What it does
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
Compatibility with other software
Value for money
$200 (US) per month per user with discounts for larger volumes. Integration with other software via web services, from $10,000.
- 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
- Does not provide any real-time chat or IM support
- Occasional performance issues can slow usage down
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, well-run 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 of 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 have the software installed on your own server.
There are essentially 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 of 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 setup area, you are stepped through a series of forms and checklists that model all of 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 if you are, you can give them limited access to the system too. 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 – 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, though Dexterity are now considering adding this feature, as those chat trails could also then be captured and saved.
There is an excellent Ticketing Dashboard, that 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 lay 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 of 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 that it is available.
At the top level, there is the project dashboard. It is more a kind of a leaderboard rather 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, sample loaded and so on. 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, where you can probably see what was going on.
This software is much more than a souped-up email system, though. What is almost incredible is the way that 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 occasional 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 too. 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.
Customer viewpoint: Guy Sutton, Red Dot Square Solutions, Milton Keynes, UK
Red Dot Square Solutions is a global specialist in shopper insight based in the UK, providing 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 – like very large scale virtual reality and eye tracking – at the heart of their activities at the heart of their research activities you also find online surveys integrating with the virtual store and eyetracking technology. There is a lot of data to be matched up and processed, and a lot of 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 out 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. Essentially, 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 have had issues regarding the quality of document sent through for scripting. Like any software, what you put into 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. My advice to anyone considering this is to go for it – it provides a defined process and it cuts out the scope for confusion.”
A version of this review first appeared in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, November 2009, Issue 522