Current Date:21 February, 2020

Databases: Our Digital Doppelgangers

A few years back Laserfiche marketing wrote of a customer’s success tracking the efficacy of AIDS treatment programs in a population suffering the world’s highest infection rates. At the time, the story painted a portrait of the power of Laserfiche digital transformation to improve the lives of the neediest. I’d like now to share a story behind this story.

Through a biannual survey of 90,000 people in 12,000 homesteads in eastern South Africa, the customer amassed a highly detailed record of efforts to stem the spread of AIDS through the countryside. But the data gathered reached far beyond the efficacy of treatment programs. The first survey gathered information on births, deaths, migrations, marital status, education, employment and more. A second survey collected data on health, including sexual behavior and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) status.

The folks conducting the surveys fanned out through remote villages with pen and paper questionnaires for AIDS victims and their families. The results were manually transcribed into a computer file in the search for answers for what is a regional epidemic: As of 2014 one in four residents in the area had contracted the disease including 56 percent of women between 30 and 39.

Pen-and-paper data collection and manual transcription of that information into computer files is notably low-tech methodology for such important science but it’s what might be expected in communities where running water is a luxury. Whenever the scientists analyzing the computerized files came upon errors, staff were dispatched to warehouses to retrieve the paper originals used to correct the record. And as the methodology might suggest, there were plenty of corrections.

This enormous bottleneck was eliminated when the warehoused originals were scanned into a Laserfiche system allowing for instant resolution of discrepancies. The scientists were thrilled, but the sources of the discrepancies were never addressed: the pen and paper questionnaires and their manual transcription into a digital database.

Laserfiche suggested that replacing the pen and paper surveys with computer tablets with electronic forms would vastly improve data collection accuracy, and processing power and efficiency. However, the scientists running the study declined to say it would also eliminate a lot of jobs in a country suffering 75 percent unemployment.

This sentiment is not unique to developing nations. Converting paper documents into digital images is such a quantum leap forward that many Laserfiche customers content themselves with those benefits unaware that exponentially greater success is achieved with each successive step along the path of digital transformation.

With each step, Laserfiche databases evolve into virtual representations of the entities compiling them, containing far more useful information than they are typically designed to record. Laserfiche eForms allow for vastly improved data collection through dropdown menus, autofill and other features that allow for instant customization while improving standardization, thus the accuracy of the query. This allows for greater detail and greater accuracy, two improvements normally achieved at the expense of one another.

This is the power of digital transformation. When a city clerk’s office or financial advisor fails to capitalize on this power, it’s mostly fiduciary duties that go unserved. Failure to do so in social services and scientific enterprises means the opportunities lost can be much more dear.

As I approach 30 years of watching this technology evolve and grow, it’s the successes among these latter customers that give me the greatest satisfaction. At the same time, I make it Laserfiche’s mission to help those customers helping those who cannot help themselves to grasp the full power of our technology. There are no downsides to digital transformation while the upsides are exponential.

It’s incumbent on solutions providers to drive this message home to their early-stage customers of all sizes. Data can be, and often is, the embodiment of their enterprise. We must explain that digital transformation when applied to data capture and business process automation vastly expands the power and reach of this digital doppelganger while dramatically reducing long-term investment in it.

It’s only through the exploration and examination of every aspect of our data that the abilities and shortcomings of our enterprise can be discovered, enhanced and/or corrected.

I understand it’s easy to offer this counsel from the perspective of having seen some of the world’s finest IT minds applying these principles to achieve truly revolutionary improvements in law enforcement, healthcare, finance, and education. Walking through the African bush from village to village many miles from any internet service is the most challenging of platforms from which to undertake such lofty ambition. Still, there are solar-powered chargers for laptops which can store limitless data until internet access is available. Learning to use them is no harder than filling out a questionnaire.

AIDS is one of the most vexing diseases of our time and thanks to the work of the scientists above and other dedicated experts it looks like it’s becoming less deadly. Still, might these recent advances have come sooner if those experts understood what can be done digitally to leverage their dedication? And might we find sooner still, cures for so many other problems plaguing the poor?

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