One of the hardest parts of implementing any kind of sales force automation system is getting the sales force to automate. That's because automation ultimately comes down to data entry, and the average salesperson either won't do it, can't do it or does it reluctantly (read: poorly). The result is often a nightmare, as those of us who have been called up to cleanse or enhance such databases can readily attest.

Let's face it: salespeople become salespeople, at least in part, because of an aversion to forms and paperwork. They don't see sitting at a desk entering information about things that have already happened to be a good use of their time. And to a large degree, they are correct. Do you really want your top producer spending valuable time on entering call notes? Yet at the same time, who else can do it? The salesperson is the only one who can report out on a client meeting, and it's valuable to both the salesperson and management to have some record of what transpired.

So how's it all working out? Kinda, sorta okay is probably the best summation. Salespeople are frequently coerced into doing necessary data entry by tying it to commission payments. Far less frequently, salespeople are incented to provide the needed input, and management gets by with the result. After all, if a salesperson mistakenly indicates a prospect has a 60% chance of closing instead of an 80% chance, it's annoying and a bit disruptive, but nobody gets hurt.

But what if bad data entry could get somebody hurt? It's not theory. Right now, the government is dangling billions of dollars in front of physician practices and hospitals in order to spur rapid adoption of electronic health record (EHR) systems. And how is patient data being entered into the EHR systems? Well, to a surprising extent, it is by physicians themselves, pecking away at keyboards. And not surprisingly, physicians are about as thrilled with this new data entry work as salespeople.

Highly productive physicians (and most are in our wonderful world of managed care) see this work as slowing them down. Some physicians don't think this is the kind of work they should be doing, and even those who are conceptually supportive of EHRs are often just plain not good at data entry. And when a diagnosis, for example, is entered incorrectly, the impact in the interconnected healthcare system that is emerging could be devastating. And there's another angle as well: patients are beginning to complain that their already conscribed time with the physicians is being further chipped away as physicians stand with their backs turned, entering information.

Of course, the healthcare economy has a solution to this problem that perfectly illustrates why healthcate cost control is so difficult: they are hiring data entry people, called scribes, to follow physicians around and enter information that is called out to them. Scribes are already fairly common in emergency room settings, but it probably won't be long before it gets even cozier in the examining room too. So much for the much-hoped-for costs savings EHRs were supposed to yield!

Object lesson for us all: never forget that when it comes to workflow applications, somebody has to enter data, and that person probably is neither trained nor particularly happy about doing so. The easier you can make it, and the more you can trap errors before they enter the database, the stronger the product and the higher the chance of successful adoption.