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Garbage-in/garbage-out: why data quality is critical to digital automation

By Tim Stephenson - 30th October 2019

When it comes to conversations about automation, it’s typically the possibilities that technology has to offer which grab the headlines.

Although it’s important for people to understand the kind of efficiency gains that robots or artificial intelligence can deliver for organisations, there are pre-requisites to consider beforehand to achieve those gains and that merits airtime as well.

In our previous blog, we discussed why focusing on the business outcomes and bringing people around a roadmap is critical at the outset of a project. This is key to ensuring technology choices are driven by business need and not the reverse.
 

Quality data for better automation

Another vital area to consider in this planning stage is the information or data that flows through the processes which an organisation is looking to automate.

When we work with our clients, the starting point for our projects is nearly always the information which comes into the organisation.  The motivation for this comes from our belief that an effective digital organisation should always be built around the user need.

For most public sector organisations this will require zeroing in on that most mundane of things: the forms which capture user information and data.
 

Why forms matter

Forms matter because they are the de-facto filters which define the scope, completeness and quality of data which comes into the organisation. They may be low-tech, but they provide the tool for every organisation to gain control over data quality.

Most clients we work with are able to identify major gains by reviewing forms and data capture. For many, this starts with a blank sheet of paper and asking: what information do we really need?

Organisations should also consider how data is captured.

Some – probably a majority – will have to think about the form itself: paper, excel, word documents are all still common currency for data returns, applications and registrations in the public sector. No organisation will be able to achieve the benefits of automation as long as it relies on data capture in this way.

For organisations already using online forms, the focus will need to be on improving user experience.

This means reviewing the way forms are structured, the way questions are asked, putting in place checks to ensure inputs are accurate before data is accepted and using responsive forms which route people through relevant questions depending on previous answers.
 

Small changes, big gains

Accurate data is critical for digital automation and cutting out data checking, input and errors is one of the early efficiency gains. Eliminating unnecessary data capture increases the chances of users providing the full information needed while reducing the resources needed to manage it. Introducing consistency in data capture across an organisation makes it easier to create processes which can run across silos or teams.

For someone planning a project, working at the strategic level, forms may seem like an unnecessarily tactical or granular consideration.

So why pay attention to them? Here are three compelling reasons.

The first is to address front-on the ‘garbage-in; garbage-out’ challenge which dogs most organisations: if efficiency depends on the data you gather then you must try to improve the effectiveness with which it is gathered.

Secondly, a core tenet of digital process automation is that by focusing on getting the small details right the big gains can be made.

Lastly, once you have good quality data and have paid attention to capturing the user need thoroughly, you are in an excellent position to deliver the rest of your digital transformation efficiently.

If you would like to know more about how digitising and automating forms will give your digital transformation a boost, then get in touch with us.
About the author: Tim Stephenson
Tim Stephenson is our DPA Practice Lead. With over 15 years' experience, Tim's area of expertise is business process management and digital transformation. He has architected many million pound plus software development projects and his expertise is called upon regularly at industry events.