Axion Data Entry Services Meeting the challenges in Data Entry and Forms Processing

Factors Affecting Data Entry Cost

Axion Data Services takes a cost-based approach to developing a fee for data entry services. Once we arrive at an estimate of the cost, we then add something for overhead and profit.

The basic steps in our typical production process include the following:

  1. Document Intake
  2. Data Entry Turnaround
  3. Document Scanning
  4. Programming
  5. Data Entry - Key From Image/OCR

For the majority of the projects we work on, our fees range from 15 cents to 50 cents per data record; however, fees have been as high as $16 per record, or as low as 4 cents per record. A “record” is generally comprised of all the fields identified by the client as representing a complete, identifiable (and billable) string of information. In some cases, all the information on each source document represents a “record”(e.g. enrollment forms), and in others each entry in a listing can constitute a record.

What follows is a discussion of the factors affecting the cost of each of these steps.

Document Intake


Document Intake refers to the process of receiving the source documents and preparing them for scanning. How this is done and the amount of document preparation we are required to perform can greatly affect the cost.

In some cases, the client will have us set up a PO Box for a project. Source documents (e.g. product registration cards, medical insurance enrollment forms, loyalty card enrollment forms, etc.) are either mailed directly by the person filling out the form (i.e. one-at-a-time ), or are mailed in small batches from multiple client stores or offices. Axion picks up the mail daily, opens the envelopes and prepares the documents for scanning.

We remove staples, paper clips, and post-it notes, and arrange all documents right-side-up and facing the same direction prior to scanning.

In other cases cases, our clients collect the documents centrally and perform all document preparation prior to sending them to us. They then ship them in large batches to us. This minimizes the document preparation cost, but increases the turnaround time.

Data Entry Turnaround Time


The general rule is the faster the required turnaround time, the higher the fee. This is to compensate for having to work staff longer and harder during short periods of time, as well as the added administrative burden to quickly get a job done.

Document Scanning


In most cases, clients send us hard copy forms. When we are using our own system to capture data from the forms, we have found the most efficient method is to key from scanned image, or use a combination of key-from-image (KFI) plus various recognition technologies (e.g. Optical Character Recognition for machine print (OCR), Intelligent Character Recognition for hand print (ICR), barcode scanning, etc.). We use high-speed scanners (up to 80 pages per minute). The factors affecting scanning cost include:

  • Document size - This affects throughput. Also, too small or too big cannot be scanned.
  • Document uniformity - Are they all the same size? Are there differences in shading?
  • Paper type - is the paper real thin, have a sticker attached?
  • Document condition -- Poor quality documents will require extra time.
  • Document arrangement - To be scanned efficiently, all documents must be right side up and facing the same direction. There can be no staples, paper clips, etc., and the documents must all be flat (unfolded). The cost of document preparation usually exceeds the actual cost of scanning.
  • Batch integrity - Can we scan continuously, or do we have to retain client batch integrity?

Scanning costs can range from 2.5 cents to 10 cents per document, depending on the above factors.

Programming


Once documents have been scanned, the images and are imported into our data entry system. For each project, a "template" is developed within Axion’s data entry system, programmed for the specific fields on the form. Each field can be programmed to restrict data entry to acceptable values. Any business rules a client defines for specific fields or forms can be programmed into each template. One example of specialized programming we incorporate involves address correction and verification, which is more fully described in the attached PDF file "Correct Address Features." The factors affecting the cost of programming include the following:

  • Document complexity --size, number of pages, number of fields per page, number of records per page
  • Document uniformity -- are there multiple versions of the source document?
  • Edits required -- for example, integrating client-provided lookup tables, address correction, etc.
  • Format of output file required

Programming is a one-time cost (unless the source document changes) that will generally average $250-400 for a single-page document.

Data Entry - Key From Image/OCR


Using the data entry template developed for a specific project, our data entry operators key the required data from scanned image. All work is performed on Axion’s production servers. Data entry operator workstations connected to Axion’s production server function merely as “dumb terminals”. All data and images remain on the server. Using a split screen, the operators view "snippets" of the scanned image in one part of the screen, and the data entry fields in the other part of the screen. The attached Snippet.PDF gives a simple example. The factors affecting the amount of time it will take to process a document, and hence the cost include the following:

  • Number of fields to be keyed
  • Number of characters in each field
  • Type of data - numeric, alpha, alphanumeric
  • Form Design - this is often overlooked but can have a huge impact on data entry efficiency and cost:
    • “Constrained” forms improve legibility and potentially allow for successful hand-print recognition (a constrained form requires that each character be printed in a separate box; for example:
      First Name
      J
      O
      H
      N
                 
      Last Name
      S
      M
      I
      T
      H
               
    • Uniformity of document layout -- are the fields to be keyed always in the same place
    • Are answers standardized using number or alpha-numeric values and displayed on the form?
      For example:
      Highest Education Level:
       
       High School? [1]
       
       Trade School? [2]
      X
       College? [3]
  • Legibility - handwritten vs. typed; also, using a "constrained" form with each handwritten character printed in a separate box improves legibility; also, the quality of the source document may affect the quality of the scan and hence legibility.
  • Required accuracy - For single-key data entry, our US workers generally achieve accuracy ranging from 95-97%, depending on the type of data (see above). If greater levels of accuracy are required, the client may opt for having us double key the entire document or selected fields. See http://www.axiondata.com/quality.htm for a full discussion of Re-key verification and other methods used to control accuracy.
  • Use of Offshore labor force - in some cases the data to be processed is well suited for keying by our offshore subcontractors. This can reduce cost in many circumstances, but may affect quality (unless the forms are double-keyed) and turnaround time.

This is the hardest one to estimate, and most vendors will be reluctant to provide a firm fee quote without seeing an actual source document, The above factors will greatly affect the amount of time. In addition, issues affecting the document (layout, legibility) and the type of data (numeric vs. alphanumeric) will affect the keying rate (can range from and average of 4,000 keystrokes per hour (KSPH) to 10,000+ KSPH).

One other factor will affect fee, and that is the size of the project. For large, ongoing projects, we can provide more aggressive pricing than we can for small, one-time projects. We typically try to achieve a gross margin ranging from 30% for very large projects (millions of records), to 45% for smaller, one-time projects.

Because every project is unique, and each client has different goals and objectives, it is not practical to take a 'cookie-cutter' approach to data entry pricing. The only good measure is to let us take a look at your project. That way we can give you a reasonable fee estimate based on the factors discussed above.

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