Data that is captured in the field is some of the most valuable information available to a company. It provides a clear picture into what’s happening at a job site or point of transaction, giving managers and other executives the insights they need to make informed business decisions.
Unfortunately, many organizations don’t make effective use of that data. So let’s explore how companies can leverage the uniquely valuable information that they collect in the field to save time, money, and resources, and improve business operations.
Types of Field Data Collection
When you hear the term “data collection,” you might immediately think of the FBI or the NSA. But it isn’t just the government that collects data — every business gathers and uses data in some form.
An insurance underwriter, for example, might conduct an inspection to gather data about a home — the materials used to build it, the condition of the roof, etc. — so as to determine risk and set the premium.
Or, to use a more universal example: a timecard collects information about how many hours for which an employee should be compensated.
Data collection is simply the gathering of information to be used as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or calculation. And “field data” just means it was collected outside of a traditional workplace setting like a laboratory or office.
There are many ways to collect field data: interviews, surveys, questionnaires, observations, ethnographies, oral histories, or case studies, or reviewing documents and records. The type of information sought will determine the tools needed, such as a pen and paper, a camera, a calculator, a ruler, a GPS device, or all of those things and more.
Some of the industries that benefit from field data are:
- Electric utilities
- Water & sewer
- Oil & gas
- Environmental protection
Many companies collect data to ensure they stay compliant with government regulations, while others do it to determine the most appropriate location to build a structure. Still others collect data to verify the status of their physical assets.
The uses of field data are limitless.
Challenges of Collecting Data in the Field
Collecting field data can be a complex and lengthy process, and your success can depend on a number of factors.
Potential challenges of data collection include:
- Training/managing staff
- Inclement weather
- Environmental hazards
- Language barriers
- Access to/faulty equipment
- Time restraints
But gathering information is only half of the process. Getting your data back to the office and into a format where it can be analyzed often creates a whole new set of challenges.
Depending on your method, you may be dealing with:
- Lost, damaged, incomplete, or incorrect forms
- Illegible handwriting
- Transcription errors
- Inaccurate/lack of location data
- Labor-intensive reporting
- Out-of-date information
In some cases, it can be days, weeks, or even months before field data makes it into the hands of its intended recipient, rendering it all but useless.
Creating More Accurate and Accessible Field Data
Emerging tech is enabling the collection of more reliable, timely data, which allows businesses to take preemptive action and respond quickly to realities in the field.
When your teams collect data with mobile forms instead of using traditional pen-and-paper processes, you can follow their progress and visualize your data in near real-time rather than having to wait for them to return to the office.
A paperless data collection process also prevents transcription errors and reduces inaccuracies because the information is being entered just one time, in the field, by the person collecting and witnessing it firsthand. The data can then be quickly shared in multiple formats (such as CSV, KML, GeoJSON, or JSON) with managers, clients, and other stakeholders.
Plus, with a mobile data collection platform (such as Fulcrum), your field workers need only carry one piece of equipment — a smartphone or mobile device — with which they can record data, take photos, tag GPS location, scan barcodes, and much more. This eliminates the need for juggling multiple tools (camera, GPS device, clipboard, and laptop), which makes the process not only faster, but more enjoyable for your field teams.
With a well-planned and executed mobile data collection process, you’ll save money, stay in compliance, and create more value from your field operations and investments.
Want to learn more about collecting field data? Check out our Guide to Field Data Collection for tips, tricks, and best practices!