Top 5 Considerations for Moving your Environmental Data from Paper to Digital

Data experiences a long journey before it can offer actionable insights to decision-makers, and environmental field data is no exception. Between each leg of this journey, there's opportunity for human error, leading to glaring data gaps and compliance risk.  Furthermore, various team members collaborate and report on this data over potentially long timeframes. To do away with the old pen-and-paper method, you will want to leverage the latest technology to move your data from the field to your desktop in an efficient, accurate manner.

Whether you are on the edge of a digital transformation effort or are well down the path to sound data governance, here are five considerations to increase confidence in your data, support compliance efforts, and save time and money across your organization.

1. Start with Why an Environmental System of Record is Important to You
The more initiatives you juggle and the more team members involved, the more critical it becomes to remember why you started in the first place. Everyone wants better data hygiene and a single source of truth, but the reasons for these efforts differ. Perhaps you have multiple systems that don't speak to each other and it's taking too long to report critical data. Maybe you've embarked on a digital transformation journey because you’re tired of paper-based processes and are concerned with ever-increasing recordkeeping regulations. Likely, you’ve been tasked with reducing risks related to inspections or increasing the efficiency of field data collection practices. No matter your “why,” using it as your foundation for every future step will keep you on the right track. 

2. Prepare Your Field Data Users for Digital Transformation
Any digital transformation changes the way work looks. Involve your team members early on and solicit their feedback regarding potential change. As custodians of data, your team members will have useful feedback in how the data management process can be improved or molded to fit a new digital landscape. Prepare employees by explaining the ways work will change, taking care to highlight how data collection and management efforts will become easier. If there’s a new system, develop comprehensive training – not just for tools, but also for associated processes.

3. Make Field Data Collection Processes a Priority
Speaking of, there's no sense in importing old and shaky processes into new systems, so dedicate time to map out current and future states. Accountability is king, and data needs informative field guides throughout its journey. Be deliberate in defining who owns what for every step. Because processes often involve forms, moving to a new digital arena creates the opportunity to redesign these. Employ required fields and built-in logic in order to validate data as it’s collected. Design for efficiency and consistency.  Something as simple as dropdowns in place of open text will work toward faster input and reduced verification needs, and identifying opportunities for automation and role-based authorizations will go a long way in reducing compliance risk.

4. Focus on User Experience
You hired your employees for their smarts and ingenuity. Likely, though, they spend a good portion of time wrangling data and finding desk time to translate paper recordings into spreadsheets. Focus on how you can reduce the number of times employees handle the same data. Identify a way for employees to collect data in the field and direct upload to data systems once reconnected to WiFi. Explore opportunities for geo-tagging so users don't have to populate location fields.  With intentional design, you can help new employees ramp-up quickly and benefit from their predecessor’s experience.  And, if you're rolling out new software, don't neglect the handheld hardware. Test out tablet models in the field and ditch any that are too hard to use with PPE or unviewable in direct sunlight. If it can't withstand a little rain or dirt, it's not rugged enough for the ride-along. 

5. Understand Data Management is a Journey
Incorporating sound data management practices into your digital transformation can feel overwhelming. Though the journey can be arduous, it's well worth it and there are plenty of resources to help you take your first step or push past a mid-trip roadblock. If you're interested in discussing digital transformation considerations, connect with a Trihydro subject matter expert.

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