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Globalpark EFS 7 Panel and Communities Reviewed

In Brief

What it does

Fully hosted software-as-a-service online research suite that offers a high level of performance and flexibility, with tightly integrated panel management capabilities. The panel module now offers support for online research communities

Supplier

Globalpark

Our ratings

Score 3.5 out of 5Ease of use

Score 4 out of 5Compatibility with other software

Score 4.5 out of 5Value for money

Cost

Three components: Set-up and customisation fee for panel typically £10,000-£14,000; plus, annual company-wide licence fee for survey module: £2,700 and for panel on sliding scale, from £6,830 (10,000 members) up to £20,630 (half a million or above); plus, usage fee per complete interview on a sliding scale, e.g. 49p for 10,000-20,000 in a year; 12p for 2 million.

Pros

  • A captive application for CATI interviewers and supervisors rather than a web browser interface
  • Integrated question and media library for rapid survey development
  • Works with any modern browser or OS
  • Provides a full web content management system (CMS) for multiple panel/community sites
  • Panel can work standalone with other interviewing software, e.g. for other modes

Cons

  • Online and mobile interviewing are the only survey modes supported
  • Steep learning curve
    A lot of web technical knowledge needed to fully exploit panel customisation
  • Contains quant research elements but no obvious survey workflow for quant projects

In Depth

How a panel differs from a community has become a bit of a topic among the research profession of late: how to avoid influence, whether incentives should be paid or not, or even whether the two differ at all. It’s clear that there is diversity in understanding and practice, and in introducing community support to the Globalpark EFS interviewing suite (the EFS stands for enterprise feedback management) this research software provider leaves those decisions to the individual. You could use the software to run multiple communities, multiple panels or any combination of the two, with different websites for members to use for each, and behind the scenes you may choose to keep all your panel members in one database, and segregate them logically, or physically segregate them into separate databases.

Globalpark EFS splits the task into three essential components: panel (or panels), projects and websites (the panel members’ portal). Therefore, if you had a panel of customers, and wanted to create a community of premium customers, as an elite group drawn from the panel, you could create a special website for these customers. Surveys are deployed through the respondent-facing website, and can be deployed to more than one site. They can even be skinned differently, so the survey the premium customers get be the same survey as in the general panel, but could take on a different look, consistent with the premium site’s theme. It also makes this a very appropriate pick for research companies, alongside the corporate EFM customers that Globalpark target, since panels and surveys can easily be branded for different customers or contexts.

The real power of the system is in its ability to create multiple panel and community websites, and for these sites to contain dynamic content driven from a number of sources. It means that once the site has been configured, no further technical tweaking is required, provided you do not fundamentally change the scope of what you are doing. All the routine activities such as putting surveys live, inviting panellists to participate, collecting demographics and contact updates from members, reward redemption, and the more community-oriented capabilities such as adding content to news feeds, featuring snap polls and results of surveys are simply managed through a set of attractive and straightforward control panels.

The site builder is another matter though – this is something aimed squarely at the web technician, and even then it will tax even the specialist, as there is a lot to learn and a lot of layers to work through. What Globalpark give you is a fully functioning web content management system (or CMS) which conveniently happens to understand surveys and panels. It is HTML and PHP based, browser-independent and, following best web practice, rigorously separates presentation from function. In an attempt to make it a little less complex, rather than having to write any PHP code, most text content can be written in Smarty, a text markup system. This makes it easy to pull fields from the panel database for display, and put logic into the text too.

It’s a highly accomplished implementation of a CMS and you could certainly use this software to build big fast-moving content-rich sites in which the survey activity was only a small component. It is a clever stance to take, though the trade-off is that all this flexibility is the time and expertise required to create a new site. This will not let you pop-up a new community in a couple of hours. To be fair, the people at Globalpark recognise that only a minority of customers would be able to do the configuration from scratch and tend to quote for doing the initial configuration work with new customers.

Version 7 also introduces a number new Web 2.0-style ‘community’ building blocks. Forums allow you to create threaded discussions, with members contributing responses, or optionally, defining new topics too. Whiteboards let you create a simple single-topic forum. Blogs let you turn the commenting over to your participants, who can add their own content and upload images, documents and so on. You can also feature selected blogs on the home page. Chat lets you hold one-to-one or group discussions in real time, to a limited extent, though stops well short of a full online group.

You can restrict access to forums and all the community components, so you can work with an invited subset of members only. Whenever content upload is an option, you can restrict the files you permit, e.g. only to allow JPEG images or Word documents, and the size can be limited too. It’s all very sensible, but it does not really jive yet for the qualitative researcher wanting to pull panel members into open, semi-structured research. There is no built-in workflow in the way there is for a quant survey and your data is likely to end up scattered all over the place. This needs more thinking through, and no doubt later versions will improve the situation.

However, praise must go to Globalpark for providing these features and making the software entirely DIY, if you have the skills to do the CMS configuration work behind the scenes, because many other community tools do not give you this degree of control or flexibility. You could do a lot of novel and interesting community-based and collaborative research with what this offers.

Customer perspective

Sony Music in Germany started using Globalpark EFS a year ago for a range of research activities carried out in-house using their own panel. These include new product and concept testing, as well as song cover and artist image tests for upcoming artists or newcomers. Michael Pütz, Director CRM, Web Strategy and Research explains: “We also create target group profiles, including information about media usage, which is useful for developing marketing and media plans, later on, and we use it to gain additional overall consumer insights.

“It is sometimes said that the music industry is failing to meet consumers’ needs and adapting too slowly to new business models and technologies; our activities with our online panel at www.musikfreund.de (along with other initiatives) shows evidence to the contrary. For some years now, our consumers have become regular part of a&r [artist and repertoire] and marketing decisions and our reliable partners in developing new business models and proofs of concepts.”

The market research team was therefore seeking something that would let them create well-structured and well-designed surveys and offer integrated panel management capabilities too – and to expand some of these into communities – something else EFS offered.

Mr Pütz continues: “The possibilities with EFS are huge. We are constantly challenging EFP and the Globalpark team, and they nearly always come up with good ideas on how to transfer what we want to do into solutions.” He notes in particular the ways in which Globalpark allows users to save time and improve consistency through the use of both standardized ready-made types of questions and the ability to set up a media library to make it easy to insert audio and video clips, which are fundamental to the research he does.

“The basic functionalities of EFS are easy to learn and to teach, however, configuration and tool menus of EFS can be a little bit confusing to beginners – it is not self-explanatory, which is when the help of Globalpark support teams and experts is needed.”

A version of this review first appeared in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, October 2009, Issue 521

Confirmit Horizons Reviewed

In Brief

What it does

A complete mixed mode interviewing system with high-quality support for CATI, CAPI and web interviewing, integrated with panel and community management, and telephony integration for CATI, operating in a web-based or cloud computing environment.

Supplier

Confirmit

Our ratings

Score 5 out of 5Ease of use

Score 4.5 out of 5Compatibility with other software

Score 3.5 out of 5Value for money

Cost

Confirmit Horizons CATI hosted solution. Entry-level system from £8,000 per year. Web surveys and other pricing on application.

Pros

  • Captive application for web CATI interviewers and supervisors (rather than a web browser interface)
  • Switch easily from Web to CAPI or CATI and back again
  • Clean, modern and customisable look throughout
  • Open system capabilities through a range of API extensibility kits

Cons

  • Sample loading capabilities are rudimentary
  • No offline scripting capabilities

In Depth

There is a new professional telephone interviewing system on the block with a surprising name to those familiar with it – Confirmit. Confirmit Horizons, released earlier this year, extends this granddaddy of a Web survey platform into the phone room and also the street and shopping mall, with full online/offline CAPI too.

Presumptions that CATI would dwindle away as an interviewing channel, in the face of Internet research have so-far been wide of the mark, rather like those predictions about long-awaited paperless office. Industry stats show decline, but CATI is far from collapsing. For many years Confirmit (in its earlier FIRM days) appeared to procrastinate over whether it would or would not introduce CATI into its Web survey offering. Then two years ago, it bought up Pulse Train, which appeared to have two jewels in its crown – a superior reporting platform, Pulsar, and a real workhorse of a CATI system, Bellview. The combined firm set about merging together the two product lines – an initiative that is not for the feint-hearted.

In a surprisingly short period of time, a merged set of tools for data collection has emerged, and in doing so, the Confirmit product line has matured into a very comprehensive offering for the whole spectrum of quant research. The manufacturer has clearly learned from the mistakes of others. First, there is an upgrade route for Bellview customers to convert their legacy QSL scripts into Confirmit, and secondly, the revised platform is not a hotch-potch of legacy modules and new modules – the capabilities of the old Bellview system have almost all been reproduced within Horizons without compromising the Confirmit environment or way of working.

Bellview was a very flexible system for CATI, giving a lot of control to supervisors over the management of interviewers, sample and callbacks through its admin interface and offered limitless possibilities to the script writer. Scripts were written either using a proprietary script language called QSL or a graphical (GUI) authoring tool called Visual QSL — though in reality, most people wrote QSL syntax. Confirmit, on the other hand, has always been a GUI system, and the developer took the brave decision to go with GUI alone. There are those who will defend the syntax approach to the bitter end on the grounds that it is ‘more efficient’ and quicker to do certain tasks. But QSL was quirky and took time to learn – and it was always easier to make mistakes than it was to notice them and correct them.

The Confirmit authoring GUI is, in practice, highly efficient and the developer has worked on optimizing it. There is often a fear that a Web-based editing interface will be sluggish in operation. Not so with Horizons – moving from screen to screen is instant and effortless. There will be a fairly steep learning curve for anyone experienced in QSL that has not worked with Confirmit, as the design interface is completely different.

The legacy code bridge will not convert everything – it seems to get you around 80 to 90 per cent of the way to a working CATI script in Confirmit, and it deals with all of the more tedious aspects of converting texts, even in multiple languages, variables and logic, but you will probably have to patch up any complex execution logic or clever scripting by hand. Another bonus is that a lot of the concepts are very similar between the two systems, such as the block-structured skip logic, and those that were missing from Confirmit (such as QSL’s ‘pblocks’ for handling beginnings, endings and handover from one mode to another) all now appear in Confirmit as ‘call blocks’. QSL users will, however, miss some of the syntax tricks that were possible – the Confirmit interface is not as slick as QSL in writing logic and performing operations on variables.

Better-looking CATI

There is no separate CATI-specific module – all of the interviewing and supervision capabilities are also implemented now through the main Confirmit platform, which has been skilfully enhanced to provide a true CATI experience to users, within a Web-based environment. However, to avoid the problem of Interviewer and Supervisors having to work in a Web browser, both of these interfaces are provided as dedicated applications, or ‘consoles’. This is easily set up on Interviewer machines, or if interviewers and supervisors are working remotely, they can be emailed a link to download and install the package.

CATI interviewer screens now take on a very web-like appearance – you can control their exact look and feel through the same template gallery as a Web interview, and there are some templates optimised for CATI too. However, the console environment also allows interviewers to control all aspects of the interview from the keyboard, rather than the mouse, which is typical in a Web interview – though they can also use the mouse if they wish.

Clever reporting

The web environment certainly improves the look of the CATI screen – they can be branded, for instance, with the clients logo, or made distinctive for different projects. These are not merely cosmetic matters – theming the screens can help with project recognition, and better screen design can aid concentration and legibility. They can also contain many more answer options.

The supervisor console similarly packs a punch, with added style, for supervisors. Again, how it does things is a little different for those familiar with Bellview, but the concepts are similar, and a lot of effort has gone into making the features intuitive to use. A real innovation here is the alerting report – triggered by events such as an interviewer not entering any data, or an appointment falling overdue. This is potentially a big money-saver for CATI units, as it makes it feasible for a single supervisor to supervise 15 or more interviewers as effectively as 6-10 with a more conventional system. This could even free up a few monitoring stations for interviewer use instead.

The next day CATI centre

Telephony integration is also possible through Magnetic North, a telephony specialist, with interfaces for both conventional telephone lines or VOIP. It is a web-based dialler, which means it will support either conventional call centres or satellite offices and homeworkers. When an interviwer logs in, they are asked to enter the number of the phone on their desk, and a call is placed to that number. The line is then kept open, and the dialler then starts placing calls. The dialler will support every level of automation from click-to-dial through to full predictive dialling, with the supervisors able to monitor and control the nuisance call rate through the alerting reports.

The telephony support also allows for recording of chosen segments of the interview, such as an open-ended question, or the entire interview. The web telephony also means that you could set up a real or a virtual call centre using the cloud computing model pretty much overnight.

Where does it end?

The sheer depth of functionality becomes apparent when you take a look at the other interfaces offered, to allow you to integrate Confirmit with other software. The software is developed using Microsoft SQL Server and using the Microsoft .NET framework, which already makes integration relatively straightforward for other Microsoft users. Confirmit have also embraced Web Services with a passion – this allows applications to exchange data and drive one-another across the Internet, effectively going in through the back-door but in a highly secure and also efficient way. There are currently nine different APIs for such touch-points as reporting, data transfer, quotas and panel integration. There is also an ‘extensibility framework’ to make it easy to develop specialist applications within Confirmit. One has already been designed by a third party for fraud detection and another is being developed to support interviewing on iPhones.

It is going to be hard in future for the humble reviewer to find anything that this software cannot do, since there are likely to be many more of these third party plug-ins. Indeed, the few niggles I do have are relatively minor in scope – sample management is still a bit too Web interview-oriented, and you have to be a Windows user to exploit the software. Confirmit are cagey about the pricing too, but it appears to be towards the top end.

Confirmit have pulled off quite a feat with Horizons – it’s a serious product with a friendly face that makes for a hard act to follow.

A version of this review first appeared in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, September 2009, Issue 520.

Key Survey reviewed

In Brief

Key Survey version 7.1

Worldapp
Date of review: April 2009

What it does

Online survey data collection and reporting system provided on a Software-as-a-Service basis by a USA provider represented in the UK and elsewhere. Sophisticated mid-range web survey tool with a lot of flexibility and sophistication, at a highly competitive price.

Our ratings

Score 4 out of 5Ease of use

Score 3.5 out of 5Compatibility with other software

Score 5 out of 5Value for money

Cost

Annual fee for an unrestricted licence in US dollars: single user $3,950, additional users at around $3,500 (cost reduces by number of users). Annual usage-based licence for up to 10,000 completes at $1,950 per user and 25¢ for extra pre-paid completes.

Pros

  • Browser based and system independent – works on PC or Mac browsers
  • Simple GUI for most operations with a powerful scripting language in the background
  • Highly customisable and extensible through a series of plug-ins and a software interface (API)
  • Built-in error checking capabilities

Cons

  • No panel management
  • Analysis capabilities somewhat restrictive
  • Only exports to SPSS and Excel. No Triple-S.
  • Cannot create your own plug-ins.

In Depth

Researchers looking for a flexible web survey tool will be familiar with the conundrum that the more affordable entry-level tools lack the flexibility you need, while the grown-up ones not only cost a fortune but can be bewildering to use. Key Survey is a relatively new entrant to the UK market which focuses on the middle-ground and is aimed at researchers who want to build and deploy sophisticated surveys for themselves. Compared to other products on the market, Key Survey sits towards the high end of the middle ground. For a relatively low fixed cost, based on the number of users, you get a hosted solution with no restrictions on the number of interviews you do each year – something that is almost unheard of in the software-as-a-service market.

Key Survey not only covers all the basics in style – like all the standard question types, all kinds of survey routing and logic, text piping, logic on answer lists, question libraries, look-and-feel templates, multiple languages, survey invitations and reminders – it also leads the non-technical researcher into some very sophisticated territory. It offers analysis and online reports, but does not provide any panel management support.

It has a question library, which comes populated with hundreds of well-worded questions organised by subject, and very useful search capabilities that other tools often lack. You can add to the library, or treat any prior survey as part of the library. Using this could help you to standardise survey design and harmonise demographics across surveys.

There are over a hundred different design templates to choose from, and it is easy to take any of these as starting point and design your own templates too. These are all based on CSS (cascading style sheets) so they are sound at a technical level, but you do not have to get your hands dirty with any actual CSS coding, unless you actually want to.

One of the most versatile capabilities is the collection of plug-ins. These allow you extend the basic functionality into untold areas of sophistication – and there are no extra costs for using them. Each essentially goes off and performs a task and then returns any resulting data back into the questions you have defined in your survey. There are plug-ins for various kinds of flash animated questions, such as sliders, calendars for selecting dates, or using Google Maps to choose a location. There are plug-ins to validate and clean data on the fly, reach out to an external database, or to perform geo-IP checking on survey respondents, to detect those pretending to be in countries they are not. There are already over 20 plug-ins, and whenever a customer requests a new one, WorldAPP make it available to all customers too.

Logic-related errors are a common and expensive problem with surveys as they become more complex. I particularly like the Key Survey approach, which has a level of logical scrutiny built into it so that it will advise you of ill-formed logic, questions that may never get asked, and so on. Furthermore, wherever you make logic selections for routing, filters or text piping, a simple on-screen assistant anticipates the choices you are about to make, and presents you with context-sensitive overlay of the questions and answer options available – it is ingenious and very intuitive, and will actively help you stamp out most common scripting errors at source.

My only concern over the design interface is that the survey questions and answers are presented as a single scrolling page (though they can be displayed in the survey on different screens) and on long and complex surveys, this could become difficult to navigate through – especially the buttons and actions you need at the top of the page quickly scroll out of sight. It feels more web page than web app, in this respect.

The software does offer support for other self-completion streams of data too – there are additional cost modules offered for print/mail/scan surveys on paper, and for IVR on the phone, which share the same design and reporting environment.

The analysis and reporting side is a bit of a disappointment after all the capabilities in the upstream areas. It does make it relatively easy to create simple reports showing frequencies and charts, and these can also include a wide range of statistics. For some users, this may be sufficient, but the reporting formats are inflexible and most researchers will struggle to use the tool to probe their data fully and then build reports to communicate what is salient. What it does seem to be good at is letting you create quick snapshot reports that can be updated regularly as results arrive and which you can publish and share with your clients.

Users wanting to do deeper analysis are likely to want to move the data into other cross-tab or statistical tools, and here your luck runs out if it is not SPSS that you use, as that is currently the only export route that provides you with labels and definitions ready to run. WorldAPP is working on further exports, though the next one is likely to be SAS.

A particularly nice feature of the software is the live help button – this connects you immediately to a support representative who will answer any question you have using instant messaging chat. WorldAPP provides support from its three locations in Massachusetts, London and Kiev, in the Ukraine, so someone is usually available to answer questions around the clock. Support is also included in the fixed annual fee.

Customer viewpoint: Monica Coetzee, Research Manager, The College of Law

The College of Law is the UK’s largest dedicated postgraduate law school, operating from six campuses across England. It’s been using Key Survey for the last nine months in its research division, which carries out a broad range of surveys including student surveys on course quality, HR surveys, a continuous customer satisfaction survey on IT services and even ad testing, all done online with samples that are often in the thousands.

Monica Coetzee, Research Manager, explains: “We were previously using a desktop survey tool, but because there was only one person trained to use this software, it was causing a bottleneck. We wanted to restructure the department anyway and I wanted to change to working online.”

“As a non-profit organisation, price was critical for us when choosing a replacement, but we also needed something with a lot of advanced features. We reviewed several tools and Key Survey came out on top.

Monica’s team now have around 30 surveys done with Key Survey under their belts. “What I like about it is that it allows all three of us to have access to the software online from anywhere, giving us greater flexibility, for example when working in different College centres. Each person has responsibility for an entire survey project and not just for specific tasks.” This, in many cases, includes exporting report-ready data into SPSS. “It exports it directly with all the data and value labels correctly filled in”, she reports.

“We now know there is nothing that we cannot do – and we use all sorts of advanced features like show/hide options and complicated skip routing. We very often bring data we already have into the survey and use the autofill function to use it for verification or routing. And it all works very well.”

A particular requirement for Monica is the visual appearance of surveys, and she was pleased to be able to produce a set of templates matching the corporate visual identity of the College that could be used consistently across all surveys. “Although they have a good range of templates, there is the option to go into the HTML programming, so I can play around and see what happens to make my own. With very little HTML knowledge we have produced some really nice-looking surveys.”

Monica also appreciates the built-in warnings and safety features of the system. She remarks: “If you try to do some things that would result in an error, it will give you a warning or prevent you from doing it. But once you have gone live with a survey, if you need to make a change, you can react so quickly with this – it will make that change instantly. It must be said, my favourite function is the live help button. They almost always answer within a few seconds, and they are always very friendly and helpful. I actually prefer using a typed interface to a phone calls – I find I am generally more comfortable communicating online in this way.”

Published in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, April 2009, Issue 515

Catglobe reviewed

In Brief

Catglobe version 5.5

Catinét a/s, Denmark Date of review: February 2009

What it does

Web-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) product for mixed mode data collection and analysis, including CATI, CAPI, CAWI and integrated panel management.

Our ratings

Score 3 out of 5

Ease of use Score 4.5 out of 5

Compatibility with other software Score 4 out of 5Value for money

Cost

Variable cost based upon usage. Start-up costs typically €3,500 for configuration and training then €0.015 per panel member and €0.03 per interview minute, with some additional charges applicable

Pros

  • Completely web browser-based – supports Internet Explorer or Firefox on PC or Mac
  • Simple GUI for most operations with a powerful scripting language in the background
  • Strong on panel management and sampling capabilities
  • Good range of imports and exports including Triple-S, SPSS and Excel

Cons

  • Data analysis is inflexible and limited in scope
  • GUI questionnaire editor is cumbersome to use
  • Some performance issues – complex sample queries can be slow to run

In Depth

It may seem as if we are spoilt for choice with data collection software packages, but if you are looking for a multimodal interviewing solution that is also web-based, the choice is relatively narrow – especially if web-based CATI is part of the mix. So it’s good to welcome a new entrant on the scene in the guise of Catglobe, a mixed mode interviewing system offered as a SaaS (software as a service) product by the software division of the Danish fieldwork company Catinét. The SaaS model makes it very easy to get started with little infrastructure in-house – all that is needed is a reasonable internet connection and a web browser. It is not fussy about which one: Firefox on Windows or Mac, or Internet Explorer on Windows works equally well. Catglobe is a surprisingly vast system, and the fact that it has been extensively road-tested by Catinét’s in-house fieldwork team is evident in the range of capabilities and options provided. There are different modules for sampling, questionnaire authoring, fieldwork management, reporting and some report automation. The interviewing module supports CATI, laptop CAPI and CAWI and even has a special Hall Test mode for a temporary local network of interviewing stations. All of these modules are accessed from a central home page through a pop-up menu similar to the Windows start button. Behind all of this is a single relational database which holds all of the assets or resources relating to your surveys – questionnaires, survey responses, respondents or panellists, interviewers, reports and so on. This is one of those advanced systems that moves you away from rigid boundaries of the survey to define how data are organised. The concept of the survey still exists – however more as a workflow concept. The system presents the surveys you have available to work on as a folder structure, which you can model as you wish. However, in the background, all the survey does is provide a convenient, organising view of the central data repository. Questions and response data from one survey are easily accessible from others, if you can make a connection through questions or respondents in common. This opens up endless possibilities for using your data more intelligently both in sampling and in analysis, and it makes the logistics of running one or more panels really simple. Panel management is an area Catglobe handles particularly well. At the sample selection stage, there is a wonderful tool for building ‘groups’ – which are effectively a database query. You use a group to pull a sample from the respondent database. However, this is a query tool that understands concepts such as key demographics, sample frames, frequency of previous response and interviewer resting rules. It then ties in seamlessly with the ‘communications’ module that serves invitations and reminders for web surveys. These work directly from a library of templates, so it is very quick to set up an invitation from an existing project and adapt it slightly for the survey. The system is fully multilingual, so invitations can be templated in several languages then dispatched in the appropriate one for each respondent. As it is also truly multimodal, samples can be drawn for CATI or CAWI in parallel. The workflow is well-designed, so it is not only quick to run through the process from end to end, but also flexible when changes are needed, or if the sample requires a boost part-way through the fieldwork. Panel recruitment works equally well, and there is considerable scope to automate this, including ongoing top-up recruitment. Recruitment can be by web or by telephone, and a phone recruit can be used to trigger an immediate web survey invitation for new panellists to complete their profile data. There is also an elaborate points allocation and redemption capability too, if you wish to incentivise your panel. Access to surveys and functionality is managed from the HR module, which allows you to define roles and allocate individuals to roles. Respondents and panellists are treated in the same way: everyone from the system administrator to the panel member is registered as a user and has usage rights associated with them. The majority of the system has a very cohesive appearance, which is simple to follow – it passes the test of deceiving you that you are using a desktop program, when in fact it is a browser-based web app. At the bottom of the screen are two buttons – one labelled Tools, which is the ‘start’ button that gets you to all the different modules; the other is the Folders button, which takes you to a tree view of folders containing surveys, questionnaires, templates – essentially all your data. The questionnaire editor has a somewhat different feel, and is not as well-crafted as the other modules. It does provide pretty much all of what you need, but it feels clumsy to use. You can view a list of the questions, but important details, such as the answers, can’t be seen without going into the question itself. There is no overview of the logic or routing, which makes like difficult for the scripter. There is a powerful scripting language available, and parts of the questionnaire created in the GUI can be exported out into this too, which makes writing it (and learning it) much easier. This is an excellent capability. Unfortunately, you are likely to need it more than you should if writing web or CATI interviews of even a medium level of complexity, such as creating a constrained sum set of questions. Really, more options should be built into the questionnaire editor. Also on the downside, actual users have reported sluggish performance with some of the database operations such as drawing sample or exporting results once the number of records is in the hundreds of thousands – though Catinét report that they have worked to improve this. The reporting capabilities are also unlikely to meet most users’ needs at present – there are some nice features there, but Catinét have ambitious development plans for the reporting side, so this is likely to be improved over the current year.

Customer viewpoint: Ólafur Thor Gylfason, Market and Media Research, Reykjavik

MMR moved to Catglobe a year ago, in order to move to a single interviewing platform for CATI, CAPI and web interviewing replacing a range of different packages in use to that point. As Ólafur explains: “The good thing is we have been able to use this platform for everything we do from CATI recruiting of panels to CATI phone interviews, CAPI and CAWI. “There is a powerful programming language within the software so when we do complicated surveys such as international surveys where you have to produce an exact data map afterwards, we can write the data handling programs in advance, so that when the survey is finished, we can export the data in the exact format the client requires straight away. With this programming language there is nothing you can’t do with the software, provided you have a little bit of programming experience. “Another positive thing about the software is that we use it for open-ended coding and this capability is very powerful – we can do this on the fly so that the turnaround time on projects can be reduced considerably. “We use it for CATI recruiting, and once the phone phase is completed, the automated CAWI questionnaire is sent out immediately, and everything is always interlinked, so it is very good for us. “With panel management, there are two key points. Firstly, because it is completely multimodal, and all recruitment is done by phone but recruits are immediately served a web survey to complete their profile. Everything happens at the same time. Secondly, their sampling is very easy to work with. It makes sure there is the right load across the sample and making sure that panellists get the right number of invitations, keeping track of invitations and reminders . Their ‘group builder’ is very powerful and very easy to use and the communicator, which is the email part of the system, links in with the group builder. “We have run into some problems, but the main thing for us has been that the support has been excellent – they are almost acting as a division within our company when it comes to support, so you forget about the bad things very quickly.” Published in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, February 2009, Issue 512

Vision Critical reviewed

In Brief

What it does

Web-based, hosted solution for high quality web surveys with an integrated, fully featured panel management solution and some support for online qualitative research.

Supplier

Vision Critical, Canada

Our ratings

Score 3.5 out of 5Ease of use

Score 4 out of 5Compatibility with other software

Score 4.5 out of 5Value for money

Cost

Per month: approx £1,250 for first 5000 panelists, £500 for each additional 10,000, with no cap on number of surveys, interviews or users.

Add-on modules for analysis, communities etc between £150-450 per month.

Allow £7-10,000 on-off for set-up, design and customisation.

Pros

  • Complete range of panel management and community building toolsSophisticated Web 2.0-like survey capabilities
  • Links together all a panellist’s responses to any survey across the database
  • Lets in-house researchers or smaller research firms run their own panels

Cons

  • Authoring and management is Windows and IE only

  • Limited animation support in survey tool

  • No enterprise version offered

In Depth

Given that many researchers wishing to do online research are likely to want to develop and run their own panels, it is odd that the Achilles heel of most online survey tools is still in providing decent panel management capabilities. Some get no further than giving you a database, a recruitment survey and some invitation management capabilities, others not even that far. Not so with Vision Critical, a Vancouver-based company that has spent the last three years building a very different online survey tool from the normal fare. Panel management lies at the heart of its Vision Critical web-hosted online survey tool, with not only facilities to fine-tune the selection of respondents from the panel database, but a complete range of tools to aid building the panel, nurturing a panel community and communicating with panel members and keeping it in peak interviewing condition.

Vision Critical is the first foray into technology for veteran Canadian researcher Angus Reid, and former owner of Angus Reid Group, which was acquired by IPSOS in 2000. The benefit of having a researcher shaping the technology is apparent throughout this software. More than any other online research tool I have reviewed to date, this is a product that acknowledges almost equally the needs of researchers, research clients and, with impeccable grace and style, the often overlooked needs of respondents. If you are seeking a more respondent-friendly way of conducting research, then this is certainly one to review.

The software is provided exclusively as a hosted ASP solution – Vision Critical have no plans to produce a version to install in-house. Therefore all of its capabilities are invoked from a web-browser interface. It is clear that Vision Critical is pitching for the corporate user rather than the agency, though the product should also appeal greatly to smaller research companies with no desire to run their own IT. The software comprises five key functional components: panel member administration, sampling, survey authoring tool, survey deployment and two reporting modules: a simple real-time tool, and a more advanced tool, about to emerge from beta testing.

Though it is not released yet, the new Dynamic Reports module module is intriguing – allowing you to use the same tool to run one-off reports for instant viewing, building complex reports as PDF, Word or Excel files, or publishing them to the web in the manner of a data portal for controlled viewing by clients and stakeholders – which will then change dynamically when you release more data into them. The approach here, and throughout the suite, is to not try to be too ‘clever’ in terms of functionality – avoiding options for options’ sake and going for sensible defaults so that it is easy to get started and become more sophisticated over time.

The Panel Plus module is fully released and in widespread use. It contains everything you need to run your own panel without having to recruit an army of admin staff to run it. It works with the sensible assumption that panel members should be able to self-administer their profiles, participation and reward redemption for themselves through the capabilities you can build into the panel member site. Though you can do all of this yourself, if you wish, designing the site and customising it is part of the set-up service that Vision Critical offers.

It also takes pays more than lip-service to the notion of a panel being an online community. For example, it provides the means to edit and publish your own online newsletter for panel members, which could be daily if you wished. It offers a content management system to let you publish findings and reports to your panel members, which is critical when creating ‘professional’ panels. And most interestingly in the context of Web 2.0, it offers the opportunity to blur the edge between researcher-led and participant-led qualitative discussion by integrating online forums or even blogs. It will also interact directly with commonly used Web 2.0 social networking portals.

There is a nice survey authoring tool too, which is well laid out and easy to use, with a very full range of functionality. It will also let you integrate with Java or Flash components, though it is disappointing that this otherwise futuristic tool does not have more in the way of animation and interactivity at present – though these are supposedly in the pipeline.

It is in the connection between panel and surveys that another astonishing difference emerges. The classic organisation for survey tools is to make each survey a discrete set of records, maybe linked to sample or panel indirectly, but with no actual interconnection. Some provide the mean to post back key variables into a respondent’s profile, but only to a limited extent. With Vision Critical, everything is interlinked, with every survey question answered being attached directly to the respondent’s record, and every prior answer being available for re-use. In case this sounds like chaos in the making, with a minestrone soup of a million questions to choose from, the coup de grace is that the variables are still presented as organised by survey, even though it is effectively just a slice through the database. But it means that at any time, all prior responses that a respondent has given are available to you to use for routing, sample selection or quota control – and also at the analysis stage, such as for profiling or comparison. So long as the respondent was asked the question and provided an answer, anything can be cross-referenced by anything.

But isn’t that what panel-based interviewing systems should by like?

Customer viewpoint: Dru-Ann Love, Business Week, New York

Dru Ann Love is a Primary Research Analyst at the US Publication BusinessWeek Research Services, based in New York. In addition to carrying out surveys and polls that often appear in the pages of BusinessWeek, and surveys among their print and online subscribers, the research group operates as an independent full-service custom research provider. One of its prized assets is its BusinessWeek Market Advisory Board — a controlled access panel of many thousands of business leaders and opinion formers.

This year, BusinessWeek Research Services switched to Vision Critical in order to bring control of its panel in house – although the panel is actually hosted on Vision Critical’s servers, Dru Ann is able to carry out all of the management aspects concerning the panel’s operation for herself.

Dru Ann recalls: “When we had the demo, our reaction was ‘wow!’ you can do all of this. And once we started using Vision Critical, it was really good. I enjoyed it – it was really fun.”

One of the first tasks for Vision Critical was to migrate BusinessWeek’s high-profile panel into their panel management suite.

“Their role was instrumental as we migrated our existing panel,” reports Dru Ann. “And they did a better profiling questionnaire than we had previously.” This has enabled the Research Services team to obtain much more information about their panellists.

Dru Ann also points out the sample selection capabilities as being a particular strength of this software: “I have control over who I selected, and I can verify the source of my target markets. For example, if I need to select a target of ‘all Directors or above’, I can see exactly who I’ve got, and I know to my satisfaction that I’ve got the group that I am targeting.”

Her experience with the questionnaire design module is also that it is “attractive and easy to use”. Again, Vision Critical, as a part of the migration process, defined templates so that the panel members’ portal, and also the surveys have a consistent look and feel, reflecting the BusinessWeek design ethos.

Dru Ann uses the built-in reporting features while the surveys are active. She comments: “I really like their online status report which has a feature which shows completes, so it gives me an idea of how many people are taking my survey at any particular time. If I start noticing that I am not reaching my target, then I can send another email blast to get some more respondents.” More detailed analysis is carried out in SPSS, using the capability provided in Vision Critical to create a complete SPSS file of the data.

She concludes: “I have no complaints. The software is really nice, and the people have been nice too, whenever I have needed to contact them.”

A version of this review first appeared in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, July 2007, Issue 494.