FEATURE1 November 2007

Converso Enterprise reviewed


Tim Macer reviews a platform-independent interviewing and analysis platform. Is it The real deal or still a work in progress?

Converso Enterprise is the latest incarnation of Converso data collection suite. After the original Converso company was sold in 2001to Business & Decision Group, an international business intelligence and consulting company, there was a point when Converso’s future seemed to be in doubt. But last year, B&D assembled a new management team, hired fresh developers and has since come up with something which is both an evolution of the old Converso CATI/CAWI workhorse and is also a radical departure from any other MR software I have looked at.

Converso Enterprise follows an entirely different architectural principal to most of the other new-generation research platforms on the market. Conversoft rejected developing in Microsoft’s .NET framework in favour of using Java, both J2EE, for desktops, laptops and servers, and J2ME (the flavour of Java for mobile devices). This approach does not on its own give the product a Web 2.0 pedigree, but it is a good start. It means that the software is totally platform-independent, so all users – researchers, respondents, technicians or end-clients – can use the browser or the operating system they want – Apple, Linux or any of the Windows flavours. This technical agnosticism extends to the relational database at the heart of the product, for survey data and panels, if used, which could be any of the modern database platforms – Microsoft, Oracle, or open source databases like MySQL or Postgres.

Conversoft also intends to create an open-source development platform to allow customers to extend the capabilities of Converso for themselves, but this does not exist yet.

What does exist is a wonderful portal-building tool that lets you snap into place any of the components of the Enterprise toolkit. You can create your own portal just for you or for entire groups of users – and then you can selectively switch on controls that will allow them to tailor the portal you gave them, to add in their own favourite things.

It could be the survey editing tool, a summary report showing the latest set of KPIs, an RSS news feed from the BBC or a link to Google Maps. This is where it gets exciting, because, once the missing developer tools have been developed, the teccy people would be able to build whatever components you wanted to create so called ‘mash-ups’ of data from different sources on the internet, alongside your survey data – for example, to present geodemographic data in map form. What is more, Converso Enterprise components can be used as applets in other portals – so you could broadcast your poll results to other sites, or even Facebook.

Already, there is a rich library of components to choose from, particularly in the reporting area – which was never a strength for Converso in the past. It is relatively straightforward to create client data portals and dashboards that will present data graphically or as cross-tabs, or use intelligent reporting methods to highlight exceptions and provide alerts. Alerts are defined as triggers – really rather like dynamic filters that operate against the data and present a message. It all works fine with published data, but at the moment, you would struggle to show any real-time data from live surveys – such as to track response or get a live snapshot in a topline report. For these you need to resort to some of the legacy modules still.

Similarly, you can deploy new surveys through the portal, define your sample, and even use the very comprehensive access rights management tool from the portal – all of these are java programs. But the survey authoring tool is still a windows program, and uses the old and rather complicated Converso scripting interface. That is promised for later this year, although nothing was available for Interface to obtain a sneak preview.

These are not the only gaps waiting to be plugged. These are being addressed – and they need to be – though given Conversoft’s recent track record, the current feeling of being on a new highway where the cones are still in place, should have gone by the middle of 2008.

On the plus side, there is true multimodal interviewing with CATI, Web CATI an integrated and very versatile handheld interviewing capability that will work on a very broad range of smartphones and BlackBerrys. The mobile interviewing is a new development and is impressive. There seems to be complete backwards compatibility with the old Windows-based CATI too.

Panel management exists but is not fully developed yet – the main panel management and respondent selection capabilities are there, but the panellist recruitment and community part is still missing. When it comes, it will offer integration with CRM systems, to use customers as a sample source, or to create customer panels.

Converso Enterprise is an ambitious redevelopment project which deserves much praise for embracing what Web 2.0 technology has to offer. The portal-building and alert capabilities are excellent, and the main data collection platform is robust and sophisticated. But as an end-to-end solution it is still very much a work in progress. Given Conversoft’s recent rate of development, it is likely to look much more complete in as little as six month’s time, so for anyone planning to upscale their software platform next year, this is definitely one for the short list.

The Verdict – Converso Enterprise
Platform-independent, Java-based, multi-modal interviewing and analysis platform with an integrated portal-style front-end.

Ease of use – 3.5/5

Cross-platform compatibility – 4/5

Value for money – 3/5

Most modules £3,000 per user, plus £20,000 for Enterprise platform and £6,000 for web server module: all one-off costs. Maintenance: 18% of licence cost annually, or 25% for ‘gold’ support.


• Java based, so all modules will work on any Java platform – Linux, Mac or Windows

• One flexible portal front-end for all access from client dashboards and alerts to survey administration, authoring or statistical analysis.

• Robust and easy-to-use solution for reliable video streaming in web surveys.

• Database driven with interfaces to allow real-time interaction with other corporate databases and data warehouses.


• Numerous basic features missing still from the new modules.

• Does not (yet) support other MR data formats like Dimensions or Triple-S.

• Not all modules available in the new Java environment yet.

Further info
www.conversoft.com or (in the UK) www.merlinco.co.uk

November | 2007