Nobody likes data entry. But you know what’s worse? Having to enter the same data twice.
Double-entry plagues every business with complex work to track. And for that, it’s known to be a frustrating, time-consuming, maddening, inefficient task that’s often a source of errors, and worse…few manage to eliminate double-entry completely. Why is that?
Let’s look at the 3 biggest causes of unnecessary double-entry and explore how to correct them once and for all.
Cause #1: Too Many Tracking Systems
One of the biggest reasons people find themselves copying and pasting information a whole bunch of times is that they have too many tracking systems. This often occurs as a result of having many different kinds of data to deal with. People take tracking seriously, and so often end up with many tailored solutions.
These could take the form of spreadsheets, for example:
· one sheet per project for costs
· one for contact info across historical and current projects
· daily reports by contractor or staff member
· a master sheet to track progress for all projects
The systems could be different apps:
· a financial app
· a document sharing database
· a task management tool
· a GIS library
Or even people:
· “I’ll handle the accounts in the North, you take the ones in the South.”
Regardless, when you need to know what’s going on, you have to look in a bunch of different places. This usually means you need to compile a current “snapshot” to make decisions or answer questions. For example, if I asked “Which projects should we prioritize in the coming quarter?” you probably would have all the information you need to answer me… but it wouldn’t be ready to use right away.
You’d have to gather information like budget projections and current costs, the permit stage, site photos, and how far the access roads are for each project, into one document. Otherwise, how can you compare them all?
More than a handful of projects and it quickly becomes a LOT of copying and pasting.
Cause #2: Multiple Stakeholders
Adding more people to a problem generally adds complication, and data management is no exception.
Even if you’re only working with one type of information — like daily reports tracked in a single spreadsheet — having more than a few people contributing will result in manual double-entry.
When do people cause double entry?
You might have three different contractors working on a site, and each needs to send you the progress reports. Maybe five or six project managers are reporting to you on a portfolio of a couple of dozen projects. Or you could be the contact point for a large number of stakeholders, like building tenants, and are recording plumbing issues.
Regardless of the specific situation, any time you find yourself aggregating answers from many people into one place, the process is the same: copy it from the email/voicemail/OneDrive link and paste it into your own, secure, tracking system.
They type it up the first time, and you have to move it somewhere.
As with the multiple tracking systems above, this process can become incredibly time-consuming.
The only reason we put up with it at all is that it seems so unavoidable. But we’ll get to that later.
The kicker with this type of double-entry is that it is completely avoidable — if only compliance weren’t an issue. But alas, it is. Getting many people to follow the same data storage protocols is a losing battle unless you have good enforcement tools at hand. And as a result, managers who would let anyone else touch their tracking spreadsheets are few and far between. Instead, we’d all rather ctrl-c, ctrl-v.
Cause #3: Stuck Data
There’s nothing worse than buying a subscription to software that can hold all the information you need, only to discover 6 months down the line that it won’t spit out answers in a format you can use.
It’s bad enough discovering this with your own spreadsheets, but the sting is worse when you’ve researched and paid for a system that can neither export your data properly nor make a report out of it. Useless!
Planning for the many different ways your future self may need to use your information is tricky, so staying flexible is important. If you choose the wrong app, you may just find yourself with the week-long task of manually copying every datum into Excel.
Untangling Your Data
Data siloes are nothing new, but the ability to choose cooperative systems to get around the issue is kind of new, and worth talking about.
Some apps allow you to create interconnection through APIs, and some companies even try to build their own systems from the ground up (more on that in another article).
The duplication of effort caused by multiple people needing to contribute information needs to be tackled with better input tools. When your data input provides structure to the people you’re working with, they’re able to enter their information directly into the place you want to store it. Of course, such a system will need to give you control over how data is collected and stored. Input tools that contribute to a single database will save you a ton of effort transcribing data yourself.
Lastly, to prevent stuck data, you need flexible export options. Ideally, a system that will allow you to export data into the universally digestible .csv format.
In order to make multiple systems and people work together, your data and workflow need a strong organizing principle to act as a backbone.
All three issues; too many tracking systems, varied data sources (people), and inflexible storage systems that result in stuck data, can be solved with a data management plan that properly takes both your current workflow and future needs into account.
Designing a functional and easy-to-use data storage system goes beyond picking the right apps. In fact, we find most businesses are best served by keeping the apps that they and their users are most comfortable with. Instead, good data management means being able to aggregate that data automatically, instead of by hand.
Automatic data aggregation
Data aggregation software keeps the most familiar parts of your workflow, but then adds a critical ingredient: the ability to filter through information in different systems.
It puts all your information in one bucket and then uses powerful filters and custom views to allow each stakeholder to pull out what they need.
Input is similarly controlled: you design your data input forms so that each person can enter the data directly into its storage container. You don’t need to be the gatekeeper for each item.
The result is that you spend less time copying and pasting information from the source into the storage system, and less time compiling information from storage into a report.