It may sound a dry subject but data capture is today one of the most critical topics in business. It’s become a major competitive battleground for businesses around the world. Read why a subject so boring has got so many entrepreneurs energized.

Data Capture in 2020

In a digital era, the entire business world lives on a constant supply of data. Before any data can be processed, it first needs to be captured from the ‘real world.’ And that’s a problem. Because the data we humans capture in such a painless way through our eyes, ears, tased buds, and advanced network of nerves and sensors is not easily acquired by computers.

Think back to the Year 2000, and the subject of data capture was binary. Talk about data capture and you’d be forgiven for instinctively thinking about keyboard data entry, a camera, or perhaps a barcode reader if you were involved in enterprise automation. But that was pretty much where the discussion stopped.

Today, we are barraged by sensor devices, CCTV cameras, mobile phones and smart watches that can track your heart rate, the climate you’re in and how far you are above sea level. Few people know that even the office copier in the corner of the room is checking the air pressure in your office, in addition to the heat of the components being used to fuse toner to paper.

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Why Data Capture Matters to You

The basic building blocks of data processing are ‘capture, process, output.’ Nothing happens without data being first captured into a computer. That means, all those innovations in machine learning and artificial intelligence mean nothing if those computer processors in the back office don’t receive any data to work on. How quickly and accurately data is captured can make all the difference.

Self-driving autonomous cars, that have the ability to steer themselves along roads and react to any hazards that emerge, have to capture millions of data points every minute. The sensors in an autonomous vehicle can record between 1.4 terabytes (TB) to around 19 TB per hour. Forbes reporter David Silver estimated that 200 vehicles driving 8 hours per day at 15 mph would match Waymo’s reported mileage rate. That means, in future, autonomous cars will capture between 11 TB and 152 TB per day!

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How Data Capture is Changing

Most companies today continue to rely on documents to drive their processes. That sounds surprising perhaps in a digital age, but it’s true. For decades, the most common forms of data capture have been a keyboard or a camera (or scanner). Only recently has voice capture and chatbot technology really turned a page. Voice capture is more convenient for most people, it is the ONLY way to enter data for a sizeable number of people with disabilities and those unable to type through a lack of education. Additionally, it’s MUCH FASTER than using a keyboard.

A study by Stanford University conducted in 2017 that compared voice and keyboard data capture, found that text entry speeds, in words per minute (WPM), using speech were about 3.0 times faster than the keyboard for English

Sensor networking technologies have evolved dramatically over the past decade. The ability to capture data at source has been facilitated by a new generation of sensor technologies, new industry standards associated with data communications, network communications, data interoperability, and data encryption and identity management.

The global smart home market size is expected to grow from USD 78.3 billion in 2020 to USD 135.3 billion by 2025, at a CAGR of 11.6%.

Source: Businesswire

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The Human Interface Still Matters

Whether it’s speaking into a mobile phone or tapping into a typical database form, industry still needs effective ways of capturing data from humans. It’s become a major battleground for businesses vying to sell to, or onboard, online digital customers.

According to the Baymard Institute, one in four (28%) shopping carts are abandoned owing to the complexity of the checkout process. Another survey in 2020 by Significant reported than 54% of online financial lending applications are abandoned by prospective customers, mainly (40%) because they take too long to complete and ask for too much information.

Capturing lots of information from humans quickly and painlessly is a big issue today. At one time, people ‘expected’ to complete an online form whenever they needed to provide information; this, after decades of using paper documents, set in stone user attitudes and behaviors. But, with a digitally enabled generation, those attitudes are now changing.

One of the obvious ways to achieve faster and more convenient data capture is to remove keyboard data entry through adoption of voice capture technologies. Whilst that’s a good option, it’s not always practical, or that easy to adopt. For many, the costs of advanced voice capture technologies is beyond their practical budget.

The next best thing, according to experts, is to transition from online forms to chatbots that adopt a conversational style to ask questions in order, and often embrace AI technology to speed up applications completion. In the case of online financial lending, speed needs not to compromise lending risk for providers.

In cases where a form is absolutely necessary, the state of the art is to break down forms into a series of friendly scripted questions, presented as a wizard-based form. Using a wizard removes the ‘fear of completion’ that comes with presenting ten or twenty empty data capture form fields on a screen that leads users to head for the hills or the closest coffee bar when they realise the scale of the data entry task they’re being asked to take on.

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Summary—Strategies for Winning in Data Capture

High cart and application form abandonment rates are highlighting to businesses the importance of convenient and effective data capture. With data capture strategies directly making an impact on their income, business leaders have come to appreciate how they go about data capture really does impact on their competitiveness.

Zero data entry is always going to be the best option.

Open banking is an example of a strategy sponsored by the financial services industry regulator to harvest data across an industry in a safe and trusted way. This pan-industry approach to managing and sharing data cuts the amount of data that needs to directly be ‘recaptured’ from customers. In this way, data is harvested from available data sources wherever possible and only the REMAINING unique data needed to complete the process has to be captured. According to openbanking.org.uk, over two million users–individuals and small businesses–are using open banking-enabled applications across the UK.

Another way to cut data entry is to re-use data that’s already been captured from the information source through previous contract activities, or through transactions and activities with third-parties who give permission to share their data. Many organizations today are still unable to harvest data from their back-office systems, Service Management and Customer Relationship Management systems in a useful way to make it useful. This means, new customer requests are treated as a ‘new customer’ and this adds significant unnecessary overheads on the data capture activity demanded of the prospective customer.

For businesses, to get data capture right, it takes a blend of using the most appropriate technology and not asking them for data you can source from some place else.

Ian Tomlin is a management consultant and writer on the subject of enterprise computing and organizational design.  He serves on the USTECH GLOBAL EMEA Management Team.  Ian has written several books on the subject of digital transformation, cloud computing, social operating systems, codeless applications development, business intelligence, data science, office security, customer data platforms, vendor management systems, Managed Service Provisioning (MSP), customer experience, and organizational design.  He can be reached via LinkedIn or Twitter.

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