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Rosetta Studio 1.4 reviewed

The preparation of Powerpoint presentations is time consuming. Tim Macer reviews a software package that can streamline the process.

Whatever the merits of PowerPoint, the research industry is hooked on the tool. Whereas ‘the presentation’ once meant the meeting in which research findings came out for discussion, it is now just as likely to mean the click-through picture book of PowerPoint slides despatched by email.

Given their abundance, you could be forgiven for thinking that most market research systems produce them at the click of a button. Not so: in reality, they are usually forced out reluctantly after an RSI-inducing frenzy of mouse-clicking spread out over several hours. It is this activity that Rosetta Studio, from ATP Canada, seeks to streamline.

At one end, you feed in a set of industry-standard cross-tabs and at the other end, out pops one or more PowerPoint documents or Excel workbooks. In between the two is a fairly simple editor which presents a list of all the tables in the batch and over which you simply drag and drop one of any number of pre-defined templates in order to turn a boring, flat cross-tab file into a colourful bar or pie charts, or decent-looking summaries according to what the templates have been designed to do.

The key to any automated conversion of tables to charts lies with the software’s ability to understand the structure of each table, separate frequencies from percentages, labels from headers and subheaders and so on. Other programs do this by building a lot of intelligence into the front-end table loader so the software can determine how each table is structured by applying some rules-based guesswork. It means those tools are not limited to any one tabulation package. However, no ‘table parser’ (as this method is called) can be infallible, and some checking and correction is usually needed. By contrast, Rosetta Studio goes to the horse’s mouth, and gets the exact structure from whatever file the originating software uses, to define the files. It makes for quick and reliable imports.

But this does limit the tool to those systems it has knowledge of: currently Quantum, CfMC Mentor or Wincross , though ATP seem keen to build other imports on demand. There is even talk of a more general XML importer - hopefully TabsML, as this is already supported by some MR software packages.

Once in the editor, it is fairly easy to work through your list of tables, editing out rows and columns, changing texts, and choosing the output style. To do the latter, you work through a series of property sheets. You can see the effect of these in a preview window. This almost makes it WSYWYG but not quite. Moreover, you cannot be sure what your page is really going to look like in PowerPoint or Excel in this generic preview until you export the whole run.

On the other hand, the way you interact with templates is most inspired. Once you have perfected the look of a chart or table, you just drag it across to the template pane on the right. Here you can give it a meaningful name, then proceed to drag it back on other tables in your list on the left. They then inherit that ‘look’ which, if it is a chart, also includes the chart type. Icons attached to your tables tell you if a template has been applied and even if you have then applied any local overrides to the template’s default settings. You can edit and update templates, and all pages attached to them will all change in sync.

When you save your job, you can save it as a library of templates too, so it is ready for the next run. It means, once you have a decent portfolio of templates, most routine jobs can be reformatted for PowerPoint in ten or fifteen minutes from scratch.

The latest version adds other intelligent features for continuous work such as merging in just the latest wave of data to an otherwise existing run, so you are not having to re-run all the data each time.

But the program does not offer as much output precision as some users are likely to demand for high profile presentation materials. It can be hard to fit charts on the page or ensure texts on bar charts do not over-run, for instance. Although these are things you are likely to get used to with some practice.

The difficulties arise because you are effectively steering from the rear; Rosetta uses a ‘push’ technology, in which fully formed PowerPoint pages get written out, rather than the ‘pull’ approach favoured by E-Tabs Enterprise and others, in which you define a series of data-ready empty decks of PowerPoints specific to each table into which data are pulled in.

The pull route gives more control, but there is more involved in setting up each run. Rosetta’s push method means you can be pumping out the tables in minutes, but this means the charts often land on the PowerPoint deck with a visible splat. Regular users tend to overcome this by writing macros in PowerPoint or Excel, which is, at least, one way round the problem.

In the end, it comes down to the complexity of your output. If you are happy with the output Rosetta can produce, this program is likely to save you days, if not months of people time over a year. It also takes the fear out of going back to DP or Production to ask them to redo all the PowerPoints because you noticed three cases were missing.

The user view: Anne Happach at General Mills

Anne Happach, a data processing coordinator at General Mills Consumer Insight, has been using Rosetta Studio for the past year to provide presentation-ready charts and tables in PowerPoints which previously were painstakingly produced by hand, cutting and pasting data from Quantum tables. Anne estimates that a typical set of around 30 pages of tables and charts can be produced in about a quarter of an hour. Manually, this represents hours of work.

“The real benefit is just how quick it is,” Anne reports. “There are very few clicks involved. I do not have to define my chart and choose the font size, or which direction the chart goes. It save a lot of time, and saves our Project Directors’ time too, who were having to do this by hand before.” Another benefit she cites is improved accuracy and reliability of the charts, as the process is largely automated and there is no re-typing of data, which also reduces the cycle time for checking and making corrections.

“Overall. I think it has worked well for me. I do not have to recreate the wheel every time, and I have been able to train other people fairly quickly to use it. I do like it, though I have come to realise that it cannot not do everything for everyone.”

Published in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, September 2005, Issue 472.

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

Automates the creation of charts and summary tables in PowerPoint or Excel from the output from several standard cross-tab packages including Quantum.

Ease of use
Cross-platform compatibility
Value for money