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FEATURE1 May 2010

2009 Globalpark MR software survey results

Technology

Tim Macer and Sheila Wilson present the findings from the industry’s most comprehensive survey covering research software usage.

Results from the 2009 Annual MR Software Survey, published this month, show an MR industry both dependent upon IT and committed to embracing change – despite the survey being conducted in the grip of a severe recession. There are some surprises too, especially over online communities and self-completion via mobile, and several interesting trends emerging from a handful of tracking questions.

Each year since 2004 around 200 IT decision-makers and senior managers from market research companies across North America, Europe and the Asia Pacific area are surveyed annually online. The interview takes 15 minutes and is offered in English, French, German and Japanese. The research is sponsored by Globalpark, a survey software company, but is designed and administered independently by Meaning Ltd and follows the MRS Code of Conduct.

2009 was the first year the survey failed to reach its target, with only 188 completes, despite massively increased sampling. Response rates have fallen consistently each year since 2004, and this time it has ebbed to just 11.4 per cent. It seems there are few professional researchers that could be accused of being hyperactive respondents.

More ways than ever
Online research may now be the dominant survey method, accounting for nearly half the revenues in 2009, but it is far from the only mode practised. Firms are using a broad range of technologies to reach participants (Table 1 ), and the range appears to be growing (Table 2 ), even if not supported by large volumes. An ever-widening range of needs makes the task for the technology a challenge too.

As more modes and more mixed-mode surveys become prevalent research companies are moving away from using different software platforms for CATI and for web (or other modes) to using all-in-one tools that support many different research modes. While only two in five firms had a multi-modal platform in 2006, this has risen progressively to three in five in 2009 (Table 3 ). Mixed-mode data collection platforms save time and effort for research companies – but it is a challenge for software providers to be masters of everything. That is why few multimodal solutions offer effective solutions for minority modes such as SMS, IVR or mobile.

Own-grown software becoming less attractive
In previous years we’ve commented on the surprisingly large number of MR firms who develop their own software for routine data collection and data processing activities, despite the presence of a very well-supplied software market. In 2009 around one in five companies use software they have developed in house (Table 4 )

Yet over the past three years, despite fluctuations (which we attribute to the relatively small sample), a slight downward trend appears to be emerging (Table 5 ) as fewer firms report they exclusively use software they have developed for these core activities.

It’s still early days for communities
The 2009 survey included several questions on the spread of online research communities. It reveals that just 17% of companies are currently operating any research communities, though a further 27% are developing or planning to introduce them. On the other hand 56% have no plans to develop one.

Among the 17% with a community (only 32 companies in this survey) a total of 172 active communities were reported. The distribution follows a logarithmic curve with most operating a few and a handful operating many.

While there has been much talk within the industry about communities, there is still very little in the way of off-the-shelf software to support communities, or even community-specific support within panel management software. For the most part the pioneering community firms surveyed are using variants of their standard panel management software to operate communities. Only eight of the 32 firms were using dedicated software but a further nine were using panel software modified or supplemented with other software more suited to communities.

Communities seen to offer respondents more
The concept of the community now has some consensus behind it, as is shown by a question asking firms to identify key differences between communities and panels (Table 6 shows the top three choices, ranked). The verdict is quite nuanced and emphasises several of the benefits to survey participants. However, two closely related items appear in the middle rank: the qualitative nature of panels and – clearly linked in a number of minds – a possible lack of rigour and statistical reliability (not that Interface accepts that the practice of qualitative research need be any less rigorous than quantitative). But, contrary to some proponents of communities, the collected wisdom of this sample does not anticipate that community participants will be so motivated that reward payments are unnecessary.

Mobile research gaining acceptance
Mobile research – particularly self-completion on mobile devices such as smartphones, iPhone and BlackBerry – is also generating interest. Though mobile research accounted for only 1% of the research volumes reported, 10% of firms said that they now consider mobile research to be as viable as any other method and a further 35% see it as ‘increasingly viable in many situations. But a slight majority overall remains sceptical: 48% said it was ‘close to becoming viable’ and a further 7% consider it unlikely ever to be viable.

Mobile research covers a spectrum of technologies and methods. Asked which modes offered the greatest potential for growth, MR firms ranked self-completion by web and dedicated mobile applets highest (Table 7 ).

Offered a range of perceived benefits for mobile research, the one companies ranked highest was also highly respondent-based: 64% picked ‘convenience for participants’ among their top three. After this were ‘improved participation rates’ ( 37%), ‘closer to the moment of truth’ ( 36%) and ‘reaches more of the population’ ( 35%). More surprisingly, as it is often cited by mobile practitioners as a reason for turning to mobile, ‘more personal’ was rated a benefit by only 5% of firms.

For many the challenges of mobile research still outweigh the benefits. The top difficulties identified were the small format of the screen ( 64%), access to sample ( 56%) and support for the bewildering array of different devices ( 47%) which is at least a challenge that some technology providers are now working to overcome.

Delivery in the shadow of PowerPoint
People may complain about PowerPoint – and it is far from perfect for conveying either detailed data or nuanced insights – but the dreaded deck has an unshakeable grip over the deliverables sought by clients.

Asked to estimate the percentage of projects delivered by different methods, the MR firms surveyed report that over half involve PowerPoint (Table 8 ). Overall there were 158 deliverables reported for every 100 projects, so it seems highly likely that PowerPoint is also in many cases the only deliverable.

Interactive methods such as online query tools and dashboards are the exception – though static reports via a portal, at 17%, exceeds sending tables to clients ( 11%) by a comfortable margin.

The last mile is the hardest
Dashboards continue to be a challenge. They are provided for only 6% of projects, yet 23% of firms report a major increase in demand for them – exceeded only by the 24% major increase in demand for portals. Dashboards were also one of the top wishes for improvements in analysis and reporting software (by 46% of firms), coming after better tools to
automate charts and PowerPoint ( 67%) and better browser-based analytical tools ( 60%).

The trend is clearly towards more electronic and interactive delivery, and as in previous years users are reporting a shortfall between demand and what their tools can deliver. While MR software providers have been delivering in abundance at the data collection side, Interface predicts that the real battle for clients’ hearts, minds and wallets will be engaged at the point where research findings are being delivered directly into their hands – and that doesn’t just mean more PowerPoint.

The full report is available online here

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