Article #45: The Survey System

Tim Macer looks at an all-in-one survey suite that gives you all the capabilities for a fraction of the normal price

A value system


Price should never be the foremost consideration when buying a piece of software. When you are looking for a package that gives you the full range of survey capabilities - multi-media CAPI, web interviewing, CATI with voice capture, multi-media and web reporting, and so on - you would expect to pay handsomely. So how can 'The Survey System', a PC-based all-in-one suite from US producer Creative Research Systems, give you all this for a mere £2000?
The Survey System has a long pedigree and around 5000 users worldwide, mostly in North America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa plus some in continental Europe. It is completely PC-based, but allows for multiple users (on purchasing additional licenses). It is aimed at independent researchers and inhouse research facilities that want to carry out their own surveys.
The system is very comprehensive. On CAPI or CATI, there is full interviewer logic and routing and most of the options you find in the big systems. Questionnaires and tables are easily output as plain text or Word RTF documents. Reports can also be published as HTML, and users tell me it is easy for the non-technician to publish results on the web.
While the package works as one integrated menu system, it is modular in concept: you choose and pay for the modules you require. It is up to you if you want to take the internet module and deploy surveys on the web or by email. Similarly, you choose if you want the centralised sample, call and quota management for CATI, which you won't need if your target is CAPI or web. The base system costs just $499 (£340) and add-ons range from £125 to around £450. Interviewer-only licenses can be bought for about £20.
On the downside, the package is not as pretty to look at as some of its more modern rivals like Keypoint or SNAP, and it lacks the elegance of questionnaire
The Survey System: pros and cons
Pros Very comprehensive offering
Strong on voice capture
Integrated web surveys and web reports
Bargain price
Cons Windows interface seems clumsy
Not as easy to learn as some packages
No local support in UK (yet)

Click for full size image

design that you find in the heavyweights like In2quest or Visual QSL. When you use it, you are acutely aware that it has grown out of a tab package into something much larger.

It is easy for the non-technician to publish results on the web

It sits fairly comfortably in the Windows environment but to my mind misses the point of a graphical interface by hiding too many of the options away in submenus and windows that pop up, only to disappear again when you would like to be reminded of their contents. Tables and questions get a bit too tangled up for my liking, and actual column and code numbers put in an unwelcome appearance on occasion, rather than more friendly and robust methods.
These shortcomings are not insurmountable. To me, the real strengths of the package lie in its remarkably sophisticated handling of voice recording and its integration with the web.
Scott Tallal runs Insite Media Research, a small specialist TV research agency just outside Los Angeles. After using Survey System for many years, he decided to embrace CATI and to use voice capture for verbatims. 'We originally envisioned voice capture as an add on to our projects on which we would charge a premium.
Once we started, we immediately became aware that we did not want to do research any other way. An independent study has shown that between 30% and 70% of the meaning in any response is contained not in

the words but the context and the way it was said. What I take away from this as a researcher is that failure to use it will lead to false conclusions.
"This raised three issues: how do you analyse it; how do you present it and how do you deliver it to your customer. We addressed all three with Survey System. Our clients rave about it once they see what they get. It has led us to a number of conclusions that I don't think we would have managed to get to any other way.'
allal has recently published a ground-breaking study into the way local TV news is presented. The research was as a direct result of paying attention to the 'incidental' comments that respondents made which interviewers would not necessarily note down, but which, when listened to in context, had tremendous significance. Insite Media's website contains the findings of this fascinating project, and you can play back some of the verbatim comments.
For what you get, this system is a bargain. For the independents who want more control of the survey process, or want to go for voice capture, internet surveys or web reporting without spending your annual turnover on software, The Survey System could well be the answer.
Creative Research Systems

Insite Media Research

Tim Macer writes as an independent specialist in software for market research. His website is at

Published in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, September 2000, Issue 412.

© Copyright Tim Macer/Market Research Society 2000. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.

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