Hunt for the killer app

Is mrInterview the killer app we've all been waiting for? If it supported CATI and CAPI it could have a chance. Tim Macer reviews

SPSS MR, internationally the largest provider of MR software solutions, has just released mrInterview, the first data collection product in its new generation Dimensions range. In its current incarnation, mrInterview only supports web surveys, but future releases will add CATI, CAPI and other media, gradually making it useful to the other 99% of fieldwork.
As we would expect from a developer with SPSS MR’s resources, it contains some impressive innovations, such as its novel ‘activation wizard’. This simplifies the rather messy and error-prone process of getting all of the files and scripts needed on the web server down to a few simple questions about sampling, authentication method and which servers to use (you pick from a drop-down list). Click OK and the ‘wizard’ does all the tedious work.
Changing questionnaires mid-survey is also no longer a problem. The wizard also exploits the behind-the-scenes infrastructure SPSS MR has created with its unique Data Model to manage multiple versions of a survey. Interviews migrate to the latest version, and there is no nasty recoding to deal with as the Data Model will always present you with the latest, logically complete data.
Equally good is the new project management tool, which is surely a taste of things to come. It gives researchers and fieldwork supervisors total control over all their projects, and offers some sophisticated real-time analysis, including both cross-tabs and charts. It is a great feature marred only by the lack of any ability to pre-define or re-use any of these reports – for this you need to switch to a different application.
The greatest disappointment is the current lack of a new generation authoring tool. Anyone wanting to use mrInterview must write his or her scripts in the somewhat dated Quanquest or the more contemporary but growth-stunted In2quest. SPSS MR’s Surveycraft users have drawn the short straw. It is not supported. Despite this, scripts are quick to develop, because you only need to use a reduced set of functionality in either of the authoring tools. All the formatting and appearance considerations are handled in mrInterview’s independent templates –
SPSS MR: www.spssmr.com

Pros
  • Advanced project management environment
  • Totally automated survey deployment
  • Rich API for customising or developing your own software
  • Industrial strength system architecture.
Cons
  • Survey scripting in 'old' products
  • Only web interviews supported at present.
another very powerful feature that makes it easy to incorporate advanced Java-driven web effects into your interview.
NOP World has recently decided to standardise on mrInterview and the other SPSS MR Dimensions products for its worldwide data collection activities. A major attraction was the vast developer’s toolbox or API (application programmer interface) that NOP plans to use to build its own software around mrInterview and other Dimensions products.
"No other group offered the full API in the way SPSS MR does," comments David Zotter, NOP’s Director of Developing Technologies. "Some offered ‘source code’ access, but that wasn't going to meet our needs. Next year, we will be creating ten major technology products all of which will all be compatible with and totally integrated into Dimensions."
Before becoming one of mrInterview’s earliest adopters, Zotter spent several months analysing all the major vendor’s survey products in depth.
"We even had external consultancies critique our findings," he explains. "There are some surprising issues with some of the leading players that just aren't noticeable on the surface. So often, the package is a hodge-podge mess, written in different languages, with no overall thought to architecture."
NOP World is now successfully using mrInterview on its own web servers. But
the next goal is to transfer all of its web data collection activities to a vast web server facility being set up by SPSS MR in Florida. In a neat reversal of the accepted ASP model, SPSS MR will be hosting and maintaining 30 of NOP’s own servers within the new server farm, running SPSS MR’s software, as well as the applications NOP is to create, such as client service portals and online respondent communities.
Zotter is impressed with the team SPSS MR has put together to run the facility and finds the prospect of dealing with one sympathetic vendor for hardware, software and applications highly appealing.
"We want to increase our own server resources to accommodate significant and sustainable step ups in traffic – rather than being forced to always accommodate peak demand."
Unless you have the resources and commitment to build your own solutions around the Dimensions tools, and fill in the current gaps, for now, mrInterview is most likely to appeal to those already using SPSS MR’s Quancept or In2quest products.
Once SPSS MR adds in CATI, CAPI and paper support, this looks like it could be the killer app MR is looking for.

SPSS MR: www.spssmr.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 2001, Issue 426.

© Copyright Tim Macer/Market Research Society 2001. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.

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