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IT (Interview Technology) reviewed

Tim Macer finds a product that shows real Dutch courage

It does virtually everything most small and medium size research companies need. It is lauded by its users; it has a 15 year pedigree and yet it’s virtually unknown on the UK research scene. IT, short for Interview Technology, is the unassuming name of this remarkable box of tricks from the Dutch software company Interview Technology. IT integrates all the four common research modes and even goes as far as new web-based CATI and mobile hand-held interviewing using real-time internet connections over GPRS. At the back-end it also offers a decent array of nicely presented tables, charts and statistics.

A whole series of incremental updates to the software over the last year (the latest, version 4.2, came out last month) have given the product an entirely new look and feel, with a contemporary Windows interface that packs in a lot of functionality. Design and survey administration are easily accomplished through attractive, intelligently built interfaces. Furthermore, the program takes a very progressive approach to web interviewing, separating the design of the questions, answers and routing entirely from the look and feel of the interview. These are applied through stylesheets and templates. Furthermore, reporting publishing has been web-enabled and uses XML and XXL style templates to determine output and appearance. It is a welcome move towards an open system approach. However, most of the rest of the system remains fairly closed for the time being and it is not possible to perform new analysis on the web.

Where other all-in-one packages may lack the full depth of features needed to run a truly efficient, paperless CATI operation, IT goes that extra mile with many ingenious and original features. Sample, unlimited quotas and call-backs can be managed with great ease by fieldwork managers. For example, definite interview appointments can often be wasted if no interviewer is available, especially when interviewers have been reassigned to work on other projects. If the survey is active, IT will borrow an interviewer from another project to meet the appointment, provided he or she is familiar with that survey.

Built-in survey and interviewer management reports provide fieldwork managers with all the insight they need into the progress of studies and the relative performance of different interviewers.

The underlying relational database technology allows you to take liberties with live surveys and make changes or add new questions even after a survey has gone live. Interview scripts, which are all prepared using the Windows-based authoring module, though easily prepared, can be of staggering complexity. The latest version adds some new goodies here, such as subroutines and loops.

The software reveals some of its pedigree as a tool originally developed in-house (for the Dutch research company DESAN) in the attention it pays to data quality. There is extensive support for editing and cleaning data, and also efficient coding of open-ends, plus semi-automated support for merging similar projects and resolving internal differences in questions and answer lists. Support for missing and suspect values -something SPSS users will know - is also built in, which is still uncommon in mainstream research packages. This caused a dilemma when IT implemented the triple-s standard for exports, as it has no suitable mechanism for dealing with this useful metadata concept.

The user view: Mike Sharpe at Marketing Sciences

Mike Sharpe, Data Processing Manager at Marketing Sciences in Winchester, is one of the UK’s rare IT users. He said: “We’ve used the IT system for 10 years now and we have yet to find something that it does not do—and we conduct some hefty interviews here.”

The scripting is mainly done by a specialist team, but some researchers do script their own interviews too. “We like the flexibility. And it is fairly simple, when you get used to it - though some might find the scripting quirky.” His greatest frustration is working on international projects with other agencies and reprogramming their scripts, as it the exception to find another using IT.

The deterrent for others cannot be expense: Sharpe estimates the system paid for itself in the first few months of use, and the only expense since is a modest annual maintenance charge that brings upgrades and support. More likely, the low price ticket and low-key marketing have conspired to keep this off most buyers’ short lists. With such intelligent and useful functionality for a very reasonable price, IT is should receive more attention in the future.

Published in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, February 2004, Issue 452.

© Copyright Tim Macer/Market Research Society 2003. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.

A well-rounded research solution with mixed-mode CATI, CAPI, paper and web support and decent reporting aimed at companies with little or no in-house IT or DP expertise.