The term “data collection” may sound esoteric, but the practice is actually quite broad. Data collection is a vital process that every business conducts regularly, even if they don’t call it that.
To gain a thorough understanding, let’s explore the different types of data collection companies across various industries do, how they do it, and — most importantly — why.
What is data collection? It’s the gathering of information to use as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or calculation.
Simply put: If you don’t have data, you don’t have anything to work with — nothing on which to base decisions. Without data, you’re throwing darts at a dartboard blindfolded.
So, how do businesses collect data? Here are some of the most common methods:
Surveys. According to Merriam-Webster, surveying means a) to examine as to condition, situation, or value; or b) to query (someone) in order to collect data for the analysis of some aspect of a group or area. For example: An agricultural survey would collect data about a growing operation, such as crops grown, soil type, and irrigation schedules.
Inspections. An inspection is defined as an official examination of something, or a critical appraisal based on close viewing. For example: A building inspection would collect data about the condition of a structure, including its electrical, HVAC, fire detection, and plumbing systems.
Assessments. An assessment is used to determine the importance, size, scale, or value of something. For example: A damage assessment might collect data about the extent of property damage caused by a natural disaster, such as a hurricane, tornado, or earthquake.
Inventories. An inventory is an itemized list of assets, whether it’s the property of a person or estate, the goods a business has on hand, or natural resources. For example: A power company would conduct a transformer inventory to collect data to determine the number, location, and status of their electrical equipment.
Checklists. A checklist is simply a list of things to be done or checked. For example: A job site safety checklist would collect data to ensure a work site is OSHA compliant and free of hazards.
Audits. An audit is a formal or methodical examination and review of something. For example: A construction safety audit collects data about hazards and other safety concerns present on a construction site.
When it comes to data collection, there are two types: primary and secondary. The difference between the two is just a matter of whether the data has ever changed hands.
Primary data comes directly from the source; it has not been analyzed, arranged, or touched in any way. Secondary data has undergone at least some sort of treatment.
For instance, say you wanted to know the average age of your staff. You could collect the data by individually asking each employee (primary), or get the information from your human resources department (secondary). Primary data is more tailored, nuanced, and accurate — but also more costly to gather.
Until recently, data collection was a complex, time-consuming endeavor. Depending on the information sought, a collector might need to juggle paper, pen, camera, GPS device, calculator, laptop, or any other number of items in the field.
Thanks to technological advances, today you can collect data with just a mobile device!
Once your teams have collected their data, what happens?
If you’re using paper forms, the next step is to transcribe your data into a format where it can be analyzed. This process takes time and creates opportunities for errors to be introduced, whether from hard-to-read handwriting, data-entry mistakes, or lost paperwork (in which case, the data needs to be re-collected).
Using mobile forms, you can skip that extra step and not only access your data immediately, but have more confidence in its accuracy.
In fact, with mobile data collection apps like Fulcrum, managers, whether in the field or back in the office, can access collected data in near real-time. This means that data-quality issues can be addressed immediately, before more time is wasted.
Once the data collection is finished, it can be exported into the desired format or integrated with existing systems for analysis.
Now that we’ve discussed the what, how, and why of data collection for different industries, let’s look at some real-world examples.
Data collection for civil engineering: Trimat Testing inspects roadways and generates reports from the field so their clients can make necessary repairs in a timely manner.
Data collection for oil, gas, and energy: Premier Utility Services uses Fulcrum to inspect gas meters and detect leaks over 3,300 miles of pipeline to prevent spills.
Data collection for humanitarian aid: The Halo Trust records and tracks their demining efforts using Fulcrum, speeding up the process and saving more than 3,000 sheets of paper per month.
We hope you’ve found this explainer helpful! If you’d like to read our tips for conducting a successful data collection project, check out our Guide to Field Data Collection.