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Data Capture: Everything You Need to Know

MHC Marketing    May 11th, 2022

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Data is considered the “second currency” of successful businesses. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to analyze customers’ needs, monitor financial progress, pay employees, explain decisions to shareholders, and the list goes on.

Yet many companies are still transferring their invaluable information into digital formats by hand, often to their own detriment. Manual data capture is not only extremely time-consuming, it’s also costly, has a high rate of error, and can often lead to employee burnout.

Thankfully, there is a cost-effective, modern solution: automated data capture. 

In this piece, we’ll define what data capture is, describe how it works, and explain why automated data capture can revolutionize the way your business operates.

What is Data Capture?

Data capture is the act of collecting information and converting it into formats that can be processed by a computer. The collected data usually comes from a physical form, bill, or another paper document. After data capture occurs, employees can store, retrieve, or process that information however they choose.

The Data Capture Process

The data capture process can be manual or automated. In manual data capture, employees physically enter or type data from paper forms into a computer database.  

For example, at doctors’ offices, patients fill out intake forms, and then receptionists manually enter the handwritten information into their database. An employee has to process each document one at a time, which speaks to the laboriousness of manual data entry. It also exposes companies to human error. 

Fortunately, technology has advanced to the point where data capture can be conducted automatically, saving companies time and mitigating risk. For instance, an AR department completes an electronic credit form and emails it to a new vendor. Instead of manually entering the information, it’s automatically transmitted and stored in the appropriate database. This streamlined process saves your employees time and your company money. 

Data Capture Methods 

There are a variety of automated data capture methods to meet the different needs and budgets of most businesses. It’s important to find the right fit for your team and your company. Here are some of the most popular methods: 

  • Optical Character Recognition (OCR) – recognizes and extracts text from physical documents so that the information can be used digitally.
  • Intelligence Character Recognition (ICR) – takes OCR to the next level in that it can read handwritten signatures and characters and transform them into digital files.
  • Intelligence Document Recognition (IDR) – fuses OCR, computer vision, and other artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to detect patterns in physical documents, classify the documents’ content, and cross-check that content against existing business data.
  • Digital Forms – are designed to replace paper-based surveys and allow users to input information via web or mobile applications. On the backend, data flows directly into a designated database for instant access.
  • Barcodes and QR Codes – enable users to transmit data to others securely and quickly by simply running their code through a scanner.

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The Challenges of Manual Data Capture

Though it may seem simple on its surface, manual data capture presents a series of challenges that can avalanche into serious issues for your business in the long run. Below we’ll delve into a few of these challenges.

Distracts focus from core business tasks 

Manual data capture is a tedious process that requires intense focus. Employees performing manual data capture for hours on end are often taking critical time and energy away from other day-to-day responsibilities and/or larger-scale projects. Also, if an employee is forced to split their focus between other tasks, like answering phones or handling customers, while they are entering data, they are more likely to make mistakes and even fall behind on digitizing the necessary information. 

Fluctuating quality control

Manual data capture is far more prone to mistakes than automated data capture–it’s estimated to be between 1 to 4 percent. Although that rate may seem low, an error as simple as Brian’s Construction (spelled with an “i”) vs. Bryan’s Construction (spelled with a “y”) can significantly impact business operations. Misinterpretation of written items, duplicate entries, missing entries, or other data entry mistakes can also cause significant issues down the line, affecting a company’s overall data quality and reporting. 

Employee burnout  

No matter how fast employees can type or how simple it may seem, data entry takes time and can be mentally taxing. In turn, employees will make mistakes, forcing them to spend even more time reviewing their work and fixing any found errors. What’s more, it could result in an error that takes days to discover and maybe weeks or months to fix, which only adds to employee stress. 

Also, burnout is caused by solitary work and repetitive tasks一precisely what manual data entry involves. Consequently, it can be the catalyst for employees to seek employment elsewhere, which only complicates matters for your productivity and the company as a whole.

In 2021, employees—in an effort to take action against low wages and mistreatment—began quitting their jobs in droves to find better opportunities. It has since been dubbed The Great Resignation, and it’s far from over. An estimated 4.3 million people resigned in January 2022 alone. This means companies need to do everything possible to make their positions more appealing to current and future employees, and decreasing tedious, menial tasks—and instances of burnout—is a crucial first step.  

High costs 

To avoid larger mistakes, employees need comprehensive data entry training, which can be expensive. And since so much of an employee’s time is eaten up by manual data capture, companies may need to hire more team members to maintain the same level of productivity. Plus, there is another potential cost associated with churn: employers have to ramp up hiring to replace employees who leave as they get burned out or find a more satisfying job.

Learn how to avoid common data capture mistakes with these helpful tips.

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Why Use Automated Data Capture? 

The difficulties of manual data capture have led many companies to turn to automated solutions. Automated data capture technology mimics human intelligence but has increased accuracy and speed一a boon for businesses. Over time, this software has gotten even more accessible and affordable, allowing companies to leave manual data entry (and the challenges that come with it) behind.

6 Benefits of Automated Data Capture 

The overall advantage of automated data capture is that it reduces the human touchpoints of data entry, which, of course, has been one of the major sources of repeated errors and risks. However, there are many more benefits, and we’re discussing them all below.

1. INCREASES EMPLOYEE FOCUS AND SATISFACTION

As we already explained, manual data capture can be a monotonous and all-consuming task for employees. Automating data capture, however, frees up time for employees to focus on more strategic projects rather than basic administrative tasks. As a result, employees feel a sense of accomplishment, are more engaged and are generally more satisfied in their jobs. In light of the Great Resignation, employee satisfaction has never been more crucial.

4. OFFERS CENTRALIZED ACCESS 

Automated data capture solutions integrate with systems you already have to ensure that data is collected, processed, and stored properly. Since all the data is flowing into one place, employees can easily monitor updates, make transactions, and drive data-driven decisions in real-time. Centralized access helps boost transparency and simplifies the transition to remote work as well.

2. IMPROVES QUALITY CONTROL 

Automated data capture leads to higher quality data than manual methods. The risk of human error is significantly reduced, if not altogether eliminated: AI and other machine learning mechanisms take accuracy to a whole new level with cross-validation built-in. In the rare case of a mistake, it takes less time to identify and rectify with automated solutions.

5. FEATURES SECURITY AND DATA STORAGE

Automated data capture offers encryption to protect sensitive information on its way into a company’s data warehouse. Companies can then restrict access, optimize disk space, and create copies or backups. Since there is no longer a reason to store all tangible documents, automated data capture also greatly reduces the need for expensive physical storage space.

3. REDUCES COSTS 

Although a company has to invest in an automated data capture solution, they have far lower costs long term. With automation in place, organizations don’t have to hire more employees, set aside the budget for employee training, or cover the cost of substantial errors.

6. IMPROVES CUSTOMER SERVICE 

When support teams can access information and updates in real-time, they’ll be much more equipped to deliver a better, more personalized customer service experience. Product and go-to-market teams benefit as well when they have this data readily available, enabling them to enhance their marketing materials, offer enticing (but financially responsible) discounts, and create products customers will love.

Data Capture is the Future 

Data capture isn’t a fad; it’s the future. As technology continues to advance, it will continue to lean more into AI and robotics, only improving its already game-changing capabilities. And organizations are paying attention; nearly 50% of global businesses plan to use intelligent automation technologies to beef up their data capture processes due to the pandemic and rise of remote work. 

Greater efficiency and accuracy can have far-reaching, positive impacts on many industries, like healthcare, banking, and manufacturing, but only if companies are prepared and willing to welcome new software into their tech stack.

Make Strategic Moves with MHC Automation

The continued use of manual data entry is an enormous risk, not only because of the potential for error but also because of the nature of the work. Doing the same task over and over is a recipe for employee dissatisfaction and burnout. In fact, your company may already be lagging behind the competition as you spend time coping with high employee churn rates and inaccurate data.

Automated data capture is the key to overcoming these challenges, but implementing it may seem daunting without the right solution. MHC combines the best-in-class OCR capabilities with document automation, uniquely positioning it to support any business, big or small. MHC’s document capture services automate every step of the process—from loading the documents in MHC NorthStar to capturing the data, email attachments, webforms, and more.

The cloud-native platform is powerful, flexible, and scalable, but most importantly, MHC integrates with your current applications to get you the information you need faster.

MHC’s Intelligent Invoice Capture is particularly useful for finance departments because it uses OCR and machine learning to improve invoice extraction and reduce human touchpoints, sending information directly to your ERP and other financial tools. Plus, it has an out-of-the-box implementation, maximizing your ROI. With a streamlined process anyone can set up without reliance on IT resources, your organization will be prepared to get and stay ahead.

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