Article #47: Bellview 7


Tim Macer evaluates the beta test version of Bellview 7, a new and improved update of the old CATI system

Getting a better view

 

A completely new Bellview system, the workhorse of many a CATI centre around the globe, has just been unveiled by Pulse Train. Bellview comes with a 20-year pedigree and a hard-earned reputation for robustness and stability. Working on Compaq/DEC Open VMS, UNIX or Windows NT, it had suffered in recent years from its clumpy, old-fashioned interface and closed, to the point of impenetrable, system architecture. Bellview 7, which has just entered a four to six month beta test period, looks set to blow away those cobwebs.
The closed, non-standard file structure has been banished. In a single bound, Pulse Train has leapfrogged the faux-database snare that is Microsoft Access and gone straight for industrial strength and openness by using a SQL Server database. An Oracle implementation follows. This has numerous implications, the most exciting of which for any MR company is the improved data flow that will be possible around the organization.
The most noticeable change with Bellview 7 is its new Windows Explorer-type interface for the supervisor menus, from which you control all aspects of the system. Gone is the plodding 'enter a number and press return twice' interface, to be replaced by cool icons, colour, right mouse clicks and drop-down lists. It will be interesting to see how supervisors actually get on with it, as it is, without question, much more complicated. It does, however, offer techniques for simplification and refinement that the old system never did. Short cuts can be created and access rights can be set for different users or classes of users, which you can also define, so the actual environment your supervisors experience is very much under your control.
This modular approach also applies to the way the system can be configured across any number of servers you choose, allowing you to do the sort of load balancing that heavy traffic
Bellview 7: pros and cons
Pros
Open architecture built on SQL Server database
Flexible and customisable Windows supervisor interface
Seamless integration of CATI and web
Cons

Dumb terminals not yet supported
Changing call-back rules required programming effort
High-speed entry and scanning not fully integrated

Click for full size image

You can now supervise surveys across the web from one side of the globe to the other

Internet sites do. If the system becomes overloaded, you simply add another server, but unlike old Bellview, this makes no difference to how you distribute your work between interviewers and surveys.
A strong selling point is its total integration with Bellview Web, both for supervisors and interviewers. Surveys can be a blend of web self-completion, CATI done locally on a LAN or remotely via the web. For the first release, interviewers can only use the HTML interface, so anyone upgrading from an existing 'dumb terminal' site will have to wait for the next release for support. Supervisors have a choice between a Windows or web interface with a reduced set of options. You can now supervise surveys across the web, if you want to, from one side of the globe to the other.

HTML screens suffer from the problem that it is hard for another screen to monitor what is being entered while it is being entered - a function most CATI centres consider vital. Pulse Train has managed to overcome this where the PCs are on the same LAN or WAN, though CATI outposts connected across the Internet will remain invisible to the supervisor for the time being.
Bellview 7 allows you to attach Visual Basic or Javascript scripts to any processes on the system, providing another open interface to the outside world. However, I was sad to see the developers had opted out of providing an integrated end-user

interface for supervisors to alter callback strategies in the way you can in 1by1's Results or Voxco's CATI systems. In Bellview, you have to write some VB or Javascript.
Things are not what they seem when it comes to mixing other modes of interviewing. The rapid data entry mode of old Bellview has been dropped from this version, Bellview Scan is effectively a standalone product and is a long way from being integrated with Bellview 7. Sadly, producing topline reports on live data is still a many-stage process that takes you out of the system, rather than being the one-click option it is in several rival products.
ORC International runs a 100-station Bellview site in London. Ben Davis, DP Manager, is 'almost certainly planning to migrate.' He was impressed with a number of features. 'The first thing is the openness - the fact it is based on open recognised standards - and it supports OLE. It means we can bridge the gap between IT and DP. There are so many things we would like to do but can't, because the data is held on a different platform. This way we will be able have information flowing throughout the whole company.'
Davis also liked the different access levels, and envisages shaping different, protected environments for fieldwork supervisors, research execs, IT and DP users. 'The priority is fault tolerance. Stability and robustness: this is what I will be looking for.'

Pulse Train Technology
www.pulsetrain.com

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


Published in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, November 2000, Issue 414.

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

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