Catherine Geanuracos
October 5, 2015

Four Ways Fillable PDFs Make Local Government Workflows Less Efficient

It seems like finding a fillable PDF online on a local government website should be a good thing, right? And we want to acknowledge the good intentions of local governments that have created this option in an attempt to make things easier for their applicants and staff. But here are 4 reasons why a fillable PDF form isn't a good idea:

1. Does printing and then mailing something filled out online make sense?

Far too often, a fillable PDF still requires an applicant for a permit or license to print out the form they completed online, and then print and mail or bring it in to a local government. Once it's at the government, staff usually has to data enter the information in the form - so sometimes fillable PDFs double the amount of data entry required. That can't be a good outcome.... Plus, fewer and fewer people have printers!

2. Email just doesn't cut it

The best scenario for a fillable PDF is when an applicant can fill out and then submit online. Unfortunately almost always this just creates an email to one or more staff members or departments with the form as an attachment. At best, the fillable PDF made things easier for the applicant, but it hasn't done ANYTHING to make the workflow faster or more efficient on the staff side. There's no guarantee that the information in the form is complete or correctly formatted. And we all know how inefficient it is to have to track a process manually and via email. Far too often with a fillable PDF, there's a staff member manually entering the information included in it into a spreadsheet or other data management tool, and still having to manually chase down other staff to review, approve, or confirm whether a payment associated with the application was received. Saving a little time for an applicant may result in a WORSE process for staff.

3. It's not even close to mobile responsive

Have you ever tried to fill out a fillable PDF on your phone? Take our advice, don't!! Complex PDFs with many sections and answers are almost impossible to navigate on a small screen, and that's how most people want to interact with their governments. Applicants want to avoid lines, save time, and access government 24/7, wherever they are - and trying to fill out a PDF on their phone doesn't let them reach their goals.

4. There's no automatic follow up or next step

Once an applicant sends in a PDF-style document - whether it happens online, by mail, or in person, they have no way to know the status or next step. With workflow automation software, the "black hole" problem goes away. Instead of submitting a static PDF document that someone else has to data enter, track, and manually respond to, workflow automation tools accept information via an online form, and then can automatically keep an applicant updated on its status as it works its way through a government's internal process. Plus with smart dashboards and reminders, workflow automation software keeps applications moving through the process quickly and efficiently - usually saving up to half the time needed for more manual processes involving PDFs.

Catherine Geanuracos

CEO and Co-Founder of CityGrows. Dedicated to transforming government technology and helping local governments provide better service and do more with less. Former VP of City of Los Angeles Innovation and Performance Commission, co-founder of LA's Code for America Brigade Hack for LA. Catherine is the Chair of the Board for CicLAvia, north America's largest open streets bicycle events. She's based in Silver Lake in Los Angeles.

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