The latest news from the meaning blog

 

Instant Intelligence Archiving reviewed

In Brief

What it does

Secure document archiving from scanned images and additionally any electronic documents, offered as a hosted solution via a simple web-browser interface.

Supplier

Data Liberation

Our ratings

Score 5 out of 5Ease of use

Score 4.5 out of 5Compatibility with other software

Score 5 out of 5Value for money

Cost

Entry level £900 annually for 20GB storage and 5 named users. Other packages available.

Pros

  • Works with most browsers, Windows or Mac
  • Scan large volumes of paper documents very efficiently in batches
  • Scanned documents, Word or PDF documents are text searchable
  • All documents are encrypted and held at a highly secure UK data centre

Cons

  • Entry-level package assumes 5 users
  • Document retrieval is by batch process – retrieval may not be instantaneous
  • Does not provide a solution for email archiving

In Depth

A new and ingenious online document storage solution from Data Liberation could provide an easy way to get rid of all the paper cluttering up your filing cabinets or off-site secure warehousing as soon as it has been processed, and at a price that makes it cheaper than most warehouse charges. There are plenty of document management and archiving systems available on the market which allow you to scan in any paperwork – from contracts to invoices, job forms to manuscript notes. However, they tend to be very expensive to purchase, and they need a dedicated server. For security, this should be offsite, and that too adds to the cost.

Instant Intelligence Archiving is an inexpensive, self-service solution which you can sign up to with a credit card (or sign a contract and be invoiced). Your starter account will give you 20 gigabytes of storage and allow for up to 5 named users. The people at Data Liberation reckon that the scanned contents of a typical four-drawer in a filing cabinet will use up about half a gigabyte. What you don’t get is a full-blown document management system: but you can easily convert paper documents into electronic one, store them safely on the IIA secure server, and enjoy near instant access to anything you wish to retrieve.

Data Liberation are familiar with the issues of MR – they brought out a neat DIY Excel-based questionnaire design and scanning system in 2002 and they also offer bureau document capture services.
With IIA, there are just two parts to the system that matter – archiving and retrieval, and you use the same simple web interface for both.

The starting place is to plan out your filing structure, which is done online with a free-format file tree structure, with as many virtual filing cabinets at the top that you choose. Below these, you can create folders and subfolders in any structure you choose. In the slightly more expensive professional grade service, different users can be given access to different filing cabinets, which could be useful for, say, personnel records. With the structure in place, you can now populate it with documents.

To scan from scratch, a duplex sheet feeder scanner is essential. If you have a multi-function office copier/printer, this may offer duplex scanning too. However, as a duplex scanner can be purchased for as little as £370 these days. You can scan whole bundles of documents into a single file. If you wish to separate them, a barcoded separator sheet can be allocate a sheaf of pages into different files without having to stop and start the scanner. Once scanned, you give each file a sensible name, and upload them.

If you currently scan your questionnaires for OCR data capture, provided there are TIFF images available you would be able to upload these too – there would be no need to rescan.

Once uploaded, files can be renamed or moved, but not be altered or deleted. This is an important security feature – if a document such as a contract was subject to dispute, your timestamped scanned image would be accepted by courts in the UK as being as good as the paper version on the day it was scanned.

This is a highly secure system. The archive server is also in one of the UK’s most secure data centres run by BT at Cardiff and favoured by many of the big, security-conscious corporates. All documents uploaded are encrypted in transit and on the sever, so nobody except the account holder can see what the document contains.

Retrieval can be done by navigating through folder structure. Any document selected will be presented in a readable preview format on screen, which you can also print. If you want the document or entire folder back on your PC, you can request a download. To balance load on the server, this is a batch process, and there could be a delay while it is prepared. When it is ready, a link is emailed to you, and you have to log in again to download it.

When documents are scanned, OCR conversion also takes place, so there is electronic text to back up the image, and this text is also available for you to do text searches. The text can be a bit hit-and-miss, especially if the original document was in a poor condition, or used a hard-to-convert font.

If you need to convert space occupied by filing cabinets into extra desk-space, this technology is likely to pay for itself from day one, and it certainly makes getting documents out of the archive very easy.
The client view

Continental Research had already been using Instant Intelligence to scan survey questionnaires, before adopting Instant Intelligence Archiving this year, in a bid to reduce the amount of paper it was storing.

“We have probably cleared 40 to 50 filing cabinets so far”, claims Greg Berry, Technology Director at Continental Research. “Like most research companies, we have masses of filing cabinets everywhere containing everything from job sheets to personnel records.”

The company started by looking at document management and archiving systems, but was deterred by the high cost of ownership, not only for the software but also the servers and physical infrastructure needed too. “They were expensive and contained functionality we did not need,” observes Berry. “Essentially we need good quality electronic images stored in a format that we can retrieve quickly. “

Moving from physical files to electronic images has been more straightforward than Berry first imagined, as he was able to follow closely the existing filing structure, which was a structure that everyone understood. He notes: “We are still using paper for the live job, but when it is finished, we scan it, and we can then send the paper for storage, or, more and more now, we can send it straight for destruction.”

A dedicated scanner, with duplex capabilities is used, and three members of staff in the Quality Control department are tasked to look after the scanning. Unlike printers, scanners do require more supervision to keep them busy, though the scanner can be left for several minutes to process each batch.

“Because we have mimicked the structure of our filing system, it also means retrieval is very easy. We also use it for disaster recovery purposes. Holding all that paper on site is not ideal, for if we had had a fire or a flood, and the paper was damaged, it would have been virtually impossible to recreate those records. Now, it is offsite, it is in a secure data centre, and the images, as they are scanned, are encrypted and logged so they cannot be altered. That also means if we did have to relocate in a disaster, we would still have access.”

Several different departments have warmed to the system quickly. “Coding use it a lot to look up old codeframes: a lot of the notes they have by hand. Field use it to check on old jobs, when they think something has come up which is similar. And scanning questionnaires is very useful, even if you have already entered the data. We keep all paper questionnaires for two years. We have already cut down on our external storage too, so it has already saved money there.”

A version of this review first appeared in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, June 2008, Issue 504

Remark Office OMR and Remark Office Web 6 Reviewed

In Brief

What it does

A pair of related survey tools designed for DIY surveys on paper, with automated data entry using robust OMR scanning, or online surveys, which share a common data format and set of analytical tools at the back end.

Supplier

Gravic

Our ratings

Score 4 out of 5Ease of use

Score 2 out of 5Compatibility with other software

Score 5 out of 5Value for money

Cost

Remark office OMR $895. Remark Office Web $950. One off costs which includes telephone or email support and software updates within current version plus 50%+ discount on new versions.

Pros

  • Simple straightforward survey tool at a bargain price.
  • Does not require special printing for scannin
  • Can tie together data from paper and web
  • Everything runs on your own PC and web server

Cons

  • No character recognition capability in scan module
  • Lacks email invitations and reminders web module
  • Limited reporting options, especially for cross-tabs
  • Fiddly to create really nice-looking web surveys

In Depth

here are almost too many online survey tools to choose from these days – yet the choice narrows down considerably when you seek a single solution for fielding surveys on paper and online. If you need both and are on a tight budget, then Remark Office could give your productivity and independence a welcome boost.

Remark Office actually comprises two different products, which you purchase separately: Remark Office OMR, for automatic data capture of survey forms, and Remark Office Web, for online surveys. Though they work independently, the underlying data format is the same, and a survey set up on paper can be imported into the web module, so that the data can share the same layout, and they can be brought together easily for analysis, using the integrated cross-tab and statistical reporting module.

To use the OMR module you design your questionnaire in Word, with tickboxes and write-in fields to capture the answers. There are a few simple conventions to follow when laying these out, which are explained in tutorials provided by Gravic. Basically, keep things lined up, avoid gratuitous rules and boxes round boxes, and don’t put things too close together.

The software actually recognises three different types of data: tickbox fields for pre-coded questions, image fields, either for open-ended or numeric questions, or barcodes.

Barcodes are useful for customer surveys, so that you can tie the questionnaire into demographics or other data already known, and pull in data from an external file for analysis. This is simply achieved by having a unique identifier for each record, which could be a customer ID or your own made up number. You then use Word’s mailmerge to print this identifier on each separate survey form and send out the appropriate forms to the appropriate people. Gravic even provide you with a special barcode font to use in Word. Simply applying this font to your identifier converts it into a barcode readable by the scanner.

Tickboxes can also take on a variety of shapes beyond just squares. Where there is less flexibility is over write-in fields for text or numbers. Remark is strictly OMR only, and there is no support for handprint number or letter recognition, unlike many other data capture solutions. It makes the task of collecting a price or a postcode into a lengthy manual process. Gravic claim this is due to the ‘unreliability’ of intelligent character recognition as a technology. It is a specious argument: handprint recognition reached a level of viability fifteen years ago, and has only got better since. The case for leaving it out is probably more down to cost, and it may not be something everyone needs. For me, this is a serious omission.

Remark Office OMR is essentially a legacy forms tool, so to get the form ready for data capture you scan in a blank form and then use their software to define the page in terms of the questions, answers and expected values. When you define a new project there is a wizard that steps you through the task in a relatively painless way, and the software has the intelligence to be able to recognise what are likely to be answer fields when you draw a box around the relevant area of the scanned image using your mouse. All in all, you are likely to spend little more than 15–30 minutes setting up each A4 sheet.

The web survey tool has the advantage that it is fairly quick to use, through it does not have the instant ease and web feel that some of the rival online tools have and feels a bit dated. At least survey instruments are page-oriented, not just one long scrolling form. You can add several questions to one page very easily, and incorporate routing too. But the look of the online survey is uninspiring and appears hard to change.

It can be spiced up with some graphics, which are easy enough to add, but the product lacks the concept of CSS-driven independent style templates.

There is support for password-controlled access to surveys, and the ability for respondents to break off and resume a survey at a later time. Oddly, there is no invitation or reminder facility. However, Gravic are currently re-working the web module, so there is hope that some of these lacks will be overcome. It does have the big advantage that surveys can be deployed on your own web server, once again offering a very low-cost alternative to even the cheapest hosted solutions.

Reporting capabilities are reasonably good. As you might expect, this is not a power-reporting tool, but it goes further than many DIY products with the range of statistics that it offers. It will create statistical reports, summary reports and charts for all of your questions automatically, which will get you off to a flying start with your analysis. Cross tabs are different, and you have to create these one by one – and one question by another is the limit for each table. For in-depth analysis and segmentation, you can use the SPSS .SAV file export route to take it into another program.

It’s a program that does what it says it will, does it accurately, reliably and doesn’t cost the earth. Look on its simplicity as a virtue, and you could be in on a real bargain.

Country Report: United States. Remark Office in action at The City College of New York

Ed Silverman is the Director of Institutional Research at City College, part of the City University of New York, and is responsible for compiling data and carrying out research on the college and its courses. This he does single handedly for the most part, with the aid of Remark Office. Ed is passionate about what can be learned from surveys among students, employers and other ‘customers’ of the college.

Ec explains: “An example of one our marketing-type surveys was to find out ‘what do adult learners want to do?’ for our continuing education programme here. With Remark on paper, you can create a form which is simple to fill in, and which will capture what they say. We took it to events like street fairs, handed them out and we asked people to fill them in. We gave them a bunch of options and asked them what else they would like to see. Remark will capture what they wrote. That’s very useful when can you bring all the comments together and sort them in Word, because you start to notice things you had never thought of – and that means other people haven’t either. It’s great if we can offer courses that other people aren’t.”

“With employers, it is hard to get them to fill out a survey. But if we send them a URL and the survey is short, we get good results. But we also find that some of the managers, especially those in the older age groups, are uncomfortable with the web, so we send them a paper survey. By taking this mixed approach, we have had a number of responses from people who have never responded before.

“For me it is a time game. I have a huge amount of work, and the less time I can take, the happier I am. I can put together a survey in Remark in minutes – especially if you use templates. You can simply copy and paste questions from one survey into another, and that way, when someone asks you for something urgent, you can create something literally in minutes.”

Asked to sum up the benefits, Ed reels off a lengthy list: “It is inexpensive. For scanning, it does not require any special paper or printing and it’s really quick and easy to learn. It is reliable – there just aren’t any glitches. It is incredibly easy to upload to the web, and then to download the data when you are done. It makes savings all round.

Besides the surveys, I have a lot of other work to do. It saves an enormous amount of time. I could not survive without this.

Working with this software is really easy. It’s no problem to create a questionnaire and it does not take much time to learn – you can learn what you need to make the questionnaire after one or two hours.

A version of this review first appeared in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, September 2007, Issue 496

Instant Intelligence reviewed

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.

Supplier

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

Cost

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.

Pros

  • 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

Cons

  • 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