If ‘knowledge is power,’ then so is access to data about tangible assets and real-world operations. Digital data collection typically starts in the physical world, but the process of collecting it is broken for many, jeopardising decision-making and compromising leaders’ oversight. And while workers need the right information at the right time to thrive, too few employers have a strategy for how to best capture data – falling at the first hurdle.

This physical data may be widely available but manual and disjointed processes mean much is missed or tainted when digitising it. It’s like blowing up a bouncy castle without an electric pump – doable, but slow and inefficient. It’s time businesses realise they’ve been doing just that and embrace the new reality of smart data capture.

All revolutions have growing pains

Every technological revolution starts somewhere. There is always trepidation, but that is soon replaced by acceptance and – eventually – reliance. The cloud was unknown, too, once. Questions abounded over whether it was safe to entrust Big Tech with information and whether it would jeopardise security and confidentiality.

Yet now, most smartphones come with cloud storage baked in and businesses rely on it to streamline collaboration. In a decade, hopefully we’ll look at how we gather data today and wonder why it took so long to change.

Many stakeholders don’t understand the need for a dedicated, smart data capture strategy. The retail industry is a good example: full of dull, linear processes like scanning hundreds of barcodes, one-by-one. It’s so embedded that businesses have become blind to a problem that falls disproportionately on frontline workers – who have historically been left behind in digital initiatives

Capturing data should be possible regardless of conditions. When data capture tools are equipped with computer vision and machine learning capabilities they can excel even in dim lighting or with damaged barcodes. Machines can even help detect things invisible to the human eye, like fake IDs.

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Technology is about problem solving – so why must workers still trudge through manual tasks when solutions already exist? Individually scanning items, or worse, keeping records with paper and pen cannot be the way forward.

Streamlining data capture frees workers to be more ‘human’, allowing them to provide the stellar service that builds customer loyalty. If given flexible devices that double as information hubs and communication tools, they can even be upskilled beyond their responsibilities. Imagine a retail associate being able to access real-time stock levels for an item across outlets just by pointing their device at it, then instantly completing an order for collection or home delivery.

An integrated hardware and software strategy can modernise how people and systems interact with physical assets and workflows, allowing for data to be collected and insights gleaned instantly. While workers and customers stand to gain, perhaps the biggest winners are businesses’ bottom lines.

How good is your data, really?

Anybody who works with data will have witnessed the ways it is not properly collected. Just the other day, a ticket I’d bought was scanned at the door with a mobile phone, only for the worker to tick me off a physical list. Disjointed workflows like this are far too common and become more consequential when scaled across multiple processes.

Real-time data about real-world operations has never been more important to businesses, but with outdated processes rife, how can anybody be sure the information they have is worth basing decisions on? In other words: let businesses arm themselves with electric pumps and watch their profits balloon.