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Superior Forms: Data Processing

30 Mar, 2009 By: Brian Ball imageSource

Superior Forms: Data Processing

Capturing data or creating clean data from paper forms is not difficult and can be achieved by following four simple rules. Incorporating the four rules into the process provides consistency, a higher probability of increased accuracy, and a foundation to best utilize
resources and save money. The rules are:

1)         Optimize paper form design

2)         Instill discipline in batching and imaging techniques

3)         Capture data right the first time

4)         Use modern forms processing tools for sophisticated data manipulation

Rule1 |  Optimize paper form design:

Superior data capture starts by optimizing the design of the paper form. The following design elements can make a world of difference.

  • Clearly communicate instructions to end-users through obvious data labels and field identifiers.
  • Leave ample space for the user to completely fill out information and write legibly. Note that e-mail addresses are the most difficult fields to capture accurately.  Make it easy for the user by leaving plenty of room for the proper address. In
    collecting email addresses, preprint the “@” sign and leave plenty of space for the domain name and extension, etc.
  • Use single-sided forms printed on quality paper, so the document will hold up through mail delivery and imaging.
  • If multi-part forms are necessary, try to keep pertinent pages together in one form package.
  • Using big clear field boxes as part of the design helps to guide users in filling out the form, and drop-out ink methods, available in more sophisticated forms processing tools, ensure that the guidelines will not interfere with capturing data.

Rule 2 | Discipline in Batching & Imaging Techniques

Once the forms have been properly designed, it is critical to instill discipline into the batching and imaging process. Educational workshops can help imagers to ensure accuracy in data handling.  This diligence will pay dividends later on in resultant data integrity. There
are two key factors to consider in batching and imaging. First, forms should be imaged in manageable sized batches.  This will help to isolate problems such as lost forms or unreadable fields. Second, naming conventions should reflect as much information as possible, including:
data content, project ID and date and time stamps. Taking the time to infuse these steps into the batching and imaging process will help both with status tracking and trouble-shooting, where necessary.

Rule 3 | Capture Data Right the First Time

Capturing data correctly the first time is vital to keeping data pristine.  OCR technology is a critical feature of this process. Modern OCR technology can automatically read form data with error tolerances set very high – it is common for fields to ‘read’ near 100% accuracy
every time. Integrating the most sophisticated forms processing technology can, ultimately, save costs and increase quality. For fields that must be keyed (for example when double-pass keying is required), efficient data entry presentation can go a long way toward quick and
accurate data capture. One way to most efficiently present data is to provide keying tools that offer ‘like-type’ fields to operators rather than full form keying. This key feature helps establish rhythm and consistency, increasing accuracy and speed. A significant added bonus to
using like-type fields is heightened customer security. Here’s how it works: a given keyer will only key first names while another enters social security numbers. Both fields are never put together, maintaining client privacy.

Instilling efficient multi-pass capture techniques helps ensure that data starts out clean. As a rule of thumb, it’s important to remember that one-pass keying typically yields 95% accuracy in reads, while double-pass keying increases the accuracy to 99.5%. To keep accuracy
high and costs low, companies should use OCR technology on the first pass and automate as much processing as possible. Traditional data entry is the second step, followed by verification of differences. This three-step processing approach will render the most accurate data

Rule 4 | Modern Forms Processing Software Provides Sophisticated Data Manipulation Capabilities

Modern forms processing tools include modules that allow more sophisticated data manipulation. Data accuracy can be greatly enhanced if the software can also cross-reference captured fields. For instance the process of automatically interpreting an e-mail address can be
improved if the software can automatically aid in reviewing a person’s first or last name to ‘see’ if there is a match. Validation algorithms also help ensure that the data has been captured correctly (such as when examining check sum digits). If the data is not correct,
re-examination is automatically triggered. Finally, companies should make sure that information is captured completely and accurately before publishing finalized data and archiving sources images/paper. Going back to the source once data is sent downstream is very expensive.

Following the four basic rules mentioned in this article, making the most of each step and taking a little extra time to design, batch and image forms correctly will pay big dividends in the end. Integrating modern keying tools for operators will help to increase speed and
accuracy. Sophisticated forms processing software that includes OCR technology, intelligent keying schemes and data output manipulation can help to further automate forms processing. Bottom line – a consistent and logical approach to managing all steps will ultimately increase
data integrity – and save money.

Mr. Ball is Vice President of Forms Processing at Parascript (www.parascript.com) and has more than 18 years of experience in the industry.  He can be reached at brian.ball@parascript.com or (303) 381-4126.

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