Choosing the best ways to capture data

Capturing data
There's more than one way to capture data effectively

There are many different technologies available to the market to assist in capturing data, but how do organisations know which solution they should be deploying? The process isn't as straightforward for industries such as healthcare which have a whole different set of requirements if compared to airlines, construction, police force or oil & gas.

Any data capture solution needs to improve workflow processes by allowing organisations to automate the transformation and the channelling of information; whether it is billing-related, customer, staff, or patient related or driven by another task or action.

For any planned data capture project the following factors should be considered:

Determine what information you are looking to capture

First off, you need to determine what information you are looking to collect and retain, as well as looking at how it affects your business as a whole. For a healthcare organisation, the information you are looking to capture and digitise is usually related to patients.

In this setting you are looking to transmit information relating to a patient, thus allowing a clinician to spend more time with a patient. For other organisations, such as insurance companies, the operations can be multi-faceted such as capturing information from a new customer over a phone or carrying out an inspection following an accident or a break-in to someone's property.

Usually in field based activities, paper based forms are still widely used as it is difficult to translate drawings and annotations on said forms to a format that would suit a portable computer. The challenge here is for organisations to then duplicate the information by re-entering the data to a computer system.

Don't duplicate

The key with data capture is to reduce the administrative time required to re-enter information to a computer system. This can be a costly and time-consuming process and can result in errors as data is re-keyed. With digital input methods this process is eliminated, ensuring a smoother flow of data and information across an organisation.

One solution may not be right for all operations

Some data capture can be done by PDAs, for others by tablets or by digital pens. Once you have determined what you are looking to capture the solution phase is critical. There are cases where PDAs and tablets have been rolled out at great expense, only for the organisation to realise those technologies are not suited for the job at hand, either because of connectivity issues, because they are not rugged enough, or because the technology changes and disrupts the overall working process, making them less effective.

That is not to say that tablets or PDAs are wrong, but organisations need to determine which technologies are most suited for their needs. For example a tablet may not perform well in a field setting where debris and other hazardous materials can damage the screen, rendering the device useless. Also, the risk of dropping an expensive device such as a tablet can be an added expense to the organisation.

It is imperative that you choose carefully what is appropriate. The solution doesn't have to be the flashiest, or shiniest new tablet, but can be something as effective as a digital pen.

Keep it simple

Don't complicate things. The technology doesn't necessarily have to be the latest and greatest. The best data capture solutions are those that do not change the way you are used to working. When you are choosing the appropriate tools, make sure that you don't change things drastically and in a way that will make life harder for those using the solution.


As with all data, the security implications are of great importance. Regardless of the data you are collecting and recording into a digital format, you don't want it falling into the wrong hands. Make sure that the solution that you deploy does not expose your organisation to data loss, or that the devices you use do not contain any sensitive material in the event a device is lost.

Organisations with either an analogue or highly digital work environment can make leap steps forward by evaluating how to best align their established workflow with existing technologies. The points above are the basic areas to consider when planning to modernise and deploying a data capture solution as part of the quest to digitise business critical document handling processes.

There are solutions out there that suit every industry's vision from far away reaching field operations in extreme conditions to protected indoor office environments and boardrooms. Today's solutions are capable of capturing data and transmitting it directly to any backend system for immediate or even automatic processing.

Avoid being trendy

When choosing one device or a set of multiple devices to carry out these tasks, avoid trendy solutions and choose wise sustainable technology that meet or exceed requirements. It is easy to be blindsided in the blurry of offerings be it for a small company or international enterprise. It goes without saying, that choosing wrong technology can drastically deflate your bottom line.

Simply, knowing your workflow environment and mapping your needs and expectations can partake in delivering a measurable positive effect for your company's productivity.

  • Richard Sargent,is the project delivery director, at Anoto. He is an experienced healthcare technology professional. He has worked as a project manager for the Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust.