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Consider the Overhead Costs of Tracking Data


When I was meeting with one of InfoStrat's clients recently, we were discussing what fields to include in an online application form for a new system.  Over the years, the form had grown to 29 pages, including several pages of legal terms and conditions which required no user input but required review and acceptance.

We went through the form page by page to determine which fields were needed, and identified many fields which had become obsolete due to changes in business rules and requirements.

This reminded me that there are hidden costs to adding more information to forms, even though storage may be cheap and it's easy to add new fields. This cost is recognized in industry and government. The Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) of 1995 requires that U.S. federal government agencies obtain Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approval before requesting or collecting most types of information from the public.

Here are some questions that can help you identify and eliminate unneeded fields:
  1. How often is data entered in this field?  If it is seldom used, it could be an indication that the field is not needed.
  2. Do you perform calculations on the field?  
  3. Does the field cause the use to repeat information which is sought elsewhere on the form?
  4. Do users understand what is needed in the field?  If the field leads to inaccurate entries, try to find ways to clarify your intentions or delete the field. 
Brevity is desirable. Longer forms can discourage users and result in abandoned transactions as well as extra help desk calls. Adding new fields to a form may also trigger changes to your reports, views and dashboards.

When you refresh an online system you have the opportunity to improve your business processes and create a better experience for users. By analyzing your data inputs you can identify problem areas and correct them. 

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