Easing the burden
Multi-source sampling and routing is gaining acceptance but the technology has not been there to support it, says Federated Sample’s Patrick Comer. Enter Fulcrum, his solution to the industry’s growing project management nightmare.
The dictionary definition of a fulcrum is “the support about which a lever pivots” – a rough approximation of what Patrick Comer’s Federated Sample is hoping its new online research project management platform will become. His vision for his Fulcrum, a piece of technology available as software-as-a-service, is for it to ease what he describes as “one of the biggest pain points that everyone has with sample: that it is getting harder to manage more and more different types of sample suppliers and more complex and more challenging projects”.
“The concept of multi-sourcing and routing” – having multiple surveys available for completion at once and assigning respondents based on their answers to screener questions, rather than direct invites – “is starting to be accepted across the board,” says Comer. “There is an industry acceptance of this methodology, but no one has built the technology to support it.”
Fulcrum sits between a survey and a sample supplier and pulls down respondents for a project. Comer describes it as a 24/7 traffic cop. “Regardless of what and how different sample sources send sample into a study, it makes sure that the correct respondent lands in the survey,” he says. “Essentially, what our customers do is end up putting a large number of their projects on the platform, so instead of manually calling and emailing every sample source, they can actually set up the project for sample management in the platform.”
“Regardless of what and how different sample sources send sample into a study, Fulcrum makes sure that the correct respondent lands in the survey”
The company is working on an additional module, called Feasibility, which will allow Fulcrum users to run bids across multiple vendors, choose their sample partners and then have the sample deployed automatically. Comer says sample sources are in various stages of integration with Fulcrum, but even without direct integration, he says, clients currently have the same capabilities – though when pushed on how, he declines to elaborate. “We are getting into the ‘secret sauce’ which I need to hold close to the vest,” Comer says.
So far, four companies have licenced the platform. Others are piloting it. “They’re kicking the tyres,” Comer says, with some observing the technology by running projects through Federated Sample’s managed services offering. Comer says he is excited by how quickly companies have wanted to licence Fulcrum. “We thought we’d have to do another six months of development before they were interested, but they started coming in in the fourth quarter last year,” he says.
More than 1.5m respondents were put through the system in February, Comer says. Research software and services firm Cint is a licensee. Its North America MD Michael McCrary says Cint has three uses for the technology. “We use it to route our own respondents in an extremely hygienic manner,” he says. “That allows us to deliver a better experience to respondents and deliver better for our clients. We also leverage the social media, untargeted river, and double opt-in untargeted sources for the clients that are open to that methodology.”
He describes it as “a solid product”, the “antithesis of a black box”, with “some characteristics that are changing the game”.
Comer would no doubt be pleased with that review – the last part in particular. In a June 2009 comment piece, written while he was still a senior vice president at online research agency OTX, Comer set out his view of how the game needed to be changed.
“We are now in a multi-source sampling world yet most clients neither understand nor accept this transition,” he said. “The panel standard as the only acceptable recruitment process is now hindering progress. Repositioning sample as a multi-sourced and respondent-focused environment is vital.”