Paper-based data capture systems have many disadvantages however there are one or two benefits too. Listing the disadvantages first these include:
- They need a steady supply of consumables such as pens, ink, toner, staples, file dividers, file tabs, archive boxes and electricity.
- Because they rely on good handwriting skills they are often illegible.
- Entry fields are often too small for their contents especially if the user writes in large script.
- Pieces of paper can be easily lost, misplaced or mis-filed and once lost the original is irretrievable
- Paper documents can easily be damaged especially if they are retained within wet factory environments
- Paper documents need physical storage space, filing cabinets and archive stores which can retain the documents in dry and pest proofed conditions.
- People can inadvertently forget to complete trace-ability information such as dates, times and signature fields.
- People can accidentally put the wrong data into the wrong fields.
- Paper documents usually need to be carefully checked, collated and filed
- Because of space limitations, paper forms may need to be on more than one form thus doubling or even tripling consumable consumption.
- Calculated entries may be required or data may need to be checked against upper and lower tolerances. Doing this manually can easily lead to error.
- If a paper document is required to be sent to an interested party it would have to be scanned into a pdf format before sending.
- Errors can easily occur where products need to be manually graded against multiple specifications ie A grade, B grade, C grade etc.
- Errors can easily occur where hand written forms rely on the writer to detect, highlight and react to out of specification results.
- Direct statistical analysis of data captured on paper is almost impossible without someone tapping the data into a spreadsheet or database, or using expensive optical character recognition (OCR) services or software to convert it first.
Advantages of paper data capture systems include:
- A computer terminal is not required to be present at the point of use.
- Paper data capture systems cannot crash like a computer can
- Very little training is required in the use of a paper form
Disadvantages of a computer-based data capture system includes:
- A computer terminal is required at the point of use.
- Computers can crash and lose data
- Some initial training may be required in using the system
Advantages of a computer-based data capture system include:
- Computer systems consume low levels of consumables because there is no need to print out finished reports.
- Typed data is always legible.
- Input fields for electronically entered data can auto wrap to allow extra room for larger pieces of data while retaining legibility.
- Robust automatic backup systems which duplicate data on two different media can make computer stored documents very secure.
- If an electronic data file is accidentally moved (drag and drop) it can be easily found using standard computer search technology.
- Electronically retained documents are usually printed out in an office environment. If they become damaged it is easy to simply reprint another one.
- Electronic data takes up comparatively little physical space.
- Electronic systems can include robust login systems to capture responsibility signatures and other login specific details
- Simple data validation to make input errors unlikely.
- Electronic systems can be made to read barcodes on user ID cards.
- Computer based systems can easily lock date and time fields automatically ensuring important trace-ability data is not lost.
- Computer captured data doesn’t need to be manually filed as the system should save its data automatically. Computer captured data can also be auto archived after a certain user defined period.
- Because computer captured data is of uniform character size more data can fit onto an A4 size printed form while retaining legibility.
- Computers can automatically check entries against stated tolerances and auto calculate fields without error.
- Electronic documents can be e-mailed to interested parties without having to be copied or scanned first.
- Computers can auto grade product results against complex multiple specifications easily.
- Computers can easily highlight out of specification results making sure none are accidentally missed.
- Electronically captured data can easily be locked to prevent further editing or erasure.
- Electronically entered data can be automatically validated and blocked if the wrong kind of data has been input.
- Electronically collected data can be easily collated and analysed without the need for further processing.
All in all there are many more advantages to using computerised data capture over paper-based systems. However, many people still do not 100% trust computers. We have all lost data from time to time but this is usually with software which allows the user the option of switching off auto backup features. A well designed system should be both easy to use and data safe.