How To Automate Data Entry
Data entry is the world’s most hated office task. If you’ve ever spent hours moving information from one medium to another, you know why. There’s no creativity, problem-solving, or high-level thinking involved in adding data to systems; it’s a mind-numbing task.
Moreover, data entry is a routine activity that interferes with actual work. Automation Anywhere estimates that the average employee loses 60 hours a month (approx. 3 hours a day) to admin tasks, data entry being the one workers spend the most time on. Having to perform continuous data entry work doesn’t just add to an already heavy workload — it can take a real toll on physical and mental health.
Ironically, data entry (and most other simple, repetitive admin tasks) can be completed with minimum to zero human involvement. Thanks to automation — the use of technology to reduce or eliminate manual work — it’s possible to delegate the tedious, repetitive inputting of information to software. With low-level tasks off their plates, employees are free to focus on more meaningful work, becoming happier and more productive as a result.
But it’s not just workers who benefit. With data entry automation, organizations have faster access to (potentially better) data, since data typically enters systems more quickly and with fewer errors than they would through manual data entry.
So how do you automate data entry? Data comes in a variety of formats, so there isn’t a single tool or method for automating all data entry. There are, however, a few essential data entry automation tools that every knowledge worker should know in 2022. We list them all in this article, which covers:
- What is data entry automation?
- How to automate data entry
- Optical character recognition (OCR)
- App integration software
- Voice-to-text software
- Text expansion software
What is data entry automation?
Data entry automation is the use of technology, specifically software, to reduce or eliminate the manual work involved in inputting data into systems and databases.
Switching from manual to automated data entry reduces data transfer times (meaning data enters systems and databases more quickly). Depending on the source of data and the tool that is used, it can also help minimize data entry errors, including transposition errors, data duplication, data misclassification, and data omission.
How to automate data entry
Here are the essential tools for data entry automation.
Optical character recognition (OCR)
Optical character recognition (OCR) turns the written content in photos and scans into machine-readable text that can be selected, copied, and edited on the computer. Here’s how it works:
- OCR distinguishes dark from light in photos and scans, recognizing what’s dark as characters to be read and what’s light as background.
- It processes the characters, identifying them as either numbers or letters.
- It uses pattern recognition and/or feature detection to identify each character.
- It converts each character identified into American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII), the most common format for text files.
OCR takes just a few seconds to complete but can save hours of data entry work. With OCR, you can:
- Turn scans into editable PDFs to work with content without having to type it from scratch.
- Make files searchable to quickly locate information.
- Edit the content of files to make updates and corrections.
- Replace paper with digital to save space and preserve documents for longer.
- Enable text-to-speech conversion to make documents accessible to the blind and the visually impaired.
Our pick: PDFpen (Mac and iOS)
PDFpen uses OmniPage, one of the world’s most accurate OCR engines. The PDF editor offers “batch OCR” (the ability to perform OCR on multiple files at once); OCR works with documents in dozens of languages.
App integration software
App integration software transfers data between apps so you don’t have to manually retype or copy and paste. Here’s how it works:
- You choose the apps you want to integrate. For example, WordPress and Slack.
- You choose the trigger event and the action. For example, the trigger event can be “when a blog post gets published on WordPress” and the action can be “share on the Slack channel #blog”.
- You test, iterate, and activate your integration.
Setting up an integration doesn’t require any coding and takes just a few minutes. If you use a ready-made integration (or template), it’s even quicker and easier.
You can use app integration software to automate a number of tasks, including:
- Notifying your team of important events.
- Aggregating form responses.
- Creating tasks from important events.
- Publishing social media posts.
- Sharing social posts internally.
- Creating contacts in your CRM.
- Populating an email list.
- …and more!
Our pick: Zapier
Zapier integrations free you from data entry while saving you anywhere from 4-10 hours per week. With over 3,000+ app integrations available, there’s a Zap for nearly everything: posting content to social media pages; creating to-dos; compiling survey information; sending emails; creating email lists; sending reminders, and more. Zapier is easy to use and free for a limited number of integrations.
Voice-to-text software (also known as dictation software, speech-to-text, and voice recognition) converts voice to text on a screen in real time to eliminate the need for typing and minimize the time spent sitting down and looking at screens. Here’s what you can do with voice-to-text software:
- Use your voice and simple commands to compose, edit and format text, from shopping lists to entire documents.
- Transcribe lectures in real time.
- Use a mobile app to write on the go.
- Create documents in dozens of supported languages.
- Take advantage of industry-specific vocabulary, or create your own dictionary.
Our pick: Dragon by Nuance (Android, iOS, macOS, Windows)
Dragon by Nuance, the first-ever dictation software, offers support for industry-specific vocabulary (such as legal and medical) and lets you both add your own vocabulary and create shortcuts (for example, you can assign the word “address” as a shortcut for your actual address). It’s fast, accurate (it boasts an accuracy score of 96%), and customizable.
Text expansion software
Text expansion software doesn’t eliminate the need for manual data entry, but drastically reduces the amount of typing required to do it. Here’s how it works:
- You save frequently-used text (single words, codes, phrases, entire messages, etc.) in a content library.
- You assign a shortcut to each text fragment.
- You type the shortcut to “expand” the text anywhere you type.
With text expansion software, you can:
- Make text of any length expandable with just a couple of keystrokes.
- Share a content library with coworkers.
- Group content by team, project, or topic.
Our pick: TextExpander (Windows, macOS, iOS)
The leader in text expansion software, TextExpander drastically reduces the amount of typing required to communicate, saving users as much as 30 hours a month. TextExpander is easy to use and works anywhere you type. Features include:
- “Adapt to case” functionality so you can choose to expand in capital letters as needed.
- The ability to store formatted text with images so you can preserve bold, italic, and other formatting.
- “Fill-in” form fields so you can create customizable templates.
- “In-line search” so you can locate text fragments quickly even when you can’t remember shortcuts.
Automate data entry, take back your time
Data entry work can be automated with the help of affordable, easy-to-use technology, including optical character recognition (a feature in PDF editors), app integration, voice-to-text, and text expansion software.
For OCR, we recommend PDFpen; for connecting apps, Zapier; for dictation, Dragon by Nuance, and for text expansion, TextExpander. These tools will free you from tedious, repetitive work and save you dozens of hours each month.
To use TextExpander for free for 30 days, click the button below:
Sources and useful links:
- Best dictation to speech software – A detailed review of the best dictation software programs. By Chris Hawkins, on the Zapier blog.
- Data Entry Automation Improves Cost, Quality, Performance, and Job Satisfaction in a Hospital Nursing Unit – A study describing how data entry automation improved the performance and job satisfaction of nurses in a hospital. By Bauer, Jeffrey C. PhD, et al.
- Developing good work habits: automation – Tips on when, why, and how to automate tasks, on this blog.
- Global research reveals world’s most hated office tasks. Press release for 2020 study by Automation Anywhere.
- Is manual entry or automatic data extraction more reliable? – Surprising stats about the accuracy of manual vs. automatic data entry. By Chris Zaugg.
- Surprisingly, data entry operators face severe health risks. The adverse effects of continuous, intense data entry on health. On the blog of law firm Hannigan & Botha.