Forms Processing and Data Capture – What’s Your Plan?
Many organizations and businesses collect information and feedback from customers, clients and employees in order to improve products and services. Government agencies, schools and other service institutions often collect information to update records.
Data collection like these examples may be done via mailed postcards, magazine/newspaper inserts, electronic forms, or even as a reminder on a receipt. (I shop at one bricks-and-mortar store that regularly offers a coupon for going on line to rate my experience shopping in their store…the sales clerk points out a URL that’s printed at the bottom of the receipt.)
This kind of information can provide a valuable scorecard for performance, but compiling and tallying the data, an activity known as forms processing, is a laborious project for most organizations. It can even be tricky to capture meaningful data from electronic forms, even though the data is probably going into a database. Here are some steps to consider for your forms:
- Step One: Decide How Much Data You Need
This applies not only to the number of data fields on a form, or the number of questions on a survey, but also to the total number of forms or completed surveys you need for an accurate sampling of data. The more data you need, the more complex the capturing and processing of that data will be. Moreover, data is often captured in more than one medium…for instance a magazine insert may be completed and mailed; and it may also direct consumers to a website where they can complete the form on line.
It doesn’t take many data fields or many returned forms before the ROI of manual entry falls into the negative. Remember, no matter how valuable the information you’ve collected is, if it costs more to collect and extract it than its worth, then you’ve lost out. Fifty forms with 5 fields could likely be compiled manually in-house without too much effort; while 500 forms with 10 fields would be beyond most in-house capabilities.
By outsourcing the project from mailroom receipt at an off-site PO box, to delivery of the data to you via Cloud, you could have the work completed in less time, and at lower cost than trying to do it in-house. This is because forms processing and data capture professionals have better technology and dedicated staff. Plus you have the added ROI of keeping your staff focused on your core business.
- Step Two: Types of Data to be Captured
Are you going to ask multiple choice questions, where all that needs to be tabulated is check boxes? Or, are you going to ask open-ended questions with text fields and feedback notes? Multiple choices are relatively easy to tabulate, but open ended questions get more complicated. Complications increase if you have hand-written forms or a combination of hand-written and electronically completed forms.
Hand written forms must be scanned and then run through an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) program in order to extract the data. If your forms contain only multiple choice questions and tick boxes (and you only have a small number of forms as mentioned above), then it would probably be effective to complete the job in-house, using manual methods. However, with larger volumes, it becomes a question of time and cost to input all of the data and automated outsourcing may be the answer.
- Step Three: Ongoing Data Collection or One-time Survey?
Many organizations, such as government agencies, healthcare facilities, insurance, and financial organizations require regular updates of information. These types of organizations often have ongoing, continuous updates that come in via electronic forms and paper forms through the mail. For these organizations, it is particularly advantageous to outsource. In essence, by outsourcing the entire mailroom process – receipt of forms; data collection; data delivery – these organizations are able to provide their clients with faster, more accurate responses at lower overall cost.
Forms processing and data capture can be done economically, accurately, securely and quickly by using experienced vendors who offer the latest technologies for automated forms processing.