Way back before the world became as connected as it is today, there was no mystery as to how criminal background checks were conducted. Researchers would go in person to courts to access information on special terminals (or, if we go back even further, hardcopy records).
Thankfully, most counties put their records online these days. For consumer reporting agencies (CRAs), the difference is night and day. Where once you had to visit courts (or hire someone to go) physically, a significant portion of your research can now be completed from wherever you (and your computer) are.
Still, though, the process is quite labor-intensive. Check behind the scenes of your typical CRA, and you’ll find roomfuls of researchers charged with visiting the websites of courts and law enforcement agencies, running searches, pulling data, formatting reports, and so on.
The labor demands of criminal background screening are one significant reason some CRAs struggle to grow their operations. As CRAs take on more orders, they must also take on more employees. As you may know from experience, labor is one of the most expensive and risky areas to scale.
The latest evolution in background screening technology offers a solution: automated background checks.
If you — as a CRA — can replace or supplement your human researchers with the assistance of digital tools, you can loosen your dependency on costly manual labor and scale your business up and down much more efficiently.
(This concept is nothing new, of course. Automation has revolutionized business growth in countless industries. The background screening industry is next.)
The Basics of Automated Background Checks
Cutting-edge automated background screening tools dispatch computerized “agents” to acquire conviction and sentencing information, pending cases, and other relevant data from court and law enforcement websites.
The procedure is known as “scraping.” The automated bots are programmed to recognize and collect pertinent information the same way human researchers would copy data from their computer screens. The software then compiles and formats the data into actionable reports, according to the client’s specifications.
The entire process is a form of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) — a technical term that just means software emulating human interactions with digital systems.
Advantages of Automated Background Checks
The main benefit of automated background screening is cost. The price of CPU power is negligible when compared to human labor.
Speed is another advantage; automated systems return results nearly instantaneously. In a competitive landscape where clients demand quality checks as quickly as possible, you can imagine how lightning-fast turnaround times would help you secure more business.
Automated background checks also tend to be more accurate than human-driven ones. Not to be dismissive — there are some excellent criminal background check specialists out there! — but human researchers are fallible.
Fatigue and overwork can cause researchers to enter names incorrectly, skip names by accident, lose files, or make other mistakes we usually categorize as “human error.” Machines perform flawlessly every time.
(And when automated systems do get out-of-sync, a well-built program will flag these issues for debugging.)
Can Automated Background Checks Fully Replace a Human Team?
It’s hard to understand why in this day and age, but not all court records are online. And some records fail to meet the individual quality standards necessary for automation. So, for the foreseeable future anyway, there will continue to be a need for human researchers.
However, with an automated system handling the bulk of your information gathering, you can scale back your team to your most experienced specialists (perhaps rewarding them with higher salaries) and assign them to focus on the trickier cases. In this way, background check automation offers CRAs a “best of both worlds” approach.
How to Get Started With Automated Background Checks
There are two primary routes to adding automation capabilities to your company: build a system yourself or partner with a vendor. Both options have their pros and cons. Learn more in our complete guide to automated background screening for CRAs. (Should you choose to go with a third-party provider, the guide will teach you about the essential features to look for.)