Data Capture using Optical Mark Readers, Image Scanning or Web Methodologies
Users intending to automate data capture of their survey, assessment or examination information have often made enquiries about Imaging (ICR/ OCR) and Web products and the advantages/ disadvantages of the same when compared to Optical Mark Reading (OMR). All technologies can be used to gather large amounts of data quickly and easily without the need for data input through keyboards by operators, which gives the added bonus of not only reducing the workforce involved but also maintains a far higher degree of data entry accuracy than can be achieved through manual entry.
Image (ICR/ OCR) vs. Optical Mark Reading (OMR) vs. Web
When comparing the three types of technology (Image/OMR/Web) then potential users should look carefully at the task they wish to undertake before selecting their proposed system. Put simply, anyone intending to gather survey data or undertake Multiple Choice Questionnaires, such as examinations, where security issues are at stake or where no complex image capture other than marks on a paper are being collected, should consider OMR which can prove to be both faster, more secure and more cost effective. This is highlighted by announcements from all the major OMR manufacturers regarding the introduction of relatively low-cost automatic feed machines which are still capable of much higher throughput speeds than a comparably priced Image scanner.
However, should users wish to undertake the capture of other data types such as dates, handwritten numbers or text then pure OMR cannot undertake this task type easily (if at all) whereas the Internet/Web or Image (ICR/OCR) scanners can, (still within certain constraints even though the recognition software is improving all the time) but at slower speeds. The main requirement and advantage of Imaging as seen by users is the ability to undertake both OMR and OCR/ICR data capture using one machine (including capturing the same type of marks used by OMR’s). The main advantage of the Internet/Web as seen by other users is the ability to take paper out of the equation but user beware, as there is a downside, and the task should be carefully assessed first before deciding to opt for what may be an empty hope and therefore an unfulfilled dream.
New Technologies and the Way Ahead
Advocates for each technology type often make statements telling users that a particular system is outdated or ‘dead’. In one case they actually advertise this fact but forget to tell users that to sit a computerised examination it must be at one of their centres so that they can manage against hacking and data transfers. All the technology types have an important role to play and users should look at whether there are flexible alternatives that can cater for a number or all of these different modes of capturing data.
An example of this new approach is the introduction of the combined paper based Image/OMR scanners, which can both process OMR in the normal way as well as Image (OCR/ ICR) recognition at the same time. This does increase the throughput rate and ensures a greater degree of accuracy. Added to this is the ability of certain OMR/ ICR systems to also produce forms that can be generated onto either paper or the web. The ultimate in terms of flexibility must be the ability to design once and then generate onto paper or the Web and then retrieve the data from each type into the same database regardless of the technology used. This then caters for most respondents’ needs and requirements and also satisfies advocates for each system.