Article #31: Design and Scan systems - Formic, Pinpoint, SNAP

MR Starts to reap benefits of scanning

The case for scanning questionnaires is compelling: it is faster, quicker and usually far cheaper than paying people to key them in. It is also more accurate, brings numerous downstream benefits and there are now several systems designed specifically for market research. So why are so few organizations using this method to enter their data?
With a scanner, completed questionnaires are read at high speed and digitised images are stored on your computer for interpretation by the scanning package. The software interprets the answers, translating them into codes and values for analysis, exactly as if the data had been punched in by hand. In addition to reading tickboxes with perfect accuracy, the best systems also handle numeric and text fields. Formic, SNAP and Pinpoint all incorporate a design module in which you create your questionnaire. With others, you train the system to recognise a questionnaire already created. Both approaches have their virtues.

The three main design and scan systems ascend in both cost and functionality. Each produces handsome looking questionnaires. Pinpoint and SNAP also include full analysis capabilities.

Scanning is an ideal solution to the limits of time and resources

Pinpoint, from Longman Software, offers scanning through a module called Remark. It is an optical mark reading (OMR) solution, so it only interprets tickboxes and does not cope with numeric or openended data. While design options are limited, the overall simplicity of the program, its attractive looking questionnaires and very modest price make it an appealing solution for simple self-completion surveys.
Mercator's SNAP is a much more rounded offering. The optional scan module integrates with all the other SNAP tools which cover every stage of the research process, right down to some pretty good stats.

There is much greater flexibility of design, and a wide range of output styles. Re-usability is a strong point with SNAP and it is easy to re-use components from old surveys, or draw questions from pre-defined libraries questions instead of writing everything from scratch each time. In addition to tickboxes, SNAP will accurately read handwritten number and date fields. It also has good support for coding on-line working with the scanned images, and excellent editing and validation options.
Dr Biddy Ridler, a busy hospital doctor who also carries out research and audit work on behalf of the Vascular Surgical Society has found scanning to be an ideal solution to the limits of time and resources.
"I've used SNAP for three or four years and I like it." She told me, while fuelling her scanner with more questionnaires. A typical survey runs to eight fairly complex pages and 1400 cases. "It is fast. I don't have anyone to help, so if there's anything that can cut down the workload, I need to know about it. I'm not




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Good editing, cleaning & coding
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Flexible design

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an IT person but I feel comfortable with this. The advantage with it is that it's all under one umbrella: questionnaire design, producing the database, scanning and, if you want it, there's an analysis package all there."
Dr Ridler was delighted with the support she has received when she did experience difficulties. The biggest problem has been getting forms printed in bulk with total accuracy so that they will scan. Finding a reliable printing firm has been the answer in Dr Ridler's case. Another plus is SNAP's open architecture which has made it easy to integrate with other systems. "No software is perfect, but I find it does what I want it to do. I'm very pleased with it".
Formic, the most compre- hensive design-and-scan system, concentrates solely on scanning. The design module is the one that is most like a DTP package.
Formic offers broader support for different data types, including intelligent character recognition, or "ICR". It processes multiple surveys at once, in mixed batches, and allows multi-user imaging and coding. It offers full archiving

features. An archive management tool, in the pipeline, will make paperless storage and retrieval of questionnaires a reality. It also lets you do a number of clever things like pre-printing forms with data which can then be scanned in again On the other hand, SNAP has the edge with editing and cleaning, as it supports routing and questionnaire logic.
A couple of years back, Formic was beset by instability problems in a new release of the software and users found themselves in the thick of it, while the needs of MR took a back seat. Happily, there is now a new management team at Formic keen to move Formic forward, including providing solutions that are tailored to MR.
I spoke to Gary Calderwood, head of Quantitative Analysis at Entri Research Ltd. Entri introduced Formic in 1994 and use it extensively on interviewer administered surveys, as well as some self completion.
"We chose Formic because the overhead in maintaining a bureau for data entry was basically outweighed by the cost of buying the software and the benefit of

using it, and it is still true. We had some very bad experiences with Formic two years ago, but we basically stuck it out. But the software has become more than just a data entry tool: there are other benefits downstream, like the archiving procedure."
Entri have clarified the position with the MRS Code of Conduct with regard to maintaining records for the statutory two years, and now use Formic archived images as their primary records in cases where the client has given consent.
"The design element of Formic allows you to produce first class almost camera ready copy for distribution. It's certainly as flexible as, say, Word. I'm surprised when talking to other people in the industry that they are not using this. I find it hard to imagine how we could do as much business as we do without scanning."
Does scanning have an image problem? It works, it saves money, time and effort, improves the quality of your data and reduces the risk of your workers suffering from RSI. So why isn't it selling?

Published in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, July 1999, Issue 398.

© Copyright Tim Macer/Market Research Society 1999. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.

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