Helping the State of Georgia Improve Transparency

By December 31st of 2013, the Georgia Government Transparency & Campaign Finance Commission had to solve a thorny problem.  The Commission is responsible for making public all of the financial disclosures and campaign contribution forms for both elected officials and individuals running for public office.  The Commission fulfills this important public mission by both collecting the filed reports and making them available online in a searchable database.

Several years ago the Commission built an eFiling system that enabled candidates and elected officials to submit their filings on line, in a format that made the information searchable.  In 2013, the Legislature passed transparencyHB143 which, once in effect, requires local candidates and elected officials to file their reports with their local filing entity and not the Commission.  The local filing entities are then required to transmit these reports to the Commission.  The Legislature mandated e-filing or e-fax as the method for these reports to be transmitted.  The Commission chose to use e-faxing as it appeared to be the easiest and most cost effective method to implement.

This new system had to be in place by the end of 2013.  And there was no budget to implement it.

Joel Perkins, CEO of Inserv360, and Andrew Booth, CEO of Jaxified LLC, the primary consultants who manage IT infrastructure and code for the Commission, explained.  “We had to figure out a way to set up an eFaxing system to handle the volume of incoming forms.  We were also looking for a way to have this information available to the public and get the information into our existing eFiling system, so we would have one, unified, state-wide dataset.  And we had no additional budget funding to execute this project.”

Joel and his colleague, Andrew Booth, began by setting up an eFax solution to receive the incoming forms.  But without some way to extract the data from the forms into structured output that could be mapped to their eFiling solution, those faxes would only be marginally useful.  They would simply sit on a file server and not be searchable by the public.

To make things even more challenging, the incoming forms were varied quite a lot in the way they were filled in.  As Joel described, “Some people use Adobe and print on the forms, some people handwrite them.  We have even received forms written in crayon.”

The Commission needed a cost effective solution that could integrate with an eFax system, accurately extract data from handwritten forms, and integrate that data into the existing eFiling system.   They tried using several OCR systems, and the results were far below the level of accuracy they required, particularly with handwriting.  With time running out, the team was becoming deeply concerned.

That’s when Andrew, the IT co-lead on the project, found Captricity.  The team ran some tests and found that the structured data the system returned was above 99% accurate, even with handwritten forms.  And Captricity fit easily into their workflow.  It was simple to set up the integration with the eFax system and straightforward to map the data to the backend database.  Using the Captricity API, the data would flow into the correct fields in the eFiling system.

Perkins commented, “I have found the field mapping with Captricity to be very intuitive.  Since we already had the database tables built, I just used our existing table name and column name when I mapped the document.  So I mirrored what was in our tables.  Uploading documents is very, very simple.”

Getting up and running with Captricity has been relatively straightforward.  If the team had questions, they reached out to Captricity’s support team.  Perkins commented, “The response times for the support team have been phenomenal.  I have rarely had anyone at a vendor reach out and make sure we are happy.  We couldn’t be more pleased. “

Since January 1st, 2014, the department has received more than 6800 faxes, many with 10 or more pages.   Perkins estimates that they will process 40,000 pages per month during the seven annual filing periods in 2014.  All of these forms, even those filled out with crayon, now flow from fax to Captricity to the eFiling system in one smooth pass.

Perkins concluded, “Without Captricity, we would have imported the files into a bulk directory and that would have been it.  What we are trying to achieve would absolutely, 100% not been possible without Captricity.  There is no way to do it.  We had no additional budget, no increase in staff and a tight deadline.  It would have been a total disaster.  Because of you guys, we are going to come out smelling like a rose.”

We couldn’t be more pleased to help an important public institution meet their mission.

A Better Way to Track Children’s Health Records

When a mobile vaccination team arrives in a rural village, how can they access an accurate record of previous vaccinations for each child?  This simple question points to one of the biggest challenges in global health — maintaining accurate health records over time and across providers.  Particularly in under-resourced populations, where access to clinical care can be intermittent and hard to access, maintaining records often becomes the responsibility of individuals or families.  Records that are durable, easy to track and be quickly digitized offer an important contribution. Carousel_190217_Box Boy-Girl

That’s why the Gates Foundation launched the Records for Life contest, inviting organizations from all over the world to submit designs to solve this problem.  Three diverse health innovators in New Jersey from medical technology consultancies Matchstick and Fulcrum joined forces with graphic artist Jen Vana to respond to this challenge.  The solution they crafted, called Carousel, reflects their experiences in graphic design, engineering, user-centered design, and developing world experience.

The Carousel design was chosen from over 300 entries as one of the Top 40 finalists in the contest.

As with most great design, Carousel is simple solution to a complex problem.  As the designers explain, “These records would face extreme weather and moisture, dust and dirt from long treks to and from the health clinic, hazards in storage, chance of loss, and the temptation to repurpose elements of the system for some other need.”

Carousel is a durable, easy to understand deck of preprinted, durable Tyvek cards that are shrink-wrapped, hole-punched, and bound by a circular tie.  Carousel’s attractive design and easy to understand iconography makes it easy for parents to permanently track their children’s immunization record.

Matchstick Box-059050_jvThe design team was exhaustive in thinking through the different design variables.  Optimal card size was developed, shipping density and packaging was considered and the best way to bind the cards together was determined.  What about families with multiple children?  Each deck is color-coded to the child.  It would be simple to keep all of the family’s health records together by using another zip tie to bind all of the decks on one ring.

The Gates Foundation asked contest participants to consider digitization as they worked on an improved analog design and made this a “bonus” part of the submission. Having worked with Captricity in the past, they elected to design the solution to work natively with our solution.  As they explained, “We knew that Captricity was originally invented to capture data in the field in the developing world.  The tool is simple and flexible, and would easily capture paper health information and convert it to digital form, without the need for creating expensive infrastructure.  It was the perfect choice for our design.”

The final design uses materials that are very low cost, simple, virtually indestructible, and survive in a variety of conditions from wet to dry, misty to dusty, and cold to hot.  The system addresses the weakness of paper while retaining its functionality, low cost, and versatility. The final design incorporates Captricity best practices for ensuring the highest level of accuracy for all the digitized records.  You can learn more about how the Carousel design incorporated Captricity and the team behind it.

Big Data Needs Big Content

A recent report from AIIM and IBM on measuring the ROI of Big Data and content analytics indicates that many organizations remain too immature in their content management efforts to be able to include critical unstructured and free form text data in their big data projects.

Why?  65% of organizations have “disorganized content.”  At the same time, 62% of organizations say that they would find content analytics to be “very valuable.”  The biggest business value would be improving data quality, detecting policy compliance and speeding up customer service.  These are not necessarily big data issues, but simply the kinds of operational capacities that are high on the wish list for many organizations – capacities that rely on capturing semi-structured content.

The findings in this report underscore what we at Captricity hear all the time – data capture from paper documents remains difficult, expensive and error-prone.   Running sophisticated analytics on “big content” remains out of reach for most organizations.  When critical data is missing from analytics and monitoring systems, things get missed.  As the world races toward a more sophisticated, data-rich environment, those missing elements will be a liability.

The following chart offers a good sense of what is missing from analytics systems.  The green lines, which dominate most content types, remain aspirational for many organizations.

Chart 8 AIIM Big Data

If organizations could get easy access to this content, what would they do with it?  The following chart offers some clues.  As you can see, many organizations would like to include the content in data sets for querying, running analytics and improving their governance and management practices.

Chart 9 -- AIIM Big Data

There remain several hurdles before organizations can begin to bring big content into big data and ongoing operational support.

 

  • Data quality – Most organizations continue to rely on data capture solutions that provide output that is not operationally ready.  Organizations spend many additional person hours on data QA, a cost that quickly becomes prohibitive when dealing with large content streams
  • Privacy and security – For many of the organizations, this was a show-stopper.  The ability to protect personally identifiable information (PII) , financial information, legal and medical records was paramount.
  • Capture for handwritten documents –  Many organizations have high value information contained in handwritten documents, including incident reports, claims, and comment fields in feedback forms.  This content is considered “an intractable issue” for many automated systems.

 

At Captricity, we address all of these concerns.  Our 100% HIPAA-compliant solutions is helping hundreds of organizations to unlock high quality data, securely, from paper forms.  We have worked to clear backlogs of reports, compliance and regulatory forms and managed ongoing workflows of critical lead forms, customer support information and much more.  We achieve 99%+ quality on handwriting and human marks of all types.

To learn more about what we do, click here.  Or, better yet, sign up for a free trial today!

What is the half-life of your information?

Could you be losing revenue by ignoring this simple question?

The notion of information having a half-life was coined in 1960 by two social theorists, Burton and Keebler, to refer to the inevitable decay of scientific and technical literature.  The notion that theories go out of date isn’t surprising.  It is also not surprising to think about the information your organization collects and ask yourself – what is its half-life?  Answering this imagesquestion can help you and your team create an urgency metric for prioritizing the information you need to capture, whether it is legacy data or information that is part of your ongoing business workflow.

Let’s start with three key points:

  1.  Data decays over time – a great example of this is sales leads.  If someone indicates interest in your product and solution, and you get back to them right away, the chances of closing the deal are much higher.  According to InsideSales.com, 35-50% of sales go to the vendor that responds first.
  2.  The value of data decays at different rates – Some data decays very slowly, and other data decays overnight.  For example, information about people that are interested in Christmas specials drops suddenly on December 26th while public health information about infant mortality will endure for many years.
  3. Different factors impact the rate of decay – To the extent that your products and services are tied to macro conditions in the market –such as interest rates or competitive products – you may find that the value of your information decays differently.  You may also find that the rate of decay is highly subjective.  What seems evergreen to your manufacturing team may feel quickly out of date to your sales and marketing organization.

No organization can capture all the data they generate. And even if they could, it would be difficult to manage and govern.  How do you go about creating a schema that helps you prioritize your data based on what matters to your organization?

Developing Data Metrics

One way to determine what data are most important to capture quickly and accurately is to rate your data by three simple criteria.  When you find data that rank high in all three variables, then Captricity offers an excellent solution for your needs.

 Data Usefulness Value
Extremely Useful 4
Very Useful 3
Somewhat Useful 2
Not Useful 1

 

Data Quality Value
High Quality 4
Medium Quality 3
Low Quality 2
Uncertain Quality 1

 

Timeliness Value
Very Timely 4
Timely 3
Somewhat Timely 2
Not Timely 1

Let’s take two examples.  In case one, your company has been at a community event and gathered contact information for hundreds of potential customers.  These potential leads would score high on two factors – extremely useful (4) and timeliness (4).  Quality could be a bit variable, so let’s give that a (3). Add it up and these leads score an 11 on a scale of 12.

Now let’s look at customer feedback cards.  This information is highly useful (4) and when people take the time to tell you how they feel, is generally high quality (4).  But your product team is happy to see this information aggregated in a monthly report, so it is less timely (3).  Again, this information scores 11 on a scale of 12, but for slightly different reasons.

What information do you have that is useful, timely and high quality?  If any of that information is trapped in static documents, then Captricity offers a great solution.  Click here to learn more.  We look forward to helping you!

Sanergy and Captricity: Appropriate Technology for Challenging Environments

{The following post originally appeared at Vera Solutions}

It is work like this that keeps us happy here at Captricity.  Thanks to our partner, Vera Solutions, for sharing this.  And Happy New Year to all!


About 2.3 million people, or 60 percent of Nairobi’s population, live in slums, and most have little to no access to formal sanitation services. Stagnant rivulets of human waste that trickle past homes and alongside narrow dirt roads in the tightly packed neighborhoods are as common as the diarrheal diseases they carry with them. Sanergy, a social enterprise building sustainable sanitation in urban slums, is working to change that beginning with the Mukuru slum. In just two years, nearly 300 bright blue Fresh Life Toilets have been installed here, all owned and operated by local entrepreneurs.Map of Mukuru

Sanergy’s model is to franchise its specially designed low-cost, high-quality toilets to people living in urban slums who run them as businesses, giving Mukuru residents an alternative to unsanitary pit latrines and “flying toilets.” The organization provides business and marketing support to each of its entrepreneurs to help drive the success of each individual toilet. Every day, Sanergy’s “Fresh Life Frontline” team safely removes the waste from each toilet, which Sanergy converts into organic fertilizer that is then sold to Kenyan farmers.

Vera began working with Sanergy over a year ago to build a Force.com solution that allows the organization to track every aspect of its business including marketing, waste collection, fertilizer production, toilet usage, and entrepreneur income-generation. Since then, Sanergy has migrated many more of their internal operations onto Force.com, expanding their system to incorporate enterprise apps like Rootstock (for supply chain management) and Financial Force (for finance and accounting). Yet even with such powerful tools in hand, operating in a slum like Mukuru continues to present some very real challenges in collecting and analyzing data quickly and effectively.Data from Sanergy

For example, Sanergy needs to record the amount of waste collected each day from all of its Fresh Life Toilets in order to track usage and business performance. After removing the waste from each toilet, often using wheelbarrows to ferry the jerry cans full of waste through the narrow and otherwise inaccessible roads, the Frontline team weighs each container at Sanergy’s central processing site. Although a mobile data collection tool centered on a smartphone or tablet could easily help Sanergy’s collection team enter and track these measurements in real-time, Sanergy knew that giving its field staff such expensive pieces of technology would likely make them targets for theft or armed robbery in the slums. So Sanergy’s staff continued to record the daily waste measurements for each toilet by hand on a paper form. These measurements were then manually entered into Salesforce by another Sanergy staff member, a task that took an estimated 4.5 hours each day. Sanergy knew that in order to keep its employees safe it needed to continue using paper forms but in order to capture data in as close to real-time as possible, it needed to find a much quicker way to enter the handwritten measurements.

SONY DSCEnter Captricity, an OCR (optical character recognition) software that allows users to scan handwritten documents and convert them into digital files. Captricity had already launched a Salesforce integration at Dreamforce 2012, showcasing its ability to automatically convert a paper form into Lead records. But understanding that Sanergy’s needs would require more than a standard CRM-integration, Vera approached Captricity with the idea of developing an integration that would allow paper data to be digitized and mapped to any custom, Force.com object. The result of months of testing and collaboration, the Captricity-to-Force.com integration allows Sanergy’s waste data to be collected on paper, digitized and checked by Captricity, and pushed to Force.com, transforming Sanergy’s input processes for their waste collection data.

Captricity’s learning algorithm, which makes the program more accurate with greater use, has ensured increasingly fewer data entry errors and saved staff hours of time each week. Instead of taking almost five hours to enter a single day’s waste collection data, it now takes fifteen minutes. Not only is Sanergy’s data more real-time than ever, but the extra 20+ hours each week that staff have gained now goes towards quality control, greater supply procurement oversight, and operational support.  Most importantly, Sanergy’s field staff can continue to serve the local community without having to risk their safety.SONY DSC

Following its success in using Captricity for its waste collection data, Sanergy hopes to expand its use to other areas of its operations where pen and paper data collection is still necessary. Like so many of our partners, Sanergy works in a uniquely challenging environment that requires appropriate technological solutions to address complex social problems. Vera is proud to have worked with Sanergy and Captricity to help facilitate one such solution.

As Sanergy continues to scale its operations, their data needs continue to grow. We’re currently piloting several new functionalities and applications that would take their Salesforce system to new levels—integrations with mobile data collection tools, an integration with m-Pesa (Kenya’s largest mobile money platform) and much more.

Christmas Paperwork at North Pole Cut Dramatically Thanks to Captricity

By Brian Busch

Even the Christmas magic of the North Pole struggles to deal with Salesforce.com.

Every year in December, children around the world write letters to Santa Claus.  They write to lobby the big man that they have been nice, not naughty, and to list all the presents that good behavior merits.  But at the North Pole, on the receiving end of millions of handwritten lists, the elves struggled to keep up with kids’ needs.

“First you’ve got a growing global population,” says Mr. Claus.  “Then, more and more children are asking for branded electronic toys – we had to plug directly into the ERP systems of the major manufacturers.  And finally, parents create Facebook pages even for their babies and constantly post photos; the elves on the naughty/nice check have a whole new set of data to sift through.”  These trends have combined to force the North Pole to adopt some modern electronic systems in order to deliver the right gift to the right child all in one night.

“Digitizing all that information was a nightmare,” says Mike Mechanic, who makes toy cars and now doubles as a systems architect.  “Not only do elves hate doing data entry, but it was taking too long and we’re under the gun every December.”  Electronic systems did ease the stress of keeping up with today’s demands, but only after bridging the paper-to-electronic gap for incoming data.  ”Entry errors were killing us.  Almost 10% of the time little Johnny was in line for a Lalaloopsy doll, not a PSP.  Just because of errors during manual entry?  Unacceptable.”

“Thank goodness for Captricity,” says Rose Needle, who oversees sewing, weaving, and knitting.  “I used to read the lists and my sweaters would almost pack themselves.  Now there are twice as many lists to get through and exactly 18.4% need to say ‘Justice’ for the little girls.  We’ve all seen what happens when children get ‘terrible’ presents [referring to Jimmy Kimmel's YouTube challenge].”  At first the elves did the necessary data entry in-house.  But as demand picked up they had to look for other options.  ”We couldn’t even outsource the work to India – millions of letters in just two months and then nothing?  They wouldn’t even talk to us,” says Rose. ”With Captricity, we pay for what we need, with no limits at crunch time.”

This year, the North Pole turned to Captricity to digitize all the wish lists from children worldwide and push that information directly to a centralized database.  “What sold us was the cloud,” says Charlie Chisel, whose specialty is the lathe.  ”Last year a reindeer accidentally damaged the HVAC unit for our server room.  You have no idea how close we came to shooting totally blind for the the entire South-East US.”  As the whole system moves to the cloud, Charlie applauded Captricity’s API to plug into all the other services in the IT stack.  ”Then the guys from SAP wanted to sell us an upgrade that cost almost as much as the whole system!  I couldn’t believe it.”

“Best of all, I now have real-time visibility,” says Mr. C.  He’s stationed elves in post offices around the world with smartphones and Captricity’s mobile app.  ”I know what kids are asking for with just a click of a smartphone.  The only surprise comes from the kids on the Polar Express.”

 

*Names from “Santa Claus and His Elves” by Mauri Kunnas, one of my favorite Christmas books.

Data Tip #4 – Five Data Strategy Fundamentals

In this data tip, we will take a quick look at some of the most fundamental rules of working with data.  These are rules your IT department probably knows cold, but that the rest of us don’t fully understand.  In today’s world, we are going to get better results from our data if we all become a little more literate about some of the basics.

1.        Source matters.  In general, those who are closest to the source of the data are in the best position to bring it into the organization in a way that is accurate and relevant.  As data moves through an organization, it tends to be copied and added to in ways that can affect its quality.  Ensure that you always know the provenance of the data and empower those departments and staff that collect it to have the first and last word on accuracy and manage the process for commenting on it and changing it.

2.        Strive for consistency. Establish a baseline for data consistency.  You want your data set to be internally consistent, but you don’t want to throw out the potential insight that new data can bring.  If you are seeing a lot of unexpected values, that could be an important business signal.  To achieve this balance, you need to establish a consistent baseline.

3.        Revisit relevance.  Your data strategy should be driven by business requirements and aligned with business processes.  But these are a moving target.  What seems relevant when you first build your strategy will change.  Make it part of your data strategy to revisit the variables you are collecting and tracking on a quarterly basis.  Include in the review process the data owners as well as the business strategists.  It is important that the people who touch the data and the people who analyze it are on the same page.

4.       Question completeness.  Do you have data on all of the areas of your business that you need to measure and understand? Is there anything substantially missing from your data that weakens your ability to use and apply it as widely as you’d like? Always ask yourself if you have the right data.  As Albert Einstein said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

5.       Timeliness is all: Is there a delay between when you get your data in a usable, machine-readable form and when you need to act on it?  Will you collect data in real-time or once a month?  What is your data’s shelf life? The timeliness of data must be explicitly documented and be acceptable to the business. This includes the expected frequency rate at which data elements need to be refreshed.

Data Fundamentals

With these basic ideas in place, you can begin to work on a more mature data strategy.  According to a survey by Business Intelligence Research, most organizations report that getting the business to take data quality and integrity seriously is a real challenge.    How would your organization rank in term of the data quality activities listed in the chart above?  If you can learn to manage these challenges, you will be way ahead of the curve.

Data Tip #3 – The Lean Data Strategy

The right data, in the right place, at the right time – this is something that most of us can only dream about.  The stark reality for many companies is a backlog of forms, emails and faxes, all filled with important information, waiting to be processed.  And with channels of engagement with customers, suppliers and partners proliferating, this problem is only going to increase.

While all data has value, and every business collects it, data is only useful if it helps answer questions and enables insights.  Data exists in a context and that context is driven by what you need from it.  For example, data about customer satisfaction is highly relevant to product development, but may be almost useless for HR.

A lean data strategy does not begin by asking “What data do I have?”but rather, “What do I need to know?”  This approach flies in the face of the current big data paradigm, which assumes that all data matters, all of the time.  The thinking goes that in order to have a complete picture of our world, and be able to run adequate analytics, we needed to have all possible data integrated, cleaned and ready.    While this is certainly true for some very complex problems, most businesses live in a world where they are still struggling to get the right data into their systems in a timely way.  Lean data is an approach that can help you make sense of the data in your world and leverage it for business advantage.Lean Data

The following are tips to keep in mind when thinking about developing a lean data strategy:

1.       Start with use cases

Useful data cuts across channels.  For example, many companies gather customer data in a variety of ways – from websites, search engine marketing, call centers and events.  Each of these is its own channel, but if you don’t take the time to think about how the data flows across all of these, you could be missing some significant opportunities.  So think about your data in terms of use cases, such as customer conversion or customer satisfaction, and not in terms of where and how the data is gathered.

2.       You know best

You may have come to believe that the only way forward is to hire a data specialist, or call in your IT group for help.  While these people may have expertise in data definitions and systems, they know next to nothing about your business or department and how it functions.  The best data strategies start with you and your unique business goals and objectives.  Only you know the primary challenges you are facing and what questions you need answered.

3.       Build a data map

Begin by writing down all of your critical business processes.  Then pick one to start with, ideally one that is closely associated with a critical revenue stream, such as customer support or order processing.  Then make a map of all the inputs to this process, and then where the data will need to flow in your various systems of record.  Make sure that as you build your map, you consult all the people who touch the business process so you don’t leave out any critical elements.  There are domain experts for each aspect of your business process.

4.       Data is both digital and analog

As you map your business process, you will likely discover that many important sources of data are offline.  Are people filling in forms at events?  Are your employees collecting information when they interact with customers and partners face to face?  What are your salespeople learning in conversations with prospects and customers?  This highly valuable and reliable data is often not the most available data, so many of us skip over it.  Particularly as more processes move online, we tend to focus our data collection on these highly available streams of information.  Keep in mind that just because you can easily get something doesn’t mean it is what you need most.  Availability does not equal value.

5.       Develop data discernment

Not all data is created equal.  Some of your data is core to your business processes and to engaging and retaining customers.  Other data is more peripheral.  And not all of your data has the same time sensitivity.  Some you need right away, and some can wait.  Some has immediate but ephemeral value; some is valuable for a long time.  Take a look at the graph to the right.  Once you have a map of your data inputs, determine what quadrant your data belongs to and then build your data capture and integration strategy based on that.  Focus your limited resources and efforts on capturing the data that matter most, when it matters to you.

That’s a start on a lean approach to the right data, at the right time.