In today’s world, businesses revolve around data. There’s just no getting around that fact. If you’re not using data to improve your company, you’re not going to have much success in the marketplace. Data can help you figure out your strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for driving more revenue.
But data gets generated in many different places, and there are many different types of data to keep track of. It’s helpful to keep all that data in one place, like a customer relationship management (CRM) platform, but how do you get it there? The answer is, with automated data collection.
You can use automated data capture to gather data from different places and bring it together in a centralized location. But what is automated data collection? How does it benefit you? Keep reading to find out.
What is automated data collection?
Automated data collection is where you use digital tools to automatically gather data from different sources and pull it together in one place. For example, if you use a CRM to pull customer data from various marketing tools, and it does it automatically, that’s automatic data capture in action.
Often, the same tools that can gather this data are also able to automatically categorize it and build it into insightful charts and reports. That allows you to more easily analyze it and use what you learn to improve your business.
How does automated data capture benefit you?
The main benefit of using automated data collection is that it saves you a significant amount of time and effort. Without it, you’d have to manually gather every data point from across all your tools, and then compile that data into one place. Then you’d have to manually organize it so you could actually learn from it.
But with automated data collection, you don’t really have to worry about that. You can simply set up your automation tools and let them do the work, pulling in all the necessary data and freeing you up to work on other aspects of your company.
What is structured data collection?
We’ve talked about what automated data capture is as a whole, but there’s more than one kind of data collection. One of the two big types is structured data collection. So, what is structured data?
There are different ways to define the term, but for the purposes of this topic, structured data is any type of data that exists in an easily readable and searchable digital format, typically a text-based format. So, for example, an Excel spreadsheet filled with numerical values would count as structured data.
The significance of structured data is that automated data capture tools are able to read and understand it with ease. If you type up a list of numbers in a text editor and then have a CRM pull the data from that file, it’ll have no problem reading the numbers, transferring them to its own database, and finding patterns in them.
Structured data collection, therefore, is simply the process of capturing this type of easily readable data.
What tools can you use for structured data collection?
So, we’ve defined what structured data collection is — now let’s talk about what kinds of tools can help you perform it.
We’ve already talked a little bit about CRMs, which are great tools for storing and organizing your customer data. As it happens, most CRMs can also perform structured data collection — in fact, it’s one of the main tasks they do. You can integrate your CRM with various other digital tools, and it can pull data from those tools automatically.
Other data-storing tools can do the same thing, like enterprise resource platforms (ERPs) or data management platforms (DMPs). You don’t typically need an additional tool for structured data management. You can simply use whatever tool you’re already using to store and organize the data.
Unstructured data is essentially anything that’s not structured data. If a file contains data, but it can’t be easily read or interpreted by CRMs and other data management tools, it’s generally considered unstructured.
That means unstructured data casts a wide umbrella, and lots of different content types fall under it. Some of those types are digital, but many of them are in fact physical media that you have to transfer into a digital format. For example, you would have to scan or retype a physical page of data in order to get it into a CRM.
Some examples of unstructured data formats include:
The easiest way to think of the distinction between structured and unstructured data is to look at different types of PDFs. In some PDFs, your computer recognizes that it contains text. You can highlight and copy the text in that document, and your computer can read it.
But other PDFs, though they contain text, are basically just image files. You can read them, but the computer can’t. You can’t highlight individual parts of the text, because to your computer, it’s just black and white pixels on the screen. That PDF file is unstructured, whereas the previous one is structured.
Because data platforms can’t read it in its original format, unstructured data collection is a much trickier and more involved process than structured data collection.
What tools can you use for unstructured data collection?
Unstructured data collection is rather different from structured data collection. Because gathering unstructured data requires you to translate it into a more structured, readable format, it’s not quite as heavily automated — you still have to do some things manually.
Having said that, there are still parts of the process you can automate. You don’t always have to completely transcribe things by hand — there are tools that can help you translate unstructured media into a readable format. For example, tools like CERMINE exist to help your computer recognize text in rasterized PDFs.
Another example of a tool that can automatically translate unstructured data is phone call recording software. Some call recording tools will automatically transcribe your calls based on the words they recognize, putting the information in a more readable format.
Because there are so many types of unstructured data, there’s no one tool that can handle all types of unstructured data. You’ll need to get some different tools to cover all the types of unstructured data you use. Still, there are ways of automating parts of the process.
Use Nutshell for your automated data collection
We’ve talked a lot about capturing data, but the purpose of doing that is so you can organize that data in a data platform like a CRM. If you’re looking for the best CRM for your business, Nutshell is the perfect option for you.
Using Nutshell, you can integrate with other tools and automatically import structured data. You can also use Nutshell to help with certain types of unstructured data — for example, if you want to save contact information from a business card, you can use Nutshell to scan the card, and it will automatically gather the information listed there.