While India Inc. has been abuzz with the concepts like big data, analytics, and their utility in scaling newer heights for the businesses, the same have found their way into the CSR space. With the total CSR spend crossing the mark of INR 1,00,000 crores, having robust systems that automate the data collection and analyses has become the need of the hour. This would not only help mitigate the drudgery and improve the precision of data but would also enable the program managers to objectively measure the changes that may be attributable to their interventions.
In India, the use of technology for data collection in monitoring and evaluation has gained traction over the past five years. Increased presence of tech start-ups providing services in this sector over this period corroborates this statement. Although, use of computers and ubiquity of software like MS Excel has helped digitizing the pen and paper-based data, it does not address the drudgery involved and therefore the time consumed in the process. No one would dispute the statement that manual data collection leaves ample room for the errors thereby eroding the quality of the same.
It’s important to understand the difference between digitization and digitalization. The former refers to conversion of existing data to the digital form while the latter refers to the ability to collect data digitally and automate the analyses to establish trends that facilitate decisions in real time. Embracing digitalization has following compelling advantages:
1. Data precision
Digital data collection method ensures high quality by introducing stringent control measures that restrict user inputs through skip patterns, entry limits, datatype restrictions and marking certain fields as mandatory, thus minimizing errors associated with manual data capturing.
There has been an increasing stress on promotion of transparency in the CSR space. Digital data inventory offers verifiable evidence for the social and environmental capital being reported, available in real time.
Usually, a typical CSR bouquet comprises several seemingly unconnected activities. However, the reality could be far from it. A digital medium offers to create harmony between various activities being executed by storing all data in singular space. This also eliminates having to deal with several files at the time of report preparation by automating the executive dashboards and online reports.
A digital platform can easily be customized to suit the requirements of an organization, irrespective of its size, strategic focus, or geographical spread. These platforms can be tweaked by the providers following the whiteboarding.
5. Attribution of change
Tracking a subset of population over a period for relevant outcomes will return an objective measure of the changes that may be directly attributed to the intervention being implemented. A digital data repository offers an opportunity to store a longitudinal dataset that enables comparisons for a cohort at various points in time.
6. Saving time & cost
With digital data collection, the time towards data entry can be eliminated. Some may argue that the conventional method is better as the staff is habituated to it. However, the incremental time consumed towards the task over a longer period would be sufficient to raise eyebrows. Digital methods also help an organization save indirect costs such as those towards the personnel time, printing, stationary etc. in a longer run.
7. Data storage and retrieval
Data that is collected and stored digitally requires no physical storage space and is immune to the damage caused by water, fire, and infestation among others. Digital data is readily available for consumption as opposed to the conventional data.
8. Environmental concerns
In today’s times when environmental concerns acquire centerstage, digital data collection contributes to saving trees by eliminating the use of paper.
Recent trends in CSR space have necessitated the use of geo-referencing technic to tag the common property resources, thereby enabling digital cartographic representation of the same. Digital data gathering platforms allow capturing geo-coordinates of the physical structures allowing the program managers to link the attribute data to the corresponding spatial data.
The Adani Foundation is in process of digitalizing its data collection method via a customized mobile application christened as Digital Monitoring Evaluation and Learning (DMEAL). It is an instance of cloud computing that includes server, customized software interface, cutting edge hardware, remote storage, offline capabilities, analytics, and real-time data visualization to offer economies of scale. The foremost advantage of the application will be realized in the form of time saved to manually compile the MIS data from across the remote CSR sites every month. The app also has a feature of temporal tracking which would enable the operations team to establish with evidence, the change an intervention brings into the life of a beneficiary family over a period.
Embracing digitalization helps improve the overall organizational governance and in today’s times given the specific interest of the creditors, improved credit ratings mean a lot to the companies. Therefore, no organization can escape the inevitability of going digital. Sooner, the better!