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10 Ways You're Wasting Time with Word-Based Forms for Curriculum Management Processes

September 29, 2021

When higher ed administrators create new forms, 80% of admins rely on Microsoft Word, according to a recent study on the State of Forms in Higher Education

While Microsoft Word is a useful and easily accessible tool for form-building, word-based forms are well below the capabilities available with today’s modern tools. With word-based forms, students, faculty, and staff are missing out on dozens of efficiencies that other forms tools can provide. 

Modern forms tools offer automated workflows, integrations with other systems, eSignatures, notifications, transparency...we could go on.

When you analyze the benefits of today’s modern tools, it’s easy to see how administrators are wasting time that could easily be repurposed. In this post, we’ll discuss 10 ways you’re wasting your time creating word-based forms for your curriculum processes and provide suggestions for alternative tools. 

1. Manual entry

Due to the inherent human error that occurs, manual entry is a poor way to transmit information and word-based forms require manual entry on either side of the process—for the end user as well as the form creator.

Tools that provide some automation or data management, even low-cost tools like Google Forms, can significantly improve the efficiency and accuracy of the process. 

Southern New Hampshire University digitized and automated their curriculum management processes which allowed staff to repurpose up hundreds of hours spent on entering data or chasing down paperwork to more valuable work. 

“Not having to worry about all of the manual efforts lets me actually focus on [important] projects which are moving our university forward quite a bit,” said Mike O’Connor, Director of System Analytics in the Office of the University Registrar at SNHU.

2. Hard copy signatures

Hard copy signatures are often included on word-based forms. Typically, the form is shared via email, printed, signed, scanned, and email to the next approver in the workflow. However, there are better tools available that provide an exponentially better experience.

With a simple eSign tool like DocuSign, you can collect signatures in under a minute, no printing or scanning necessary. Other forms solutions offer digital approvals with no signatures and automated workflows. Check out this post on when to use eSign vs. digital forms tools to learn more.  

Additionally, it’s worth considering if hard copy signatures are even necessary for your curricular processes. For example, the research department at the University of Maryland (UMD) required hard copy signatures for all approvals, even purchase order requests under $100. Stephen Dowdy, Director of Research Information Systems & Integration at UMD, made the case that signatures should only be required when they are absolutely necessary. 

“99.9% of our business processes don’t require a legally binding contract,” Dowdy said.

If a legally binding contract is not needed, why is a signature required at all? 

Today, the research department is transitioning away from hard copy signatures for internal processes in favor of digital workflows that automatically track approvals.

3. Limited capabilities

Word-based forms have limited capabilities and are only fractionally more advanced than an actual paper form. While word-based forms can offer some capabilities like drop down selections, there is a whole world of features and benefits you’re missing out on. 

The simplistic nature of word-based forms will lead to dissatisfaction with forms processes from faculty, staff, and students. And without an alternative tool, there is extremely limited opportunity for improvement on word-based forms.

4. Duplicated data

A common frustration for form fillers is that forms ask for information that has already been provided. In the State of Forms report, 45% of form submitters indicated one of their top three frustrations with forms is that forms require information that is duplicated elsewhere. 

Think for a moment about one of your institution’s student-facing forms. Does it ask for the student’s name? Student ID number? Current major? The institution already has all of that information. With a better tool, students wouldn’t need to submit duplicate data again and again. 

5. Printing

According to a study by AIIM, 65% of PDFs are printed to complete, sign, or archive. It’s likely that many of the forms created in Word will eventually be printed, scanned, and printed again throughout the workflow process, wasting the institution’s resources. 

In addition to creating unnecessary waste, printing also opens the institution up to security risks with paperwork floating across desks that may have sensitive information.

6. Lack of process transparency

With word-based forms, there is no way to know where a form is in the approval process. This is especially problematic for processes with tight deadlines or monetary consequences attached.

At Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU), the research department had a supplemental pay process that resulted in a paycheck for researchers and their departments. Due to paper-based processing difficulties, researchers sometimes waited months to receive payment for their work, which was understandably frustrating. SCSU now uses an automated forms and workflow tool. Not only are faculty and staff happier, but the department also saves an estimated $675,000 in processing time. Learn more about how Southern Connecticut State University automated manual processes

7. Difficult to locate in the future

Higher education institutions are responsible to accrediting bodies and the government to provide proof of processes. Word-based forms and their associated approvals can be extremely difficult to track down in the future when your institution needs to provide a record of a particular process or simply close out a year-end process. 

A digital forms solution makes locating documents and their processes far easier. With word-based forms, a staff member might save a document on their personal device making it nearly impossible to locate later on. The right digital forms tool will save your documents and workflow on a widely accessible platform for you to access at any point in time. 

8. Limited security safeguards

Word-based forms have no way to track access to a form. It is impossible for the form creator to know where the form has been and who has seen it, which could potentially cause compliance issues. 

Additionally, Word-based forms are often saved on personal devices, making the information vulnerable to ransomware or theft. 

9. Poor user experience

If we’re being honest with ourselves, forms created in Word aren’t pleasant to look at or fun to use. At times, they aren’t even functional. 

Take this case study from Western University for example. 

The engineering department at Western University had a paper-based hiring process. The form was so complex and difficult to follow that new hires often made mistakes on the form. Not the best first impression, right?

Western University adopted a forms automation tool that was not only functional, but also a delight to use. 

10. Lack of alignment with higher ed trends

According to EDUCAUSE, over 83% of institutions have already begun implementing or exploring digital transformation strategies. As we previously discussed, word-based forms don’t offer the capabilities to digitally transform form processes.

Stop wasting your time with Word-based forms. Instead, use a digital forms and workflow automation solution that empowers your institution to digitally transform processes, save time and resources, and deliver a great experience for students, faculty, and staff. 

Learn more about the state of forms in higher education and download the report today.

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