Data plays a vital role in today’s world. We rely on it when we need to get something done or to understand issues like why groups behave in certain ways and tech companies continue to promise that better data analysis will change the world.
Yet, for all our hope and trust in data, many organizations are still using manual data entry — and costing themselves trillions of dollars globally as a result.
Why are we still doing manual data entry?
The short answer to that question is simply that we always have.
Business has always relied on data. Some of the earliest forms of writing we can still look at today record business transactions, such as purchases and shipments of raw materials. For several thousand years, humans recorded data manually. Even when computers made their way into our businesses and lives, we still entered data into them by hand.
It wasn’t until very recently that we developed the tools for automated data entry. As a result, the vast majority of people, both workers and leadership, think of data entry as something humans do, using a computer as the tool.
Changing our view of data entry from something we do into something artificial intelligence can do for us takes time. Yet every day we delay, we cost our own businesses money and growth.
What are the problems with and pitfalls of manual data entry?
There’s one benefit to manual data entry: It feels familiar to workers who’ve entered data manually for most or all of their working lives.
But it presents one major drawback. It imposes costs — big costs — in a few key areas:
- Money: Manual data entry is expensive, and its costs are often hidden — payroll for workers who do manual data entry, investments in equipment for the work of manual data entry, and lost time and effort when mistakes in data entry cause problems.
- Time: A significant number of workers — up to 60 percent — believe they could free up six hours or more each week if they didn’t have to tackle manual data entry and other repetitive tasks, writes Rebecca Hinds at relationship intelligence platform Affinity. That’s nearly one day of work they could spend on tasks that directly boost the organization’s bottom line.
- Mistakes: Manual data entry invites mistakes, and those mistakes can be costly. Quadrant CEO and founder Mike Davie estimates that inaccurate data costs a business at least 30 percent of its revenue, on average.
We’ve known for a while that manual systems that try to catch errors may reduce mistakes, but they add time and effort to the process. A 2009 study of manual data entry methods by University of Nevada, Las Vegas, professor Kimberly A. Barchard and colleagues found, for example, that double entry produced fewer errors than a visual inspection of data — but double entry requires more labor-hours, increasing the time spent on data entry and the costs of paying staff to do the work.
Why should you automate now?
Manual data entry costs businesses trillions — literally. A 2018 Goldman Sachs report estimates that businesses incur over $2.7 trillion in B2B administrative costs annually, much of which is related to the use of paper checks for making payments.
The answer? Automation. The Goldman Sachs report also estimates that by automating payment systems, including the data entry they require, businesses could cut costs by as much as 75 percent.
Here are just a few benefits of automated data entry:
- Faster data entry: Automation allows a system or platform to fill in the blanks immediately — saving staff and customers from having to type the same information over and over again.
- Fewer mistakes: Because automation will copy the same information in the same way every time, it can’t introduce errors like transposed letters or misplaced decimals the way a fatigued or inattentive human might.
- More free time and focus: When staff don’t have to deal with the preliminaries of manual data entry, they can jump right into the part of a task that requires their expertise.
Automated data entry can improve data collection, allowing for better insights into how a business team, class of students, or other group is performing and what needs attention.
And you don’t have to build it from scratch: A number of free online forms enable your team to automate data entry as part of their ordinary, day-to-day tasks. Many of these forms look, feel, and operate just like the manual-entry forms already familiar to most of us, but they benefit from technology that allows for automated information management.
Automated data entry may be new, especially in the context of thousands of years of human writing and recordkeeping. But it doesn’t have to be daunting — and the benefits of abandoning manual data entry are vast.
Photo by Sebastian Pandelache on Unsplash