May 09, 2023
There’s a lot of buzz about automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning right now. And for good reason. These are powerful tools that companies can leverage to make their operations more efficient and profitable.
It’s easy to see some large-scale applications of automation technology, but have you ever thought about how it can help you with data collection? Automating data entry is one of the best ways to reduce unnecessary labor, make strategic decisions, and improve the efficiency of operations in your business.
How Does Automation Work?
Data automation is digitally uploading, handling, and processing data via computer software and according to specific instructions. There are three main elements to the automation process, which is sometimes referred to as the ETL process:
- Extract data from a source or sources
- Transform, sort, filter, or otherwise organize the data according to preset instructions
- Load the organized data into a target system (database, data warehouse, platform, etc.)
One use case for this process is improving your business’s payroll process. We had a client who wanted to collect payroll information about their internal employees and third-party contractors from multiple data sources. So we gathered data such as employees’ per diem and other expenses when traveling for business, expenses they might have incurred in the process of conducting everyday business, and so on. This data ran through the system we built and was automatically updated based on some predetermined rules.
Before automating their data, our client was manually reviewing every single submission or piece of data. With a few exceptions, this manual review process has been eliminated as the new workflow automation automatically approves or denies submissions as they run their payroll process. This project has allowed our client to free up a massive amount of time that was previously spent on a very tedious, yet important, task.
Most businesses generate massive volumes of data, but without the time to properly enter and utilize it, they can’t fully utilize the information it provides. Automating data isn’t just convenient, it’s necessary for the future sustainability of your business.
What Can Be Automated
Just about any area of your business that generates data can benefit from automation. As long as it meets the criteria that they are rules-based processes that don’t frequently change, it can be automated.
What you automate depends on which metrics you’re tracking to measure business performance. Some specific examples include, but are certainly not limited to:
- Data integrations
- Sales data
- Marketing data
- Purchase orders
- Employee data
This is the power of automation; it can be applied in practically every aspect of your business.
Types of Automation
There are a few different automation techniques out there, but four in particular, are the most popular for data integration:
- Data preparation: Gathering and cleaning raw data through mobile forms, ERP and CRM systems, etc. The main purpose of this process is to ensure you’re working with a high-quality dataset, free from errors, duplicates, and inconsistencies.
- Data transformation: Formatting and consolidating the collected data. You’re transforming your data into a format that will be usable. Using reusable scripts that can be applied to a variety of incoming data means the transformation process can be fully automated.
- Data loading: Pulling the transformed data into a database, spreadsheet, or another specialized analysis tool (such as a portal, Tableau, PowerBI, etc.). This allows you to work with enormous sets of data without taking up space on your personal machine. Multiple people can then access the data, which supports easier collaboration.
- Data analysis and visualization: Exploring and analyzing the data to provide the means for better decision-making.
#1 – Save Time on Data Entry
It’s no secret that computers are faster than people, especially when it comes to tedious manual processes like data entry, which can be extremely time-consuming. With automation, you can turn something that might take one of your employees an entire day into a task that’s done in just a few hours.
The quicker you can input data into your systems, the more reliable your data becomes. You know that it’s always up to date and ready to pull reports with the latest data your business has. Plus, this frees up your staff to focus on more important or strategic tasks that move your business forward.
Having a consistent and consolidated way to review data leads to quicker and better decision making.
#2 – More Accurate Results
To err is human, but you don’t want errors in your data. Simple mistakes like inverting two numbers or missing a decimal point can make a significant difference in your business. Studies have shown that human data entry has an error rate as high as 4%. Computers don’t get tired and their minds don’t drift off after a few pages of raw data. It will continue to follow its preset instructions with exact precision every time.
This means your data is more accurate and reliable than an employee can accomplish, and saves you time going back through the data sets trying to figure out where an error was made. Data automation creates a singular system, which allows everyone to be on the same page as they come together to make decisions.
#3 – Cost Efficient
Although automation tools do require some upfront investment, they’re much cheaper in the long run than hiring an employee simply to manage your data-intensive business processes. Instead of covering a salary and benefits for one person — or an entire team — you can simply pay for the automation platform and let it do the hard work for you.
This way, you can use your labor budget to hire more specialized employees, such as IT professionals or data scientists, who are skilled at analyzing and interpreting the data your system captures and organizes. Your money goes toward high-level tasks, and you eliminate the need to pay someone to check or re-do the work because you know you have the best possible data quality.
#4 – Easier to Scale
Finally, it’s much easier to grow your business when you have automated data tools to back you up. Not only will you not need to hire extra staff to handle the extra data, but you can also see your business trends and utilize forecasting to make decisions.
The scalability automation provides means as your organization grows, the cost to maintain data processing remains consistent. Your data allows you to determine the best time to make a move in your business, shows you your growth path, and isn’t limited to a certain amount of work.
Do You Need Better Data Processing Tools?
McKinsey found that at least 40 percent of employees spend 10+ hours a week on manual, repetitive tasks. That’s a lot of time! Imagine if your employees were given 10+ hours weekly to focus on higher-level tasks.
There is so much potential in creating a data automation strategy. If all this sounds like the answer to your problems, then it’s time to implement data automation solutions in your business.