Enterprise Software

Handling data entry mistakes--what would you do?

Constant data entry mistakes in a critical system make this IT manager nervous. Besides creating more work for an already deluged IT department, finger pointing abounds as to the cause of the problem.

Everyone makes mistakes.  After all, we're only human.  But, what do you do when the mistakes are constant, the fix would make an auditor cringe and the person making the mistake takes zero responsibility for the error and blames it all on the system?

Scenario

We have an ERP that handles payroll but the payroll module has to communicate with a third party system in order for some people to get paid. Payroll information for all employees is entered into the ERP and coded with account numbers and fund codes for the general ledger.  For a subset of our employees, their information is then transferred to a third party system for further processing before being sent back to payroll.  Our ERP and third party system vendors have developed an interface module for this purpose.

The initial data entry is handled by payroll and the entries are placed into a database table.  Once the data entry is complete, a process is initiated that populates a table used by the third party system.  At this point, if there were any data entry errors made, the process simply breaks until someone uses Access or some other table editing tool to manually delete the records from this payroll transfer table.

The mistakes that are commonly made include providing the wrong fund code, providing a fund code from a different year, or accidentally working with data from the wrong fiscal year.  About 50% of our payrolls have one or more errors.

Until recently, the payroll person contact an IT staffer who dutifully corrected the errors and everyone went on their merry way.  However, with that IT staffer having moved on to a new job, these errors are now seeing the light of day as other people are involved.  When asked about how this happens, the payroll person indicated that the system refuses to let him make a mistake, so it's the system's and IT's fault.  In speaking with this person's manager, he indicated that, as far as he was aware, the payroll person had never made a mistake before.  What was actually happening was that the payroll person and IT staffer were correcting the mistake on their own without the supervisors having to get involved.  After conversations with the now-departed IT staffer, he expressed that the whole situation was extremely frustrating for him all along and that he'd been correcting these kinds of mistakes on a regular basis for the past four years.

The user in question demanded that IT provide him with direct database-level access to the tables so that he could correct the mistake himself.  Obviously, I was not comfortable with this solution, but I also want to avoid correcting mistakes on a regular basis and I also want this person's manager to be aware of the scope of the problem so that they can try to find a workable solution.

Resolution

Here's what I decided to do: The user will not be getting database level access to correct his own mistakes.  Instead, his supervisor will be granted rights to the specific table in question.  In this way, there is some accountability for the problem and the supervisor can see directly how often it happens and make a judgment as to whether or not it's acceptable.

POLL

How would you have handled this problem?

  • Keep the fix in IT and just deal with it... no systems are perfect and IT should just suck it up.
  • Keep the fix in IT, but document, document, document.
  • Benny's resolution makes a lot of sense.
  • Fire the person in question.

About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

7 comments
timmyjohnboy
timmyjohnboy

I agree with some of the points here. As one person has said, the job of IT in most instances is to take that particular burden off of other employees, including supervisors, so they can focus on their jobs. However, there needs to be accountability, which comes from the supervisor. I think IT should have a system to document such repairs so that the supervisor can know about and resolve issues, whether it's an issue with the system OR the employees. That's my 2-cents!

success
success

Would you be able to validate what fiscal year the code comes from? You may want to have someone develop a view to try as much validation as possible on the inputed value. I would probably give the end user an account to edit the value him or herself, created a new table that updates with the user's userid/employeeid/loginname/email, date/time, and field that was updated (and maybe a copy of the old data so you can revert back) so there's a log of what they changed, and maybe automagically email a report of the changes to the supervisor every week so they know how many errors the user is really making. They would be able to see that the IT employee left on 'x' date, and ever since that date, errors have gone up 500%. There must be some correlation there. Your solution is acceptable for you, but I wouldn't think it was acceptable for the supervisor just because it's putting more work on them, and IT's job IMO is to take work off of others so they can focus on their true job. -Ramon Ecung II

stlbud
stlbud

Back in the day, all data entry would have been done twice by two different people. The second person, the verifier, would get an error message when their entry did not match the previous entry. Key entry systems would track these errors and if the verifier entered the same data into the same field three times, the record was corrected. Accountability was simple, If the record was corrected by the verifier, the original entry person got a point against their performance record. If the verifier didn't correct the error, the verifier got the point against their performance record. On the other hand, some system make accurate entry very difficult by using illogical codes and bizarre entry sequences. In an ERP system we have, I have to go to 3 different places just to enter a simple bit of data about a material. Systems like this are prone to error and blaming the poor payroll clerk isn't always fair.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

or more correclty poorly defined hodge podge of mismatched utilities. I'd be wanting to do better, a lot better. The guy in data entry has a point in that if validation can be performed then it should be. If the third party system can validate it, then so can the first party. Now while that is getting into place you might task a 'staffer' with the crap job of cleaning up data entry, but that is a system failure, not a user one in teh cases you describe. I did data entry for seven years before I moved into IT, I'm taking a wild stab in the dark here but I doubt your experience runs to seven minutes. Damn terrible attitude, no matter how stroppy your customer is. The more lax the user, the tighter the system should be.

ptarver
ptarver

As the developer and IT manager of a large mission critical application and database, I've faced similar situations and have put in place similar accountability arrangements. Two thoughts came to mind while I was reading this this: 1) A user who is unwilling to accept responsibility for making a data entry mistake (which happens to everyone) has probably been "enabled" in the past, which in Benny's story seems to have been the case with the previous IT staffer. What I would want to know is why the previous IT staffer never told the IT Manager that this situation was occuring, but just continued fixing the problem. I suspect that staffer thought they were just helping to keep the system running and never thought to seek a better solution. 2) The next thought I had was whether the data entry module had an Edit Report or cross-check for the data entry personnel to use to clear as many errors as possible? When I develop an app, records are entered, edited and then posted to the final location. While it is still possible for mistakes to get through, the initial responsibility falls on the user to catch and correct as many errors as possible. Then any errors that get through should be corrected by the supervisor as Benny suggests to encourage the data entry person to get it right the first time. Data entry errors are a part of any application and users who expect the system to do all the work for them are a part of most companies. Benny's solution is a great way to put the responsibility for entering data right where it should reside.

onsultsteve
onsultsteve

I have had the dubious pleasure, before full time IT work, of managing a payroll department with weekly payrolls exceeding 30,000 employees. Erros are a part of life in this arena. However the scenario described above is one that I encountered on day one. The first area addressed was the specific coding errors identified above regarding accounts and distribution codes. Simple edits were added to batch test (later interactively) the entries and provide the initial operator an error list. It is not difficult to edit (in batch or interactively) against tables for valid current year codes, allowable codes based on jobecode, location etc. This reduced the errors in my case by 65%. Oddly, the operators gained accuracy when they only had to concentrate on the remaining 35%. The idea of making a supervisor responsible for corrections that are not caught with initial edits is also one that worked for me. Supervisors loved the idea once they realized that it gave them virtually instant feedback on training areas they needed to address with specific employees. Punitive approaches (such as those proposed) did not yield results nearly as good as the positive reinforcement through the (re)training approach. We viewed a "problem" employee as a failure of our training from above. This is my first post, so please be gentle on me.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

ungentle about. Punitive approach for data entry entries in an unvalidated system is the choice of the ignorant. It's impossible to do a data entry job, day in, day out without making an input error or two. The whole point of a computerised system is to take as much of the ball ache out of it as possible. To reduce the amount of effort required to collect good data. If it doesn't do that you might as well go back to an office full of 'pen pushers' At least then you'll have the people and the systems in place to cope with human error.

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