Something for everyone

Want to switch between GUI and script editing with ease? Tim Macer examines Pulse Train's latest offering - fun for all programmers.

True multi-mode interviewing comes tantalisingly close, with the latest version of Bellview Web from Pulse Train. The solution, with a PC-based visual authoring tool, web-based survey management and real-time reporting, offers a state of the art end-to-end solution with a twist. Cleverly, hidden beneath the surface is QSL, Pulse Train's proprietary questionnaire design language, which also drives Bellview CATI, CAPI and the firm's muscular paper and scanning solution.
While others debate about whether it's better to design a questionnaire script using syntax or a GUI (graphical user interface), Pulse Train leaves the choice to you. It actually offers three modes for designing your questionnaire and lets you skip between them at will. Old QSL hacks can simply open the syntax window and write QSL from scratch. Another view presents an explorer-style tree with pop-up windows in which every one of the hundreds of options in the language are represented. Unlike some other visual editors, it appears there is nothing you cannot do from the GUI.
The third, brand new view is one where questions are written in a kind of questionnaire preview mode, so they look like printed questionnaire (though not a web survey). It's the simplest and fastest way to set up the bare bones of a questionnaire, and is well suited to the research exec who is going to leave the finer details of logic and programming to a technical specialist. But it's not an exact preview: the final appearance of the web screens is still too many steps away for my liking.
A separate tool called the BVC editor is used to assign web templates, change the appearance of buttons and give the overall look and feel. Here things get a bit more technical.
The good news is you can do almost anything from this tool - it offers real flexibility for any web-savvy programmer. The bad thing is that the links between vQSL and BVC are, at times, tenuous. For example, if you add images, such as product packages, or logos when designing your questionnaire in vQSL, you need to list them again here to resolve the file references. Get out of step, and you could unwittingly be showing your respondents the wrong pictures.
Survey deployment is a doddle. A one-click operation creates a 'survey package", which is a single file you can upload either to Pulse Train's web bureau server, or to your own.
Bellview Web from Pulse Train
Pros
  • Sophisticated but easy-to-use end-to-end solution
  • Excellent real-time stats and management
  • Three-in-one design tool offering syntax, pop-ups or page mode
  • Good for complex surveys
Cons
  • Arms-length preview facilities
  • Linking to images and multimedia objects not fail-safe
  • Some baffling terminology
After this, you control the survey by logging into a web portal, rather bafflingly called the IMK (Internet management kit). The software as a whole suffers from being rather heavy on geek-speak, even in the areas intended for non-technical users.

"Clients are up for having more autonomy and control."

Sampling, quota controls, and more are controlled from the IMK easily and efficiently. BVWeb does not provide a panel management solution, but has all the right hooks and an open SQL Server database underneath to make integration easy. The IMK also contains wonderfully clear statistics, so you can easily audit the progress of surveys as well as the number of completes and average times spent at each question.
Relevant Knowledge, the Internet research arm of The Sample Surveys Research Group, switched to Bellview WEB from one of the ASP-delivered survey packages in order to escape a number limitations. Chris Forrest, Director of Relevant Knowledge, reports: "By having an open HTML front end, it has opened up the universe for us, so that we can match anything the client wishes and personalise for any scenario. You are limited only by your imagination."

The company designs its surveys in-house using vQSL, then uses the IMK on Pulse Train's web sever to deploy the surveys. Forrest praised both the stability, reporting "hardly any downtime", and Pulse Train support's willingness to help when questions arise over unusual techniques or requirements.
"The IMK is very useful for monitoring time taken on a question," Forrest pointed out. "Alarm bells can start ringing quite early if there is an issue with a survey. By using this system it allows you to take corrective action."
Relevant Knowledge has also set up viewing privileges for one client across the web, which can save a lot of day-to-day phone calls about completion rates. The IMK lets you control each user's view, right down to the individual question level.
"Clients are up for having more autonomy and control," says Forrest. "Here, you are giving more control to the client, though still controlling what that client can see. It's a win-win situation."
Control sums up what Bellview Web is about. Despite some minor technical inconveniences, this is an intelligent solution that has a lot to offer for everyone, especially the power user.

Pulse Train: www.pulsetrain.com

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

Published in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, July 2002, Issue 434.

© Copyright Tim Macer/Market Research Society 2002. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.

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