Digitise: eForm or App

Mobile app or browser-based eForm? It’s a question many public sector digital transformation teams need to navigate when faced with a new front-end project. Both options offer unique benefits and cater to different needs, but making the right choice requires careful consideration of various factors. In this edition of Tech Bytes, we're taking a look at apps and eForms – and when to use them – in further detail.  

eForms: Streamlining data capture 

eForms, or electronic forms, offer a digital alternative to traditional paper forms. Usually accessible online via URL links, eForms allow public sector organisations to streamline processes and feed data directly into back-office systems. They can be restricted for internal use or shared publicly as part of ‘digital front-door’ initiatives, and often improve data quality through features such as mandatory fields, address finders and controlled entry formatting (such as email or phone number validation). So, when should we use them? 

  1. Routine transactions: For routine transactions such as applying for permits, requesting appointments, or service referrals, eForms provide a simple and straightforward way for service users to interact with public sector services. Digitising these processes allows organisations to eliminate manual rekeying, reduce errors, and provide a convenient digital-first pathway for the public. 
  2. Cross-platform accessibility: eForms can be designed to ensure compatibility across a range of browsers and devices. By ensuring that digital services are inclusive and barrier-free, public sector organisations can better serve members of the community and provide widespread access to services. 
  3. Simple functionality: As mentioned, eForms are often used in place of their traditionally paper-based counterparts. They’re most suitable for processes that focus on simpler data input, rather than complex tasks involving data manipulation or advanced multimedia. 

Apps: Harnessing mobility 

Mobile apps have become an integral part of our daily lives, offering convenience, accessibility, and a seamless user experience. For public sector organisations, a well-designed mobile app can serve as a powerful tool for engaging the public, delivering services, and improving operational efficiency. While they offer an alternative route to data collection, they also provide additional functionality – but must be downloaded and installed on specifically supported devices. With that in mind, when should we create an app? 

  1. Complex interactions: Where eForms excel in simple data collection, mobile apps offer enhanced manipulation capabilities. Mobile apps can also be integrated into back-office systems, and mobile apps are often used not just to input data, but to recall and manipulate it. 
  2. Offline access: In environments where internet connectivity may be unreliable or limited, a mobile app can enable users to work and capture information even when offline. This is particularly valuable for public sector agencies serving rural or remote communities, or in areas of patchy service – such as hospitals - where internet access may be sporadic. Apps can automatically synchronise stored information whenever a connection is regained. 
  3. Enhanced features: Mobile apps allow for the integration of advanced features such as push notifications, GPS tracking, and native functions (such as camera apps or biometric authentication), which can enhance security, communication, and user engagement. These features can be especially useful for delivering timely updates, notifying users about important events or emergencies, and ensuring the security of sensitive data. 

Choosing the right solution 

Ultimately, the decision to digitise a process with an app or an eForm should be guided by the specific needs, objectives, and technical requirements of your public sector organisation. Take the time to understand the needs, preferences, and behaviours of your users – be they internal professionals or the public. Are they more likely to engage with mobile apps or prefer the simplicity of eForms? Conducting user research and gathering feedback will provide the valuable insights needed to inform your decision. 

Additionally, it’s important to evaluate the specific features, functionality, and capabilities needed to support both the process and users. Consider whether the complexity of your services necessitates the advanced features offered by a mobile app, or if the simplicity of eForms will benefit the process and keep users engaged. A balance between functionality and the effort required to use the solution is imperative – while it’s tempting to add all the bells and whistles, people always value convenience.  

NDL Digitise allows you to build low-code apps and eForms in an easy-to-use, drag-and-drop studio designed specifically for the UK public sector. Connect features unlock added API and web service functionality, offering even further capabilities to streamline user experience and data possibilities. Interested in Digitise, or need a hand choosing between apps or eForms for your next project? Don’t hesitate to reach out to the team. To see Digitise in action or for some public sector inspiration, browse our growing library of public sector use cases.