Tim is a world-renowned specialist in the application of technology in the field of market and opinion research and is probably the most widely-published writer in the field. His roots are in data analysis, programming, training and technical writing. These days, as principal at meaning he works with researchers, users of research data and technology providers around the globe, as an independent advisor. He is quite passionate about improving the research process and empowering people through better use of technology.

It’s ten years since SPSS announced its vision for the future of research software in 1999: its ‘Vision 2000’. Its dedicated MR division, SPSS MR was tasked with turning this vision into reality and the product was named Dimensions. A stream of products eventually started to appear for customers using the firm’s legacy products like Quancept, Surveycraft and In2quest.

In acquiring this family of products, SPSS had become the undisputed global number one supplier of MR software. There is no doubt that Dimensions was among the most technically advanced for MR when it emerged and the platform has allowed customers to build ingenious software solutions of their own in a way they only dreamed before. But the project has been dogged with problems too, with customers criticising the software for being over-complex – increasing, not decreasing the skill level of those required to run and manage the software – and for being slow. Some IT managers have needed to cluster unprecedented numbers of servers in order to deliver performance, while several rival packages still seem to operate satisfactorily as single-box solutions.

No happy anniversary celebrations have been announced by SPSS. Instead the Dimensions name is being dropped. SPSS Inc. wants to see its extensive product family of some 50 programs united under a new name: PASW. It stands for Predictive Analytics Software. The iconoclastic new product names seem to require exceptional powers of recall. mr Internview becomes ‘PASW Data Collection Interviewer Web’. mr Studio becomes ‘PASW Data Collection Base’. Even the venerable SPSS becomes ‘PASW Statistics Base’. SPSS will live on only as as company name.

The firm denies that this name change has any connection with the approach from SPSS founder Norman Nie last year, who has offered to sell the SPSS name to the firm for $20 million. It is also adamant that its commitment to the market research community is undiminished. However, ten years on, there is no longer a specialist MR division and the firm’s focus is clearly on predictive analytics and modelling based on business intelligence.

Let’s hope that the new SPSS remembers we do much more than that in market research. With all this focus on predictive analytics from corporate data, it’s worth remembering, there’s only so much you can learn by looking in the rear-view mirror, no matter how cleverly.

A version of this article was also published in research magazine, issue 517, June 2009, under the title “What’s in a name”

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