Monday, August 8, 2016

Using macros and a clipboard manager to automate data entry tasks

I recently starter work at Arqiva. My job involves a lot of manual data entry.
The software they have for that at the moment is really bad at repetitive tasks - which are common in this job.

It forces the user to click through drop down menus, input boxes and pop up dialogs in order to enter the data of a single job that needs raising.  You can't alter the data of multiple jobs at once. The entry boxes have missing mouse scrolling, basic text formatting and even a right click menu. It makes the software look as if it was made in the middle of the 90ies.

Example of such a task is raising a request for an engineer on the system - where I need to file over a 100 job requests for different sites that have the same description and other types of data such as date (hello pop up calendar), type (drop down list menu), codes (hello input boxes),all sepparated by a wonderfully annoying requirement to click on a 'next' button. It's very old school, lacks any design common sense. I am not sure if the guy who made it actually tried using it xD. Anyways...

All the people before me laboriously filled the same boxes a 100 times with the same information - for different job sites. Each job took over 30 repetitive steps by the data entry clerk. So 30 steps multiplied by 100 sites = 3000 steps to raise the 100 jobs.

After doing this for a day - even with some copy and pasting from a notepad, I found it to be error prone, laborious, boring and slow. After repeating the process 50 times, one can forget to paste something or click something wrong.

I had to do something as this started to drive me nuts. I came up with a simple macros + clipboard manager solution.

Since tech support wouldn't let me install any software without waiting for months, I decided to use an open source portable version of whatever I could find. I didn't have much time to look into all the options out there - but what I found did fit the bill!

tiny Task - for recording and playing a macro:
It automatically selects menus, clicks on buttons and enters text for me.

When you combine it with a clipboard manager - it becomes a very powerful automation tool!
One such nice manager is Clipx:

ClipX stores multiple slots of information that can be recalled to be pasted when required - via an appointed keyboard shortcut and selection.

They are both tiny, need not be installed or administrator privileges, and are free/open source.

Thanks to these two, I have successfully created myself a nice little data entry AI that does 85% of all the work for me. It has 95% success rate when set right.

Its not like I just browse facebook as it is doing all the work - I still overlook the operation for any errors - those 5% are important! I also do need to fill in the manual parts of the forms that do not repeat - if such are present.

The end result is an over 30 step process being reduced to two clicks.
So a 100 jobs would take 200 steps, rather than 3000!
Huge improvement if you ask me. And instead of going crazy clicking, now I get to calmly drink my cup of tea while the whole thing is done by the AI.

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