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Research Reporter reviewed

The answers clients are looking for may already be hidden in previous research. Tim Macer examines a tool that can help dig out the insights.

One of the toughest responsibilities for the market research or customer insight manager within any of the larger corporations is simply keeping track of all of the research undertaken in the last few years. Success, more often than it should, depends on the research manager having the memory of an elephant.

Fortunately there is one tool that can provide an environment where an entire library of research can be reviewed and examined as easily as carrying out a Google search, and arguably with more reliable and authoritative results. The tool is Research Reporter, and it is the main product of Insight Marketing Systems (IMS), another MR software company from Australia. It principally provides research buyers with a library and a content management system for all of their research assets.

We last reviewed this product when it was new, in 2001. Now, a healthy crop of multinational corporations across the world are using Research Reporter, and finding that it gives them a pretty tight handle not just on their research, but on the originators of that research, the MR agencies and fieldwork companies that they commission.

This is a real chameleon of a product because each installation is configured to match the needs of each company, so no two builds ever look the same. It makes Research Reporter something of a challenge to review, as the version I saw probably bears no resemblance to what others are using. But therein lies much of its power and versatility. Although the surface treatment is different, the core components allow a system to be built by IMS’s implementation specialists in a few days, generally without the need for any risky software development.

The system is fully web-enabled and works within a web browser interface. At its core is the research library, which is where all the documents for every project will reside. To use the tool properly, it is best to place all your project specific documents in the library, rather than scattered around the organization. The tool then essentially provides two ways to get at them: catalogues and searches.

The catalogue simply organises all the research, project by project, but does two things that no simple shared network drive of research reports can easily deliver. It manages all of the permissions and access rights, so that some projects are inaccessible to certain groups of users, or some documents within the project are kept confidential. Secondly, it can stop the proliferation of multiple copies of documents around the organization. This is very valuable for sensitive data. You can, for example, email a link to the document in order to distribute it to others. However, if they do not have permission to view the document, it will remain inaccessible. Either way, the document never actually moves out of the database.

Searches can be very sophisticated within Research Reporter, and contrary to most people’s expectations, they do not rely on a text search of the content of the documents, but on the use of metadata and metatags. This is why they work more accurately and do a better job at filtering out the clutter than your average web search engine. It means there is a small amount of housekeeping to do whenever a new project is added, as it must be classified or coded properly in order for the searching to work effectively. The tool makes it easy for a suitably authorised person to add documents and add the tags and summary information. In practice it takes just a few minutes to do, especially if you are familiar with the project.

One new capability is the creation of a ‘Key findings database’ which is a searchable catalogue of high level outcomes or management summaries of projects stored directly in Research Reporter. These simple textual summaries are usually hyperlinked to the more detailed documents such as the Word or PowerPoint files that make up the low level project files. It is rather like being able to review the news tasters and articles that you find on news sites such as BBC.co.uk, which then link to other sources of information, if you wish to pursue them. Often, though, the summary is all you need. Other content can be added too, and you can build more so-called databases, such as for other market intelligence, or for research standards and methodologies that do not sit inside the project-specific framework.

The tool still contains workflow capabilities to allow new projects to be tracked. Improvements here include options to override the flow, such as to miss out or repeat a step, and also enhanced support for allowing your research suppliers in, not just to upload projects, but to manage their work through your research portal, examine your standards and methodology statements or any other documents you choose to make available to them, still with the proviso that the documents are only ever viewed, and never actually leave the curtilage of your system.

The configuration tool is not something for the end user to tackle, but it is available for system technicians within the client organization to use, if they wish, for mundane tasks such as setting permissions and adding new users, right up to reconfiguring databases and workflows.

The user view: John Dimopoulos at Reckitt Benckiser

John Dimopoulos, global director market research at Reckitt Benckiser plc used Research Reporter to provide a consistent approach to research, across markets, brands and even suppliers. He comments: “Fifty per cent of the benefit we get out of Research Reporter is the library side, the other fifty per cent is the way it provides for us to store a number of other documents, on methodologies, on standards, on conferences and key papers we have received, or anything of interest that we want to make visible to people.”

The improved ease of access to existing research is encouraging what John describes as “an understanding that research must always start with what you have done before rather than keep reinventing things.”

While John welcomed the initiatives of the larger research agencies to create extranets to make results more accessible, it was resulting in an unmanageable situation where research was scattered across different portals, with different tools to access the information. Many research buyers are unhappy with the way this also locks them into suppliers. “A good thing about Research Reporter is that it allows every supplier to be global, with a global database of results, as opposed to just the large multinational suppliers that can afford that investment,” he notes.

Recently, John has experimented by allowing research partners more access to their Research Reporter system. “They can also see our standards and the methodologies we follow. We do not encourage too much diversity because we want to be able to look at our learning across countries and across time. And it takes away any excuse from the supplier that they did not know we had done the research before!”

Published in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, July 2005, Issue 470.

© Copyright Tim Macer/Market Research Society 2005. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.

Research library and knowledge management system to allow research buyers to store and retrieve all of their research assets and combine these with other information, together with a collaborative workflow model for managing current research activities.