Lottery management company cuts data entry time by a factor of 36 using OMR technology

Sterling Management & Bureau Services, which specialises in running fundraising lottery programmes for charities throughout the UK, has cut the data-entry time associated with each lottery from one-and-a-half working days to just 20 minutes a factor of 36 through the use of optical mark reader (OMR) technology supplied by Southampton-based Kendata Peripherals. In addition to the data-entry task, Sterling carries out total membership processing for lotteries, including auditing and reconciliation activity aimed at ensuring that membership details and payments are correct for each week's draw.

For each of the 50 local lotteries that Sterling operates, the company typically receives 200 to 300 'round sheets' summarising the amounts of money paid by up to 30 individuals on the collector's round. Until recently, the information on the round sheets was hand-written by collectors and was entered into a computer manually by staff at Sterling's premises in Barrow-in-Furness a task that typically took one-and-a-half days to complete.

In addition to the actual data entry, we also had to spend a considerable amount of time auditing the information to ensure that any mistakes were picked up, commented Sterling's managing director, Eddie Dixon. We began to realise that the efficiency of the operation needed to be improved, and that we would probably have to invest in some new technology.

Sterling then set about evaluating alternative methods of collecting the required data and entering it into the computer. Hand-held terminals were considered, but were deemed unsuitable because of the high cost involved and also the anticipated unwillingness of the collectors to use what they might perceive as complex technology.

Running a lottery has always been a paper-intensive activity, and while we recognised that we probably couldn't get away from that completely, we still felt that there was potential for some sort of automated solution, said Dixon.

Then Sterling made contact with Kendata Peripherals, which supplies a wide range of data-entry products and services to the commercial, industrial, education and healthcare sectors. After making a thorough assessment of the situation, Kendata recommended the use of OMR technology, which would not only eliminate the need for keyboard data entry but also simplify the collectors' task.

Optical mark reading is a fast and accurate method of entering data into a computer without using a keyboard. Data is recorded by making pencil or ballpoint marks in pre-defined check boxes on a specially designed form. Completed forms are then passed through an OMR, which converts the marks into a stream of characters and sends this information to the host computer.

As well as supplying Sterling with the OMR hardware and designing and printing the requisite forms, Kendata also produced some special software to enable the OMR to download up to 30 members' details from Sterling's database and overprint these on to a single form, thereby creating the individual round sheets.

When the completed round sheets are returned and scanned, the OMR automatically updates the database records with the payment information marked on the forms. The new system has proved to be much faster than the old manual approach and is also much more accurate, dramatically reducing the amount of auditing time required.

The basic aim of using OMR technology was to make the processing of the round sheets as easy, efficient and accurate as possible, said Dixon, and we have undoubtedly achieved that objective. The technology has also resulted in a time saving of about 20 hours per week at each of our clients' lottery offices.

May 2001 Ref: KE/132/A