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Techneos Entryware 6.0 Reviewed

Tim Macer takes a look at a new mobile interviewing solution for handheld devices. Will he get carried away?

There is a good case to be made for specialisation when it comes to mobile CATI or handheld data collection, because of the depth of knowledge required by the software provider in the rapidly evolving fields of hardware and mobile communications. Techneos came early to the market, specialised and produced a ground-breaking product which has spawned many imitators. But for some buyers, its sole allegiance to the Palm OS, rather than Windows, made it too specialised for comfort. Version 6, which has just been released, changes that by providing support across the range of Windows devices, from Windows tablets or touchscreen/kiosk devices to PocketPCs and the new Ultra-mobile mini-tablet PCs, in addition to Palm.

Rather than re-implement, Techneos make use of a Palm emulator on the Windows devices, though this is not apparent to the user. Both the software and the emulator have a tiny footprint, so it leaves plenty of room for data on even the smallest devices. This approach also means that a survey written for one type of device will run on any other. There are only three fairly specialised features which are Windows-specific, which will fall back to less sophisticated counterparts on a Palm in each case. Indeed, a survey written for a Palm PDA will dynamically scale itself up to the larger screen of a Windows laptop or tablet. Texts re-flow and pop-up lists become grids on the larger screen, for instance. It is a true design-once- deploy-to-all multimodal approach within the different modes of CAPI.

Capturing verbatims has never been a strong point of mobile CAPI. Entryware will now support sound capture as an alternative to soft keyboard entry for open questions.

While most people think of handheld CAPI in an interviewer-administered context, Techneos realised that it can also do a better job than pen and paper in many self-completion situations too. Entryware 6 contains an ingenious set of features to support diary studies. To start with, the questionnaire runs as a captive application on the device, so the respondent cannot break out of the survey without knowing the special password the fieldwork managers use to set up the device and unload the data at the end of the assignment. It makes the device useless for anything else, so therefore not worth pinching. In the meantime, the survey can loop around, almost endlessly, collecting the next recordable episode at the time it occurs . For respondents, it is simply a matter of tapping on very simple step-by-step instructions on screen, and at the end, the device will snooze until the next event.

A great feature is the ability to set a reminder, either by time of day, or a relative time (e.g one hour later). It can even be programmed to allow the respondent to determine the times they want to be prompted. Not surprisingly, users have been reporting that they are getting more data from diary surveys where the questionnaire actually reminds the respondent to fill in the next event and there is a strong feeling that the data also truer, being closer to the event. The timestamp in the data provides useful authentication too. Multi-level data structures have never presented a problem to Entryware, so diaries can be more sophisticated that you would dare to create on paper.

The route through the software, from design, to deployment to data is highly streamlined. Design takes place in a Windows application which is simple and straightforward to use, and the actual appearance of the survey on the target device can be simulated to check everything fits. Options abound for data transfer, either by direct ‘push’ to each device, via a PC Workstation and cable, cradle or bluetooth, or ‘pulled’ from the device over the Internet. Whenever an internet connection is available, the device will constantly poll for new surveys or instructions, and hand back any data collected, or checking quotas. But if the connection is severed, it will work in standalone mode without restriction, and synchronise again when it can. Internet communications are provided via Techneos’ hosted Entryware Server service, as an extra cost.

Entryware 6 also introduces the ability to interact with other applications, such as to perform database lookups or conversions, or to interface to your own custom research technique. Applications can be written in Jscript or Visual Basic, two very common programming languages.

Perhaps the weakest area of Entryware is in the reports it provides, where there are virtually no options to change or customise them. They present an unflattering picture of an otherwise immensely capable and versatile application, well crafted to take the pain out of applying technology to fieldwork managers, interviewers and even respondents of every level of technical ability.

The User View

Matt Crane, Data Manager, Arnold+Bolingbroke on Entryware

Arnold + Bolingbroke, a London and Sydney-based international research consultancy, was looking for handheld technology it could apply to self-completion diary studies. The solution needed to be foolproof enough for ordinary people to use.

Matt Crane, Arnold + Bolingbroke’s Data Manager, drew a blank on an off-the-shelf handheld diary solution, but was impressed with the potential he saw in Entryware. Starting from a handful of experimental devices three years ago, the company now has 1000 Palm PDAs running Entryware which shuttle around the globe, from respondent to respondent.

Matt explains: “The idea was to put a standard diary questionnaire on a PDA and give it to respondents, who could then keep it and fill it in on an hourly basis over a period of days. We put together a basic questionnaire on a PDA, but at that time had not worked out how we would get respondents to complete this on an hourly basis. The calendar functions within PDA are not good enough. So we spoke to Techneo and they developed their Entryware software to take into account this need for the diary. We now have the functionality within Entryware to program an alarm function which repeatedly lets the respondent know it is time to complete the next section of the survey.

“The beauty of the PDA survey is that people can take them with them wherever they are going, with a few exceptions. For instance, we ask respondents to turn them off if they are going to a cinema or a meeting. We also added a feature to put the diary functionality on snooze, so it will not beep at them during the night, or if they were driving a car. With pen and paper, people forget to take them with them. The diary is designed to be a very simple set of questions at any one stage, so you do not get respondent fatigue. We kept it very simple and as a result we get very rich data.

Published in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, October 2006, Issue 485

© Copyright Meaning Ltd 2006. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.

Mobile interviewing solution for handheld devices.

Ease of use
Cross-platform compatibility

Value for money

Entry level (1 designer + 5 handheld licences) approx £525 annually; additional handheld licences for data capture approx . £55 annually. Handheld devices from around £50 each. Entryware server (for Internet communications) around £50 annually.