FEATURE1 July 2010
FEATURE1 July 2010
Tim Macer reviews a web-based data collection, analysis and reporting suite – now updated with a collaborative twist.
There has been much soul-searching in the MR industry lately about the future of the classic research agency, with DIY tools encroaching and clients passing over research companies in favour of other data sources, for consulting companies and even forging direct relationships with fieldwork agencies. It’s rather astute of one well-established and pretty high-end research software provider to bring out a new web-based version of its software suite that puts collaboration centre stage. Potentially, this allows research agencies to forge closer links with other organisations up and down the supply chain – and in doing so, lets the research agency refocus its attention on its research expertise and become less preoccupied with process and fieldwork and more occupied with consulting and advising its clients. At least that is the theory.
“?Research Studio 5 provides an appealing mix of flexibility and simplicity for the middle-sized research company – especially those who would like to do more for themselves, but not everything”
Research Studio is a very versatile piece of research agency software in its own right, and there is no obligation to use it in this work-sharing way. It’s also a fact that other web-based software products permit some degree of collaboration. But MI Pro has put some extra thought into how research companies, research buyers and specialist research partners are likely to want to interact. For example, a number of different roles are provided – expert user for the project owner, consultant for the client.
Beyond this, you can define any role and make projects available across company boundaries to other companies that may have their own accounts and projects in their own right. You can also support colleagues or clients with a special ‘team view’ mode in which you can share your desktop and use real-time chat. You can also use this function to seek assistance from MI Pro tech support.
Sensibly, there is also complete version control and an audit trail – so you can allow clients to make changes, but then review those changes and roll back to a previous version if they’ve managed to screw up your survey in their enthusiasm. What it does lack, however, is any review and comment capabilties – it’s asking a lot to expect all clients to be going in and editing your survey.
For companies who do not have their own in-house scripting or DP (such as our featured user, Ipsos Norway), external DP specialists can be granted expert user access on a project-by-project basis, with these projects showing up in their own account alongside projects for other research company clients.
Despite acquisition by GMI a few years ago MI Pro is again in independent hands under the original management team, after GMI announced it was getting out of being a software providers. Since then, MI Pro has worked on a new web-enabed interface which extends to the design, web deployment and workflow modules.
They have made a wise choice in using Microsoft’s Silverlight platform, as opposed to the more popular .NET because, rather surprisingly for a Microsoft environment, Silverlight is completely cross-platform and cross-browser compliant. Research Studio 5 works equally well under Windows, Mac OS X and Linux, delivering a desktop app experience with full drag-and-drop capabilities even though the software is entirely web-based. You can also use it offline as a desktop application in its own right.
Silverlight has allowed them to create some neat features, like a PowerPoint-style slide-sorter view of questions to allow researchers to reorganise the order of questions in a survey by dragging and dropping.
There are plenty of web-based mixed-mode research platforms to choose from, but a few other things single this one out beyond the multi-agency work-sharing features already mentioned. For one, this supports all four major modes – Web, CATI, CAPI and paper, with OCR forms scanning via Documents for Forms. Another striking one is the workflow and process automation this offers. Many web-based tools work in a file-less way: you may export a data file eventually but, within the system, surveys, scripts, samples and data are all handled for you and appear as if by magic when required, because everything is held in a relational database.
Research Studio gives you a schematic workflow manager that lets you define steps or nodes through which DP activities can take place: merging files or splitting, applying weighting or performing coding. Coding is not automated but it can be done collaboratively, and you can define your own roles here too.
Neither is the really technical user destined to be frustrated with a cumbersome point-and-click interface when he or she wants to do some real heavy lifting. Usually just a right-click away from any function is access to all of the XML code that sits behind MI Pro, which can be edited or created in other tools externally.
Reporting is still, to some extent, a work in progress. MI Pro’s extraordinarily useful Superdig multivariate correlation tool has not yet made it over from Research Analyzer to its new Silverlight reporting module, called First Line, but it does make it really easy to pull off topline reports and a basic set of cross-tabs, and create graphics. As yet, this does not integrate with Excel or PowerPoint – but that is coming. Research Analyzer’s support for both is exemplary.
Research Studio 5 provides an appealing mix of flexibility and simplicity for the middle-sized research company – especially those who would like to do more for themselves, but not everything.
?Client perspective: Morton Størksen, Ipsos Norway
Morten Størksen, a research director at Ipsos Norway, has been experimenting with the use of Research Studio as an alternative to both existing software tools and processes when working with outsourced fieldwork suppliers. He explains: “Ipsos Norway does not have its own field force or DP department – we are a group of senior consultants and operate as a consulting agency.”
In a number of projects now, Morten and others have created surveys directly within Research Studio, rather than creating a survey in Word, agreeing this with the client and then passing it to the fieldwork partner to program. The software allows everyone to collaborate online, using the same survey authoring and deployment environment.
“I’ve been especially impressed by the web survey part. One of our consultants just received one hour of training and he could then make a rather complicated questionnaire that just needed some fine-tuning before it was ready. What I really like about this is the simplicity of doing rather advanced things like filters, bases for questions, rotations. If our suppliers have the same platform, we can decide whether we want to do 100% of the work, or 50% or 10%. That gives us flexibility and efficiency – and we are still working closely with our existing suppliers.
“Much of the attraction is the ease of moving from the data collection part of the software into Research Analyzer, the analysis and reporting suite provided within Research Studio. We receive data from several suppliers, and I would like to see some efficiencies here. This is very relevant to us because of the kind of company that we are. If I receive a data file from another supplier, it is very cumbersome to integrate into Research Analyzer – and that is not what my clients are paying me for.
Comparing Research Analyser with other analysis tools, Morten says: “I think it is as easy to do simple cross tabs and it is easier to do long tabular reports. What I like about it is that you can create basic reports in just five minutes and it is easy to do the cross tabs you need.”
Perhaps more surprising is Morten’s enthusiasm for the support the tool offers for coding open-ended responses when working with third parties. He observes: “The consultants who know the project also tend to know how the open answers should be interpreted and, from a quality point of view, the best thing would always be that the consultant do all the coding himself – but of course, we just don’t have the time to do it.”
Instead Morten and his colleagues have used Research Studio to collaborate directly with external coders throughout the coding process. He explains: “With research studio we can do the coding in parallel, we can go in and see the coding, we can even change the coding during the fieldwork. It is much more flexible and time saving. When looking for efficiency, the coding part offers some big improvements for us.”
The verdict: Research Studio 5
Largely web-based multi-modal data collection, analysis and reporting suite now updated to facilitate collaborative working between suppliers, research agencies and research buyers.
Ease of use: 4 1/2 out of 5
Cross-platform compatibility: 4 out of 5
Value for money: 4 out of 5
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