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I don't know if anyone here has a job that involves heavy data entry. I hope to get some opinions, or suggestions to something new.

My company has a private database which stores various kind of data - from product specifications, inventory ins-and-outs to customers' contacts. We have a web based application which allows our staff to enter data using various kinds of forms.

The thing is, many colleagues always complain about the tedious work for manually entering the data via the forms. They find the process time-consuming and tiring.

They asked/suggested if they could just enter all the data on a spreadsheet and dumped the spreadsheet file into the web application so that the data will be imported just like it is entered via the forms. They said that they find entering data via spreadsheets is a much more friendly and convenient method as compared to traditional forms.

I am not sure about that but I have read many articles on the web saying how great it is for having data forms over spreadsheet-style data entry. May be they find all the field-clicking/tab-pressing tiring when using a form? As you know when entering data in a form, ones need to move from one field to another along the form. And also, with spreadsheets, ones can copy-and-paste the data from previous row to a new row and modify the necessary differences.

If we were going to switch to spreadsheet data entry method, my boss would not be very happy as my boss has invested so much on building all these tailor-made software which all allows(requires) form data entry. In that sense, we would have probably been better off sticking with MS Excel/spreadsheet software at the very beginning.

I want to know what you think about spreadsheet data entry vs form data entry too. Apart from these two methods, would there be any other means of data entry? Are there software for these other methods? Thank you

P.S. Please don't suggest OCR software. I personally don't believe in its accuracy.

  • If you're not sure why your co-workers like spreadsheets better, ask them. – Kodiologist May 29 '17 at 0:26
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I'm not sure this is a good question for this site. You seem to be mainly interested in our general thoughts (on spreadsheet vs. forms) and only incidentally interested in a software recommendation. But I understand your motivation, and feel it's a worthwhile question to be asked somewhere. I just don't know where.

For what it's worth, I personally think that if people find it much easier, faster, and less frustrating to use spreadsheets than forms, then the spreadsheets are the better way. It's true that there is less control over what can be entered into a spreadsheet than a form, so there are bound to be many more errors in a spreadsheet. However, nowadays it is pretty easy to write programs to read the data from spreadsheets and check them for errors. If properly written, those programs can tell you which cells contained the errors, and what those errors were (such as input is too long in cell C5, or phone number doesn't have enough digits in E9, etc.), and then you can just go back and fix those errors, and try checking the spreadsheet again. Once the spreadsheet is given a clean bill of health, then its data can be "dumped into the web application" as you put it. Alternately, instead of waiting until you have a completely clean spreadsheet, it can go ahead and allow only the portions of the spreadsheet that were error-free to be imported into the web application.

This "spreadsheet checking program" I'm talking about isn't ready-made software. It's custom programming tailored to your data and your application. You would either hire someone to write it, or if you have programmers in your IT department, they could possibly write it. They could use almost any programming language they like, such as Java, C#, Python, VBScript, JavaScript, or a host of others. (I'm partial to Python, together with a library called xlrd.)

I suppose it's also possible that there does already exist software for this, and instead of writing a custom program, you would just "configure" the software to enforce your requirements. I am not aware of anything like that, and I'm not sure how much easier that kind of configuration would be than programming (like I said, this kind of programming is pretty easy these days).

The bottom line is, if the users are happier and faster with the spreadsheets, then to me it's very clear that spreadsheets are the way to go, as long as there is error-checking taking place before loading the data into the web application. So I guess my "software recommendation" is Python, or whatever programming language is handy.

  • Have you discovered XLWings - xlwings.org - python as a VBA alternative. – Steve Barnes Jul 26 '17 at 3:55
  • @SteveBarnes - I have, and I have recommended it many times on Stack Overflow for cases where the file manipulation libraries cannot achieve the desired result. For the question being asked here, I was not really thinking in terms of xlwings though. – John Y Jul 26 '17 at 6:23
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Spreadsheet entry can be faster than form entry but unless a centrally held, locked and well designed template is used that enforces data field validity is used it can allow invalid &/or missing entries to be hitting the system.

Possibly adding some pre-population to the web application would be a better answer to the issues that the staff are facing might be a better answer or even better default values for the majority of fields. Also applying some sensible filtering of options can provide a vast improvement. Also considering the order of the fields from a data entry point of view and the layout and navigation methods as these can make a vast difference to the user experience.

You can also consider how the data arrives, and if there are mechanisms to simplify the overall process. I know of one company that made huge savings by equipping their customer facing staff with tablet computers rather than clipboards and pre-printed forms because the data entry was done in a digestible format.

  • I'm a little surprised you didn't suggest scrubbing the spreadsheets with Python. So I went ahead and made that suggestion myself. ;) – John Y Jul 25 '17 at 23:06
  • @JohnY While I find python can be the answer to many/most problems I thought I would go with a less technical answer in this case. Personally I have people using excel as a db due to the problems it usually causes. – Steve Barnes Jul 26 '17 at 3:53

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