Eliminate Manual Data Entry

Data Research Services was a successful business, but there were limits to the amount of work it could handle. Those limits disappeared when the company found a forms processing solution that allowed it to do 25 times more work — without adding staff.

The next time you fill out a survey form, pay attention! If the instructions tell you to print clearly, fill in circles completely, or use check marks, then do it. Have pity on the people who don't have forms processing software to deal with large surveys, the people who have to manually extract and type all the information that you and I so sloppily fill out. These dinosaur companies need all the extra time and advantage they can get to compete with rivals who are employing technologically superior solutions.

That was the case for the Atlanta-based Data Research Services (DRS), a marketing research service company. The company had recently celebrated its 20th anniversary and last year showed revenues of $1.5 million. It employs 25 full-time and 65 part-time staff who work as data entry personnel, telephone interviewers, and data collectors.

The company is small in size but bigger than the marketing research departments for most large corporations – and that is how DRS appeals to big companies. It handles survey forms from start to finish for large companies – the end product being data sets and statistics that these companies can use to aid business and marketing decisions. Despite all of the marketing research service company's success, it found that its method of handling large survey results was obsolete, and limited the growth of the company.

Prior to searching for an integrated solution, all the data at DRS was manually entered. The company could not handle surveys with more than 5,000 returns. Not even the best data entry personnel could keep up with surveys beyond this amount. "We couldn't handle high volume surveys, and neither could our competitors," says DRS senior project manager, Mike Hood. "That really got our people thinking – if we implement new technology, we could handle larger surveys."

Attacking The Problem
In response to this epiphany, DRS contacted ReadSoft (Chicago), a developer of enterprise-wide forms processing solutions, to provide an integrated solution. ReadSoft supplied its Eyes & Hands forms processing software, which DRS complemented with a Canon dual-sided scanner. Now DRS is doing big business with the new technology, and according to Hood, the transition was smooth. "The software comes with a key that plugs into the parallel port of a PC. We connected the plug and the scanner, installed the software, and were up and running. The only bump in the transition was learning to use the software. But, ReadSoft provided us with training and continues to remain accessible to us, so learning the software really wasn't a big issue."

The new computerized system of processing surveys is more sophisticated and less antiquated. DRS requests a blank copy of the survey form from a client and scans it. From the scan, DRS identifies and sets alignment fields. These are usually question numbers or unique characters. Once the fields are set, the surveys are run through the scanner, which captures the pertinent information. The computer builds an ASCI data file based on the information from the surveys, and an operator verifies the information as it is displayed on the PC monitor. Then the operator looks at the captured image and the extracted data, and makes the necessary corrections. This verification process is the only step that involves human intervention, but even that can be kept to a minimum by adjusting the confidence level in the software. The lower the confidence level, the more readily the PC accepts questionable information, such as stray or illegible marks. The verification process can also be curtailed by designing forms without open-ended responses.

Enjoying The Benefits Of Forms Processing
Was the install a success? By all means, yes. DRS is now doing big business with big companies, and 5,000 surveys is no longer its business-output horizon. The company recently completed a 140,000 return survey for Delta Airlines. Another client employed DRS to complete 5,000 panel surveys – each with 28 pages. DRS' scanner can handle up to 1,400 letter-size, double-sided survey forms per hour. One data entry person might be able to enter 10,000 keystrokes in the same timeframe – the equivalent of about 10 single-spaced, typed pages. Companies are also attracted to the flexibility offered in the design of the survey forms. "It doesn't have to look like a scan-tron sheet with all those bubbles," says Hood. "The software allows you to design a nice-looking survey that can incorporate clip art and company logos. It's great for marketing purposes."

The new software also offers a storage alternative for companies that want to retain a hundred thousand copies or so of the survey. Rather than storing scads of paper in a warehouse, Eyes & Hands can generate TIFF images or files of the surveys and save them on CDs. A few CDs can store up to 150,000 surveys.

In closing, Mike Hood commented on where the new software has taken the company. "We've been able to get these high-volume surveys that we couldn't even bid on before. More importantly, we're doing it with the same number of employees. We can process 100,000 surveys in less than 20 days, with only two people. I have no reservations about saying the install was a success. Our goal was to grow our business. Without doubt, we have attained that goal. The future looks very promising."

Doug Campbell