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.

In Brief

What it does

A delightfully simple online cross-tab and topline reporting tool which works with survey data from most standard MR data collection tools, and also offers an optional integrated web-based data capture service from paper.


Data Liberation, UK

Our ratings

Score 4 out of 5Ease of use

Score 5 out of 5Compatibility with other software

Score 4.5 out of 5Value for money


Entry level for analysis: £3600 per year, includes 1 admin user, 4 report writers and 10 viewers. Extra report writers £50 per month; viewers £10 per month. Scanning from 2p per duplex page; free scanner for committed volumes.


  • Easy import via triple-S or SPSS for most MR web or CATI data collection tools
  • Very quick to learn – majors on simple, straightforward analysis
  • Very clever scanning solution, if you need to capture data from paper
  • Gives research buyers an independent alternative to using agency’s embedded analysis tools


  • Filtering options rather too limited
  • Cannot create new variables, regroup variables or create a composite breakdown
  • Analysis is queued rather than done in real time, so there can be a wait for each table

In Depth

It has long been my belief that the greatest opportunities that the web provides for research are not in data collection, but in the downstream activities. One firm I have been watching for a while that takes this to heart is Data Liberation. They developed a web-based scanning or data capture tool for paper questionnaires two years ago, and last year added a simple online analytical tool. Now, the two have been integrated and launched at the 2006 Insight Show in November. If scanning is not your thing, this still provides a great web-enabled way to analyse data from any source.

Web-based scanning is not the oxymoron it might seem to be in Data Liberation’s hands. As a DIY user, you can design your own paper questionnaire very easily using Excel on your desktop. It provides the grid — you tend to work with very narrow columns to give you better layout control, and by adding texts of various size and hue then selectively adding borders you can create great looking questionnaires. Tickboxes you create using the box character in the Wingdings font.

It is not the most obvious way to design a paper questionnaire, but once you see how it is done, it is ingenious. In some ways, it is better than using Word as you always know exactly where everything will be, to the pixel – hence its attraction as a robust way to define scannable forms. It handles multi-page and double sided documents too, but if you decide to change your pagination, then it can involve a lot of manual editing as there is no way to flow the content as you can in Word.

The document can then be printed on your office laser and copied in bulk. What is usually the nasty part — defining the scanning template — is done by logging into your account on the website and uploading your Excel document. You then view a bitmapped image of your forms on screen, and use a smart mark-up tool to point out the regions where questions and answers appear. It makes intelligent guesses about the questions and answers, snapping to rows and columns of boxes, and letting you confirm or guide it to the right place by dragging on screen. Again, it is a painless process.

Existing or ‘legacy’ documents can be handled by sending them to Data Liberation who, as a service, will create a matching Excel template. You also send them the paper to scan — though if you are doing a lot of scanning, they will provide you with your own scanner connected over the Internet, to their site.

Speaking to several of their customers, it is clear that this very unconventional approach actually yields highly accurate results — as good as anything else on the market, it seems, and capable of handling very high volumes as well as small one-off jobs.

The part of Instant Intelligence you are likely to spend most time in, though, is the analysis tool. Unlike most analysis tools, there is very little setup involved in bringing data in for analysis. As an administrator, you can import all of the variables and texts when you start from a triple-s or an SPSS file, which many packages will output. If you only have an Excel or CSV file, you can still work with this, but will have more setting up to do. Variables can be grouped into a hierarchy of folders or sections, which makes navigating around very large projects much easier. You can also define users and to some extent configure permissions, such as allowing them to view reports, or perform analysis and select the projects they may view either by group or individual.

The analytical capabilities are basic: cross-tabs, frequencies and percentages. To me, it seemed to be a slightly hollow centre after all sorts of tantalising goodies on the outside, but it does most of the things that most end-users want. It does not go very far with filtering, and options to combine variables are too limited to be useful. It also incorporates a topline report which does the job but without much grace in its output style. These are all things that are likely to change in future versions.

The tool could struggle to live up to its instant credentials if you hit the server at a busy time: analyses are queued in the background and not done in real time, so there can be a wait before your output is displayed. This is not uncommon in ASP solutions, though to be fair, when I was testing it, the response was more than acceptable.

But just as this product is versatile on the way in, it is also versatile on the way out and dovetails seamlessly into Excel and PowerPoint. Overall, this is one of the most imaginatively different software products I have seen in years. With very little extra development, it could be a stunner.

Customer Perspective: Global luxury goods company, London

A global luxury goods company uses Instant Intelligence for an annual in-store survey of customers — a massive global project that spans 30 countries. A major attraction was the system’s fusing of paper and web approaches, with automated data capture.

“The survey runs for a month in store and questionnaires are then sent back to London for scanning” explains Laura Simmonds, global market researcher at the company’s head office in London. Scanning is carried out by Data Liberation, who also verify and clean the data, then post the results directly into Instant Intelligence, for Laura and her team to analyse.

“If we did not have the data entry scanned in this way, we would have no way of doing this. If we had to key all data in manually it could take all year!”

Some of the data originates from an online survey, the data is then easily imported into Instant Intelligence and merged with the other data, ready for analysis. It is really only the data interrogation and analysis part of the suite that is visible to users. However, online access means the company can access the survey results around the world.

“The nice thing about Instant Intelligence is that it is so easy to use and train others on,” Laura observes. “For our purposes, it performs all the cross-tabs and you can safely let other people pull information off for themselves.

“Other databases that I have used are often more complex and usually have to be managed centrally because there are so many factors to consider to ensure that correct information is taken from the database. These databases take some time to be trained on to become a competent user, compared to Instant Intelligence, which can be taught in an about one hour.”

She concludes: “Instant Intelligence is perfect for our needs, it provides a reliable, user-friendly database at a relatively low cost.”

Names have been changed in this article at the company’s request. A version of this review first appeared in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, January 2007, Issue 488

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