FEATURE1 August 2001

FIRM serves an ace


Tim Macer says that, despite a few niggles, the changes to the ConfirmIT ASP software are welcome

Long before anyone was using the term ASP (application service provider) to describe software delivered across the internet through a web browser, Norway’s FIRM was already applying the concept to market research.

ConfirmIT, the company’s end-to-end research ASP, is now in its sixth major version ( 6.5 to be precise). Along the way, it has attracted a glittering client list of corporate and agency users, as well as $5m of venture capital from Accenture.

When last reviewed (December 1999 ), the system had much to appeal to the MR agency, offering a snappy questionnaire design tool, powerful web interviewing and the tantalising potential to grow into a CATI and CAPI solution.

The latest version includes several handy improvements, but the focus has changed. CATI, wireless CAPI and virtual call centres, which have been picked up by other suppliers – notably Voxco – have disappeared from FIRM’s radar. The new emphasis will appeal to the large corporate and DIY users for CRM and feedback applications, perhaps less so to the full-service MR agency.

Serious about integration
ConfirmIt is still a great concept, and the web interface is ingenious. It takes the idea of re-using questions or fragments of surveys very seriously, with a tightly integrated library. Sadly, text searching is limited to the question names.

A new grid view makes it easier to get an overview of the questionnaire in the survey editor and there is a language-sensitive spell checker too. This is one of the few truly multilingual systems, with full double-byte support for all the Asian and non-Roman alphabets.

A panel management facility has been added. It is a start, but does not compare with the advanced panel management features offered by GMI and others. Coding has also been improved, with coders now able to update codeframes directly.

Reporting has also been extended. I like the new «iterative» report, which neatly solves the problem of producing, say, 250 reports all filtered on different bases and destined for different departmental managers within an organisation. The feature also supports multiple access levels so that senior managers can view aggregated and drill-down reports covering their territory, while junior managers get a more restricted view. There is also sophisticated support for individual, case-by-case reporting, which must be in response to the corporates, as this has limited use in the agency context.

While Confirmit can integrate with database systems via XML links, the only export containing any metadata is the one to SPSS – and there are no plans to create any MR-friendly exports. While an import facility is provided, it is virtually unworkable. You could not describe this as an open system from the MR perspective.

After having spoken to several Confirmit users, I get the feeling that the improvements are more catch-up than innovation. A lot of work has gone on behind the scenes to increase stability and reliability, which is welcome. The wonky data files and lumbering server response that afflicted this ASP a year or two back have been banished.

“For a clientside researcher, this is very simple and easy to use,” says Justin Alderson, Air Miles MR manager who researches members of Air Miles and the upmarket BA Miles programmes. Using Confirmit, he can set up a simple questionnaire in a couple of hours and turn an entire project around in 48 hours.

Alderson finds ConfirmIT’s quota controls and weighting let him get the sample he needs and are easy to use. Considering the profile of his target audience, precise sampling and using a non-intrusive way to reach them are critical on his projects. A «how was it for you» question generally included at the end of the survey always gets very positive feedback.

“What it gives you is total control of the research. The cost saving is important, but with this tool, it’s entirely up to you how you use it to get the highest quality result,” says Alderson.

“One of the reasons we went to Confirmit was that it had a familiar visual questionnaire builder feel, with tree-like routing and drag and drop,” says AJ Johnson, associate director at MORI, which uses Confirmit to handle the bulk of its online research. He also considers the software user friendly: it is used by researchers and technical staff and he reports a steady improvement in speed of access and reliability over the years.

Johnson highlighted another major benefit: “Wherever I am in the world I can jump onto my survey. It enables me to react quickly, even if I am away from the office. There is virtually nothing you can't do from an internet café”.

He also welcomed the new online respondent data editor, the lack of which had caused several major problems in the past, and the new grid view.

Two years back, this was MR’s shiny red sports car: racy and a little risky. FIRM deserves praise for turning this into a stable and reliable platform for web interviewing, one that, despite the addition of extra functionality, is still easy to use. It is safe, like a family saloon but I miss the excitement.•

Tim Macer writes as an independent specialist in software for market research. His website is at www.macer.co.uk

ConfirmIT: Pros and cons
• First-rate survey design tool
• Complete multilingual support
• Stable and reliable
• Limited panel management
• Poor imports and exports
• Poor imports and exports
The Interface pick of the ASPs
• Confirmit
First to market with an ASP web survey solution. Comprehensive array of survey design and online analysis tools for web interviewing and support for collaborative working. Early promises to expand into CATI and other interviewing media now seem to have retreated.

• DoSurvey

Under-rated simple survey tool for simple surveys. Has a range of MR-friendly features, including templates, complex routing, triple-S export of data and online charts and tables. No panel management support. Limited support for multiple languages. www.dosurvey.com.
• GMI (reviewed May 2001 )

Full feature MR software package offering multi-media data collection and strong on panel management with a slightly clunky questionnaire design tool. Since review, GMI has launched its Web-CATI module, offering web-hosted CATI for either server-free call centres or interviewers working from home. www.gmi-mr.com.
• Interviewer (reviewed January 2000 )

Voxco has web-enabled a number of modules in their integrated Interviewer/Stat XP suite, offering virtual call centres alongside CATI and wireless CAPI, as well as self-completion web interviewing as an ASP offering. Good web-based analytics are still lacking, though basic online stats are good. www.voxco.com

Not one but three abbreviations announce the giant of MR software’s arrival in the survey-software ASP market. At present, it has a fairly limited set of online tools available for customers to design, administer and analyse surveys online. But it is powerful software and the expertise of SPSS MR’s former web bureau is behind it, making it one to watch for the future. www.spssmr.com
• SurveyGuardian (reviewed March 2001 )

CATI meets web interviewing in an ASP service that wraps around your web survey solution to provide interviewer-assisted internet interviewing environment. Claims to improve quality and reduce dropouts while beating the incentive scalpers. www.surveyguardian.com
• ViewsCast (See news, p9 )
Combined voice response and web-interviewing solution designed to capture moment-of-truth feedback. Integrates with call centres and CRM systems. www.viewscast.com
• Zoomerang
Market Tool’s DIY web-survey tool comes in two flavours: a free and very limited version or a subscription version which is still limited but is very easy to use. Aimed at end-user researchers rather than the agency user. www.zoomerang.com
A more comprehensive list appeared in January’s Internet Technology supplement.

August | 2001