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Faster, More Accurate Data Collection

Posted by Sandra Giger, IT Specialist, Office of the Chief Information Officer, NOAA

Editors note: Today’s guest blogger is Sandra Giger from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Sandra and her colleagues are using Google Apps for Government to streamline the data collection process, resulting in better data accuracy and transparency across the agency. We are honored to recognize them as our Government Transformers.

Compiling data from a large number of people can be a daunting task. This is especially true at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with 25,000 people in roughly 400 locations around the country.

At NOAA, these “data calls” typically fall to me and my colleagues in the IT Governance and Portfolio Division at NOAA. For example, in 2011 the Department of Commerce, our parent agency, began an initiative to lower printing costs throughout the department. To get started, NOAA first had to inventory the thousands of printers the agency was using.

In the past, a data call was usually conducted via email. We would email all the NOAA offices, and the replies would trickle in, often in different formats. It filled up our inboxes and required that we spend hours cleaning up the data. This manual process meant a higher chance of errors, and the entire process ended up taking several weeks.

Rather than continue with these old methods, we decided to use a Google Form to capture the printer inventory. The form could be emailed directly to people across NOAA, and forwarded on to others as needed. As soon as someone completes the form, each response is captured as a separate row of a spreadsheet, along with the name of the person submitting it and the date and time it was submitted. This streamlined collection process cuts in half the time spent collecting data. With all responses are consolidated in a single spreadsheet, it makes analyzing the data a snap.

What’s more, all the responses can be shared with everyone who completes the form, making it a more transparent data collection process. My colleagues and I are transforming data collection at NOAA by improving data quality and sharing the data more openly, while saving ourselves valuable time that can be spent on other projects.