Does your vendor return your data in CSV files when you cease their service?

CSV format is the simplest and most universally accepted data format. It organizes dataset with a simple structure of separating each value with a comma. No fancy formulas, no complex formatting, no proprietary programmer language – just simple plain text and commas.

Due to this simplicity,

  • It is universally readable by any program used – such as Excel (dataset less than 1 million records) or other database tools.
  • As reading CSV files does not require programming, performing an export or import will be much simpler and faster as compared to other file types.
  • CSV stores data “as-is”. This means data is saved as it is and will never be wrongly formatted or translated.
  • In comparison:
    • JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) files require the data to be processed and formatted through program. JSON data is represented as key-value pairs in a semi-structured format. It normally stores data in hierarchical format, with child data represented in line with its parent.
    • Excel files can stored macro or special formatted fields. As such, the data are not plain and normally affected by the formatting rules which change the information stored in the file.

When moving data between systems with JSON files, the structure and format exported by one system might be totally different from the other system. In such cases, customized scripts and program is required to interpret the data and facilitate the transfer. This poses risks of importing inaccurate data into the new system.

With CSV, there is no formatting.  So when used for exporting and importing, you avoid the risk of translation and misinterpreting of data. It allows you to transfer more accurate data into your new system database. We encountered  vendor misleading users that exporting large amount of data to CSV files is improper because Excel cannot open them. It is common knowledge that Microsoft Excel is limit to read up to 1 million records. Large CSV files can be easily open with database tools. So do not be misled by technically incompetence vendor who has limited experience with data files.

You should request for your data to be returned to you in CSV files in future. GP Connect, the clinic management system provided by MOH (Ministry of Health) returns data to clinic owner in CSV files. This is a standard industry practice.