Field Data Collection

What It Is, Why It Matters, & How COVID-19 Could Bring It to a Business Near You

Mike Harvey
5 min readJun 26, 2020

Broadly defined, field data collection is the gathering of any information that a business cannot access from within its own walls. Although, sometimes — as in the case of hospitals, for example — it technically does take place within the business. It may take the form of asset inspections, compliance testing for health and safety regulations, consumer surveys, property appraisals, etc. It enables businesses to amass a comprehensive knowledge base, adhere to local, state and federal laws, make lending decisions, manage costs, make timely repairs, better serve customers, and so on.

Even if you don’t often think about field data collection, it may be thinking about you. If history is any indicator, all sorts of businesses will likely have to follow government-mandated infection-prevention guidelines that call for standardized data collection to prove compliance. That is why it’s prime time for companies to take stock of their data-collection tools and practices to determine whether they will be ready if and when new regulation takes effect.

Field Data Collection (FDC): What is It Good For?

Businesses differ widely in the types of data they collect, how they collect it, and their purpose for collecting it. Many may perform some variant of FDC without labelling it as such or standardizing methods. Others must take data collection quite seriously in order to comply with regulations. As in the case of employees tasked with surveying healthcare-treatment facilities or hefty industrial equipment, such as oil rigs, stringently accurate field data collection is essential to avoid colossal fines and penalties.

Beyond adhering to strict compliance codes, businesses collect field data to improve products and develop new revenue streams. Increasingly, companies are amassing all sorts of data for predictive market analytics and real-time customer response, and data from the field can provide an urgent piece to the puzzle. For example, ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft rely on real-time field data from their fleet of cars all day, every day in order to operate their services. Retailers may use beacons — connected IoT sensors — to monitor in-store traffic, shopper activity in different aisles, and more. They and their sales reps may send data back and forth in order to agilely adapt to customer demand and buying trends.

The All-important How

The how of field data collection is as important as the what and the why. Technology tools and systems should function like a two-way highway, frictionlessly sending information from the field to the backend and vice versa. Avoid anything that could cause miscommunication or inaccuracy in transferring the data from one part of a system to another. Automated, instantaneous data transfer and reporting is preferred since every additional point of transfer from one device or format to another is a chance for error to occur.

The user of the data-collection software and device must always be considered when selecting tools for the job. An easily navigated user interface is of utmost importance, as is the language used in forms; instructions, questions, and any other text should be worded in language all employees can understand to minimize the possibility of misinterpretation. If employees find the tools difficult to use in any way, they may enter incorrect data or no data at all. Imagine the negative fallout from feeding incorrect field data to a backend system; inaccurate insights, false reporting to regulatory authorities, and poor business decisions are all potential consequences.

A word on customization, particularly as it applies to compliance, is necessary here. Some FDC solutions allow customers to write their own forms, which may be quite useful to companies with unique needs not shared by others in their industry. However, unless companies already make it their job to stay up to date on all regulatory codes, blank forms can present a time-consuming chore and lots of room for costly mistakes. It may be wise to instead opt for software with baked-in compliance knowledge. For example, AuditPRO offers electronic forms whose regulatory content is constantly managed and updated by its team of Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) experts. This puts compliance knowledge at the fingertips of ordinary employees and potentially eliminates the expense of regulatory training and EHS contractors.

In general, compliance is about avoiding financial risk through proactive proof of compliance with regulations, standards, and/or best-practices frameworks. The resulting financial impact(s) of non-compliance are a function of the overseeing authority which varies by framework.

Companies should look carefully at the language in fields relating to regulation. Is it legal jargon, or plain English that anyone can understand? For example, the question, “are you compliant with 49 CFR 173.197?” may be difficult for a healthcare employee to answer offhand; but the same employee can probably easily answer questions about the condition of sharps containers to which the code refers, ensuring compliance and avoiding risk of penalty.

A Wave of New COVID-19 Regs May Be on the Way

It now appears possible that COVID-19 compliance may introduce new data-collection requirements in industries that don’t regularly perform FDC. We are seeing certain measures — like temperature taking and head counting — being implemented at various establishments. As reopening continues, government agencies may begin requiring untold numbers of businesses to prove their adherence to new infection-prevention rules. It will be tough enough even for heavily regulated businesses accustomed to strict government oversight to take on the additional responsibilities. How will hard-hit restaurants, bars, barber shops, and the like manage?

Training employees in infection prevention using easy-to-use, inexpensive tools (with regulatory knowledge built in) may prove crucial to staying open and rebounding from the shutdown as we enter the next phase of the pandemic.

Complying or Not, Get to Know FDC Better

High-quality, easy-to-use field-data-collection tools are critically important to companies that must meet strict compliance demands. Also, with the digital-transformation arms race rolling ahead across so many industries, businesses are wisely looking to use all kinds of data to innovate and drive profit. They should consider adding field data collection to their arsenal regardless of current or future compliance needs.



Mike Harvey

Mike is the founder of CMH Works, LLC and has been an IT Executive, Chief Architect and Web Developer for over 25 years