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Data Capture Guide: Techniques, Tools & Tips

Data capture

We are living in a data-driven world right now. So much so that it is estimated the data industry will be worth a staggering $77 billion by 2023. 

And this is unsurprising given that businesses rely on data to store and analyse important information about customers, market trends and other important insights.

However, this leaves businesses facing two key challenges. Firstly, they need an effective way to collect and translate this data. 

Secondly, with as much as 80% of data estimated to be unstructured and semi-structured, this data needs to be captured and extracted effectively too. 

With the rise of mobile data capture, applications, wearables and the Internet of Things (IoT), this means the majority of data in today’s world is stored and transferred in the form of PDF files, forms, codes, mail and web content. 

And because data comes from so many different places and document types, businesses must find the most effective methods of data capture to fit their purposes. 

That’s why we’ve put together this guide. 

Below, we’re going to take a look in more detail at what data capture is and why you need it. We’re also going to look at:

  • How data capture be used in your business
  • The best data capture techniques 
  • The data capture solutions and tools that make these techniques possible
  • Tips for getting the most from your data capture strategy

Let’s get started.

What is data capture and why do you need it?

In a nutshell, data capture is the process of collecting information from a document and then changing it into a form of data that can be read and used by a computer.

This refers to collecting data from both paper or electronic documents. That said, we are increasingly digitising services and relying more on electronic documents rather than paper. 

For paper documents, optical character recognition is important for extracting text from scanned documents and converting this into data for editing and processing. But we’ll look in more detail at these data capture methods later in the guide. 

So why is data capture so important to businesses? 

Well, as we briefly touched on earlier, it is important for collecting and managing information about their customers, clients and prospects. 

It is also crucial for capturing information from online forms, PDFs, documents, voice notes and other types of unstructured data. This data can then be applied to a number of automated processes in your business, as well as being used in several other important ways, such as offering marketing insights.

How can data capture be used in your business?

As we said, there are multiple reasons that data capture is important for businesses. We’re now going to look in more detail at how data capture, and the subsequent data that is extracted, can be used in your business.  

To improve the customer experience

One important use of data capture is to offer more insights into consumer behaviour and to better understand customer needs. This makes it possible to better meet these needs. 

Through analysing customer data, businesses can modify their goods, services, website, marketing strategies and more to suit the current marketplace. 

It can also be used as part of an automated process to give customers quicker results. For example, processing claims forms or loan applications much quicker and even outside office hours.  

To refine and boost the marketing strategy 

Following on from this, by analysing and contextualising data, businesses can better understand how consumers are engaging with, and responding to, their marketing campaigns. 

This can highlight the strengths and weaknesses and help them to adjust accordingly. This can also make it easier to target customers based on their past behaviour and demographics.

To empower employees 

By automating data capture and using this information to take on other manual data entry tasks, you can  empower your employees. 

How? 

By freeing up their time to work on more important tasks that only humans can take on.

For example, an accounting business might use invoice capture to automate some of the accounting process. This saves employees time on reviewing these invoices, and instead, they can better dedicate their time to advising their clients on their finances. 

To turn data into cash flow 

Gathering lots of data can help to boost profits in a number of ways. As we’ve already mentioned, it can be used for more targeted advertising and it can also be used to generate sales leads. 

But more than this, if you gather large amounts of data, selling this to other companies can also be another way to generate cash flow. However, you need to make sure you’re not breaking any data protection laws in doing so.

This list of benefits is not exhaustive. There are many other benefits that come as a result of data capture. These are just some of the most common and useful for reaching your business goals. 

6 data capture techniques and the tools that make these possible 

In this next section, we’re now going to look at six techniques for capturing data. We’ll also look at some of the data capture tools that make these techniques possible. Theses include: 

1. Manual data capture 

Manual data capture has been hugely important to businesses over the last decade, though nowadays, they are increasingly moving towards more automated processes. 

That said, manual data capture is still used and essentially means an employee using devices like keyboards, touch screens, etc. to input data manually. 

Because this is done manually, it can limit the types of data that employees are able to input. As such, this tends to be text or figures and relies on tools like Excel and other word processing programs. 

This is one of the more labour-intensive and time-consuming ways to collect data which is why many businesses are moving away from this. However, it is not yet totally extinct as a method of data capture.

2. Automated data capture

Moving on to the more popular technique for data capture, automated techniques require the use of computerised technology to capture data. 

Automated data capture includes the use of different tools and technologies such as optical character recognition (OCR), intelligent character recognition (ICR) and optical mark reading (OMR). We’ll look at these individually in a moment. 

Automated data capture might come at a higher cost initially, as businesses need to invest in the tools and tech stack required to make this work. However, the more this is used, the more cost-efficient this becomes. 

This is because these tools lower the amount of manpower needed and, therefore, cut operational costs significantly. 

These automated data capture tools are also increasing in popularity as the majority of today’s data exists in electronic form. 

Some of the technologies used for automated data capture include: 

Optical Character Recognition (OCR)

As we mentioned, we’re now going to look at the different technologies involved in automated data capture. The first, optical character recognition (OCR), is used to convert different types of machine-printed documents into searchable and editable data.

So, for example, image files, PDFs or scanned documents.

Intelligent Character Recognition (ICR)

Intelligent character recognition (ICR) technology helps to recognise and capture handwritten characters from image files that have been scanned in. 

As handwriting can vary significantly, ICR is less accurate and can also be more complicated than other technologies. That said, with technology always evolving, the accuracy is increasing.

Optical Mark Reading (OMR)

Optical mark reading (OMR) technology is designed to capture human marked data from documents such as forms and surveys. 

The intelligent technology has the ability to differentiate between marked and unmarked boxes. Therefore this technology is used for capturing data through boxes that are checked manually by people.

Magnetic Ink Character Recognition (MICR)

Magnetic ink character recognition (MICR) technology involves recognising specially formatted characters that are printed in magnetic ink. Though this is most typically used in the banking industry. 

For example, running cheques through a machine to speed up the processing time. The advantage of these tools is that humans can also read the data as well.

3. Magnetic stripe cards

Magnetic stripe cards are able to store data using magnetic properties. The cards have a stripe of iron-based magnetic materials and are used for electronically storing particular numbers. 

We recognise these most commonly in relation to credit cards, bank cards and identity cards. These enable automated data transfer when they are swiped through magnetic card readers.

4. Smart cards

Smart cards, or as we most commonly recognise them, contactless cards, are made with embedded integrated circuits. 

These contain more memory than the magnetic cards we’ve mentioned above and can be used for data related to personal identification, authentication, biometrics and more. 

When these interact with the suitable reading devices, they enable automated information transfer and data access.

5. Web data capture

Capturing data from the web typically involves the use of a data capture form. This appears on a website for customers or visitors to fill out. 

There are a number of ways visitors might be directed to and encouraged to fill out these forms.

6. Voice recognition tools 

Finally, voice recognition tools are used to convert speech into text. This can be simple text or a set of commands. 

This relies on the application of dictation systems, small controlling systems and certain processes of data entry and word-processing environment.

This is then turned into usable, editable data. For example, someone might be sharing data via phone call, which is then extracted and translated into data on the computer. This may then be put into a spreadsheet or used to automatically update a customer’s file.  

Tips for getting the most from your data capture strategy 

In this final section, we’ve pulled together some of our top tips to help you get the most from your data capture strategies and techniques. Because let’s face it, if you’re going to be investing in data capture, you want to achieve the best results. 

Our top tips are:

  1. Decide what data you need to collect and then make it as easy as possible for customers to supply it. For example, make data capture forms simple to complete.
  2. Capture data from multiple channels over time as this helps to spread the effort required by the customer. For example, ask for just their name and email on one form and then ask for more information through a targeted email campaign.
  3. If you have the technology in place, run automated address and postcode checks as soon as someone signs up with their contact information. This way, you can make sure it’s accurate. 
  4. Make sure you have a de-duplication process in place to ensure you’re not creating multiple data records for the same person. The good news is lots of CRM systems include tools to avoid this duplication. 
  5. Give customers and visitors an irresistible reason to give you their information. After all, there will be lots of businesses out there trying to collect their data. So why not offer an incentive like a discount or helpful content such as sending them a free white paper. 
  6. Create an automated thank you email that is sent to visitors when they sign up through your website. You could even ask them to complete an online survey or engage with you further through this thank you email. 
  7. Remember to audit and cleanse your data regularly to remove any inaccuracies, as people are often changing their address, email address, etc. Doing this will make your data more effective and enable you to target the right people.
  8. Make sure your data capture form is always clearly and prominently displayed on your website.
  9. Retain information from referral websites and browsing preferences. This will help you to better understand your customer’s journey. For example, tracking their movements from clicking on an advert, to signing up, to making a purchase.

In summary 

As you can see from this guide, data capture can be very beneficial to businesses and can be used in a number of ways to help boost profit and grow the company. 

That said, businesses need the right data capture tools and techniques to get the most from this data. 

If you haven’t put much thought into your data capture strategy, don’t hesitate. Using the tips above, you can implement an effective data capture strategy right away. 

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