Interviewed by Adam Burroughs | Smart Business Magazine | INSIGHTS Digital Transformation
The typical data collection process within companies is often fraught with challenges. Just the magnitude of it can create issues when it comes to formatting, reading and interpreting data. And data can also quickly become dated either because of issues with the consistency of collection or where visibility relies on manual entry.
"Companies often make real-time decisions based upon reports comprised of old, "stale" data," says Mike Fieseler, vice president of business development at EOX Vantage. "That's akin to managing in the rearview mirror."
Fortunately, there are now a variety of ways to automate gathering and consolidating that data.
Smart Business spoke with Fieseler about how automating data collection leads to better quality data and improved decision making.
What Does the Typical Data Collection Process Look Like?
Companies have two types of data that they're bringing together: internal and external data. The key is merging the data in a fashion that makes it useful information.
External data can come from many sources, including vendors. Data collection will increase exponentially once businesses start to incorporate more data from Internet of Things-enabled devices. All of these come in a variety of formats. Many times it requires manual data entry to be combined with internal data.
Internal data comes from standard systems, like an ERP or CRM. Each of these systems typically has a reporting module that enables companies to visualize the data and export it. The challenge, though, is that many of these systems don't talk to each other. So, companies end up with data exported onto Excel data sheets that are siloed, requiring someone to merge them. This can lead to data that quickly becomes dated.
What Are the Benefits of Automating Data Collection?
People don't typically like manual data entry. It's boring, and that can lead to a lack of attention, which often leads to mistakes.
Application programming interfaces (APIs) are automated data collection solutions that can help with this process, as can file transfer protocols (FTPs) that bring in cells and Excel formulas together to create data summaries.
The payoff of automation includes cost savings through reduced labor. It's also likely to be a faster turnaround, better quality and expanded data to use for analytics, which leads to a better customer experience and perhaps more sales. Automation also enables companies to redeploy their workforce into more challenging roles, which keeps them motivated and should help reduce the turnover companies might otherwise see.
How Can This Lead to Better Business Decisions?
Companies today are combining internal and external data to produce remarkable insights, in real time, enabling much faster responses to real-time demands. Traditional approaches often only capture events that have already happened, sometimes months in the past. That can slow reaction times. Digitally driven consumers, however, might not be patient and could flee to businesses that can offer a better customer experience informed by up-to-the-minute data.
What Challenges Can Accompany Automated Data Collection?
The initial challenge is targeting the right projects. To do that, companies should step back and identify the areas where the business is experiencing backlogs. That process can be informed by feedback from clients - understanding their needs and expectations. They should also look to their staff, those who are the subject experts, to understand, at a service-based level, what those customers want and how to address their issues.
Companies also need to select a toolset that will enable them to put solutions in place that address those issues. Those tools should be flexible - able to be used not only for one specific solution but also for future tasks.
It's also a good idea to have people who are familiar with that toolset make sure your employees have adequate training. That could mean bringing in experts from the outside, whether hiring them full-time or using consultants, to help with implementation.