FEATURE1 November 2009

Dexterity MR Anywhere reviewed

Features Technology

Tim Macer reviews a multi-user online project management, workflow and collaboration tool. Will it smooth out your MR process?

Few people bother to count all of the steps that are involved in taking a typical research project as they are so well-rehearsed. Perhaps you should – as people scratch around looking for ways to reduce cost, there can be considerable savings to be made in streamlining processes, eliminating bottlenecks and taking out a few corners.

Good communications, good documentation and timely supervision lie at the heart of the most efficient operations, and this is the approach that MR Anywhere,
a web-based research project management tool, actively encourages.

The origins of the tool are in outsourcing – in this case to India. Dexterity, based in Chennai, first developed MR Anywhere to manage communications between their own teams and clients who were outsourcing work to them. It is now available both for their clients to use on all their projects and, for a monthly subscription, to non-
clients who simply wish to use the management tools. Most use their own dedicated site on the MR Anywhere server, but it is possible to install the software on your own server.

There are three core functions it performs, each supported within different areas of the tool. There is the set-up and request activity, where new jobs are defined and then mapped out with all their timelines, documentation and agreed deliverables. Secondly, there is the project communications area, which is based around a support ticketing system. Here, there is a vast array of management reports and overviews. Alongside this there is, within each project, a library and information repository that keeps track of all documents relating to the project and provides a range of data reports and management reports too. And beyond this, of course, is an administrator’s interface, to add users and define access rights.

In the set-up area, you are stepped through a series of forms and checklists that model all the activities likely to arise on a project. The framework you provide here then drives the project through the system to completion. The workflow can be customised for each company. Naturally, the system is designed to allow you to work with subcontractors, and you can give them limited access to the system. It works equally well with internal teams or a combination of the two. It also lets you manage costs and set budgets. Through the admin module you can ensure your subcontractors have limited access to the system.

MR Anywhere is very strong on communications. Once work starts on a project in earnest, individuals in different teams are encouraged to pass all their communications through the site, using the built-in ticketing system which is modelled on technical support systems where each case is allocated its own ticket number. Instead of using email to communicate, queries or tasks are raised as new tickets and progress, clarifications and resolutions are all submitted as responses to the ticket. It avoids completely having to wade through emails to see if something has been done, or to try to discover the source of a problem. What it doesn’t do is offer any real-time chat, which is increasingly common in support situations, and is also a common way for tech team to speak to one another. Dexterity is now considering adding this feature, as those chat trails could also then be captured and saved.

There is an excellent Ticketing Dashboard, which shows the status of all tickets and a summary of them. From here you can drill down and see the whole trail of messages that went into that ticket. Where tickets have been unanswered for too long, they are flagged up on the dashboard as needing attention.
Another key area is the Project Information Repository. It is here that all the documents for the project reside and also where the deliverables arrive. Automatically, as someone uploads one of the project deliverables to the site, the project owner will receive an email alert.

At the top level is the project dashboard. It is more a kind of leaderboard than a dashboard as it is a big table giving the status of all projects and, for each project, provides detailed information about the stage it has reached and all outstanding items of work to be done. At the set-up stage you can set key dates for each activity, such as when scripting should be finished, testing signed off or sample loaded. The dashboard will also flag up any due or overdue items, and alert you to trouble spots and lets you drill down through to the individual tickets.

This software is much more than a souped-up email system, though. What is impressive is the way Dexterity has integrated its application with other software providers’ products. At the pre-interviewing stage, there is a direct link to the Cint’s CPX panel marketplace. It can also link directly to your own panel management system, if it has a web services interface. This means you can build samples and test availability and obtain costs from within MR Anywhere.

For data collection, it interfaces directly with Confirmit, Nebu and IBM SPSS Dimensions. This means that status reports and even data are pulled directly from the data collection software and is presented within MR Anywhere’s dashboards and as dynamic reports within the Data Repository. When fieldwork is complete, the data is pulled by MR Anywhere into the Data Repository, where it is held in a generalised format. Here the data processing team can pick it up and work on it without needing access to the actual data collection system – and it can be exported and converted into other formats, such as Triple-S or SPSS, on the fly. It also supports links to Marketsight, SPSS, Quantum and Wincross – and you can also use the tool to request outsourced DP directly from Dexterity in any of these products.

Some users have reported occasionally sluggish performance, but this appears to be related to the extent to which users are refreshing data dynamically – it’s easy to pull across large amounts of data from other servers and be unaware of the scale of the task. This has not always made Dexterity popular with the other suppliers they are integrating with, as it also places a load on their servers. Now, the system will refresh data on demand – which is not an entirely satisfactory compromise.

However, it’s clear from the product that the manufacturers understand market research processes from the inside. Start using a tool like this, and there would be no going back.


Client perspective: Guy Sutton, head of research operations, Red Dot Square

?Red Dot Square Solutions, a global specialist in shopper insight based in the UK, provides research and consulting services to retailers through virtual simulations of retail environments. Though some of the technology Red Dot Square uses would appear exotic to many research companies at the heart of their research activities you also find online surveys integrating with the virtual store and eye-tracking technology. There is a lot of data to be matched up and processed, and complex surveys to program and administer.
Guy Sutton, head of research operations at Red Dot Square, explains: “We decided to keep our operations lean in the UK and outsource various parts of the process, outsourcing the data processing to Dexterity as well as the survey programming work. We soon worked out how to put MR Anywhere into the process. Having emails going to and fro is not really adequate when working over distance and on a scale like this. We use MR Anywhere for keeping track of all of the communications. Having a system that takes care of this means less stress and worry.
“My team had a couple of hours of online training and that was all that was required. It is fantastically simple. We have been disciplined in what we put in so we have not had issues regarding the quality of document sent through for scripting. Like any software, what you put in to it is what you get out, and we endeavour to be very rigorous in what we get out of it. “
Guy Sutton observes that there are often times when the message threads of MR Anywhere are simply not fast enough and the staff switch to IM chat to communicate. “This is a well-rounded application,” he comments, “But if it included IM too, that would be the cherry on the cake.” Sutton observes: “I was unsure at the outset whether we needed to use it. Because we had the documentation in place it seemed we were really only replacing email with a more rigorous system. But it also links directly into our Confirmit server. We tick a few boxes and send through some documentation, and our outsourcing partners can get on with the work and in the same system. This happens smoothly and with pretty good accuracy.”


The verdict: MR Anywhere 2.0 from Dexterity

A multi-user online project management, workflow and collaboration tool for market research projects. It handles all project communications across internal teams and suppliers and subcontractors, and integrates with a range of third party MR software products and services using web services.

Ease of use – 4 1/2 out of 5
Cross-platform compatibility – 5 out of 5
Value for money – 4 out of 5

Cost

$200 (US) per month per user with discounts for larger volumes. Integration with other software via web services, from $10,000.

Pros

  • Keeps all communications and documentation in one place
  • See the latest status of all projects at a glance
  • Flexible and adaptable to different workflows
  • Links directly to other software packages and systems from other suppliers

Cons

  • Does not provide any real-time chat or IM support
  • Occasional performance issues can slow usage down

Further info
www.mr-anywhere.com

2 Comments

11 years ago

I have used Dexterity for lots of things in the past. It's awesome and I recommend it to everyone. It's always worth calling them, they have lots of solutions. A truly disruptive business.

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11 years ago

We use HyperOffice, because it of its ease of use. Will certainly check out Dexterity.

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