October 01, 2009, 9:44 AM — by Cameron Laird -- "Just fill out this form, sign it, FAX it back, then, once it's in the database, you can start." That chilling sentence is probably uttered several million times daily somewhere on the planet. Invariably, what goes in the blanks isn't what the organization was looking for, the FAX machine will turn out to be unattended the day (or week!) you're trying to accomplish something, and so on, with the conclusion that what sounds like a five-minute chore holds up progress for days at a time.
A simple PDF workflow can help.
Rather than a printed form, or, worse, a .doc passed around an office LAN (that is, one outside version control, which mysteriously picks up revision coloring and other misfeatures from time to time), you can set things up so that a low-cost Web application puts out customized printable PDFs. Notice they're customized; the organizations inevitably already have a lot of information about the signatories, including ID, departmental assignment or sponsor or ..., and so on. Rather than have the person worry over exactly which ID was intended, the PDF simply comes out with it already in place. Information not already known can be entered as FDF fields.
That takes care of a half-dozen distinct pitfalls before signing. After signing, signatories can upload scans of their sheets directly into a related Web application. They can immediately see for themselves how the image looks on-screen, whether the scan was successful, that any signature(s) are visible, and so on.
This tip was adapted from My favorite PDF automation.