Paper-Based Systems vs Digital FMS

Created by Jeremy Callaghan - Published June 21, 2016

 jeremy-callaghan @ivolvejeremyc

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Even in this digital age, paper-based reporting is extremely prevalent across all industries. They require little training, are a permanent record and most personnel take comfort in the simplicity of manually jotting down notes in a notebook or timesheet. This is especially the case in more traditional industries like the mining industry, where being out in the field in rough conditions means paper records can be quick and easy.

This however is a false sense of security. Think about this manual data capture process being a “paper trail”. Throughout the paper trail there are steps to write, store, compile, calculate and report. At each of these steps data can be lost and errors made through reliance on multiple personnel’s memory and judgement, accuracy of notes and misplaced documents. More significantly however is the time required to compile, analyse and report this information. At the end of the paper trail is where the comfort of relying on manual paper reporting dies in the flames of data entry.

Data entry requires a dedicated person to not only upload the manual notes but to validate the data as well. This person must know what they are looking at to make changes and in some cases work some magic to make the data ‘fit’. Not to mention they themselves can make mistakes e.g. consider a pile of papers on a Monday morning from a weekend worth of production data.

Time, Quantity and Quality are both a concern at this point.

Timeliness of data relies on the data entry being undertaken as close to the operational events as possible. Typically, data entry will be done at the start of the next shift, compiled and analysed into a report one day, week, or even month later. This severely limits the usefulness of data to have a quick impact on the efficiency of daily operations.

Quantity of data is severely limited to the amount of coffees a person can have while constantly using the number pad and tab/enter buttons. Hopefully this will be into a database application, but in a large number of cases in the mining industry it will be an Excel spreadsheet (this is an entirely different issue, however, as most of these are written by an Excel genius who has not been with the company in years and who has not provided any backups of the sheet). In fact to make data entry faster sometimes there are numerous entries that are entirely disregarded in the upload process, losing valuable data that took time to record in the first place.

Quality of data relies on both the method of recording and the process of collecting the data. For example say the operator filling in his timesheet is relying on load counts with a set target tonnage to calculate haul cycle tonnages for the shift, this is much less accurate than noting down the actual tonnage recorded by the weighing system on the truck or excavator.

The data must also take the correct ‘route’ through the paper trail and not get lost or diverted/edited in any way. For example if the operator is relying on memory of how many cycles he’s done before completing a timesheet at the end of shift, there is an immediate scope for error, or if fields are missing on the timesheet, at some step in the paper trail, guesswork may be relied on to fill these gaps.

Electronic data capture systems excel in providing the timeliness and quantity of data, however it is the quality and validity of this data that separates a good electronic system from a great one. If we are smart we can incorporate anomaly reporting, exception values and a lot of automatic ‘smarts’ that highlight possible inconsistencies.

The ideal case is when electronic systems are being regularly used by staff and key metrics being shown to managers for decision making. This way the data is constantly being used in a meaningful way and any inconsistencies will be picked up.

Timeliness, Quantity and Quality: These can be achieved through the right path and provide a huge value through a data highway in the right hands. Companies left behind will end up navigating the paper trail blinded, slower and less informed than their competitors. Quite simply, a great electronic reporting system takes the guesswork and heavy lifting out of managing a fleet or site. Make the transition and realise the benefits of an automated, digital FMS.

Read more about the benefits of tracking haulage here.