Information Technology > Data Handler 1: The Data Handler

Data Handler 1: The Data Handler

By SEAN MACKENZIE
Published: May 14, 2008

Welcome to the the Data Handler series. This is a series for the benefit of office workers who handle data on a day-to-day basis. In this series we attempt to approach common data problems that ordinary, non-technical people face in their day-to-day work.

The Data Handler

You work with data. We're not talking about just a couple of sales orders, or a grocery list here. You're a person who has been tasked with collecting and handling hundreds, or even thousands of pieces of information on a monthly basis. Your tool of choice is most likely the humble word processor or spreadsheet. You're not technical, but you managed to do this collection before, and you have documents or spreadsheets with thousands of rows on them to prove it.

You might be a data-entry clerk tasked with entering a large amount of data from thousands of paper forms into a computer. Or perhaps a manager who needs to compile statistics, or an accountant taking in time-sheets from workers, or a research assistant compiling information about some scientific data. In almost every case though, you are like "the oil in the machine" and you know your business inside-out and have a pretty good idea how it might be improved.

The problem you constantly run into is that, even though you routinely get all your data together, it takes a long time to do. If you ask for help you can easily be inundated with different versions of spreadsheets that then need compiling - by you of course. The data the other people return to you never looks right. Even when you ask a guy from IT for help all you tend to get back is a look of confusion. Isn't this whole process supposed to be easier?

The Great Dilemma

The situation described above is common. The truth is that, as time goes on, there are ever-changing needs for data collection and handling in the workplace. Even though there have been great leaps in office software over the years, it still remains general enough to accommodate all those different kinds of users. The manager, data-entry clerk, and scientist will all be able to use a word processor or spreadsheet for their purpose.

However, that doesn't help you! At the end of the day you're still wrestling monster spreadsheets, gathering information from fifteen different people, and working until 2:00am to get everything done. Unless you want to spend money on developing some specialized software, or hire people to do it for you, there is no magic solution. So what can you do?

Working With Data

The first thing to realize is that data collection in general hasn't changed. Most people still go about it the same way as ten (or even twenty) years ago. They collect the information somehow and then punch it into a computer.

Software has changed considerably, but the underlying problem of getting data into digital format in an efficient and accurate way still remains. Only in cases where a business case can be made to automate data entry (for example, bar coding or a point-of-sale system) is the problem eliminated.

This set of articles hopes to provide some guidance to people who handle data, in order to help them understand the technologies and methods that can make them more effective.

In addition to reader-requested topics, we will cover such topics as:

  • Collecting and Structuring Data
  • Word Processor or Spreadsheet?
  • Knowing When your Spreadsheet Should Be a Database
  • Office Database Software
  • How to Share Your Data with Other Users
  • Understanding Data Security
  • It is "Business Driven"!
  • Expect the I.T. Department to Land on Your Project
  • My Spreadsheet Got Corrupted!

Have you had a funny, interesting, or problem experience related to data collection in your office? Let us know!

Any Comments?


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