutions.
  • Get vendor references.

Investing in the right tool—or pair of tools—for the job may cost you more upfront, but it can save a lot of money and time in the long run. More important, your users and customers will enjoy a much better experience—and that alone could help make those customers more willing to stick with your company for the long run.

And if you happen to be among those who've been struggling to bring together the worlds of print, digital, and mobile for your organization's customers, Doculabs can help. Contact us here. Or to learn more about our CCM practice and the range of our services, please click here. We're happy to help!



Rich Medina
Tom Roberts
I’m a Principal Consultant for Doculabs with more than 25 years experience, focused on delivering strategies that improve clients’ enterprise content management capabilities, with an emphasis on customer communications management strategies.