Software reviews from meaning

Converso Enterprise reviewed

In Brief

What it does

Platform-independent Java-based multi-modal interviewing and analysis platform with an integrated portal-style front-end

Supplier

Conversoft, France

Our ratings

Score 3.5 out of 5Ease of use

Score 4 out of 5Compatibility with other software

Score 3 out of 5Value for money

Cost

In euro (€): Most modules €3,000 per user, plus €20,000 for Enterprise platform and €6,000 for web server module: all one-off costs. Maintenance: 18% of licence cost annually, or 25% for ‘gold’ support.

Pros

  • Extremely easy to use for moderators and participants
  • Can present a wide range of stimulus material
  • Offers several novel research techniques
  • Provides a complete transcript for analysis at the end

Cons

  • Only supports Windows for both moderator and participants
  • Not completely DIY yet: management module to be developed
  • Real time groups only – no support for asynchronous participation

In Depth

Converso Enterprise is an ambitious redevelopment project which deserves much praise for embracing what Web 2.0 technology has to offer head on. The portal-building and alert capabilities are excellent, and the main data collection platform is robust and sophisticated. But as an end-to-end solution it is still very much a work in progress. Substantial chunks are ready for production work now, but the gaps within and between these modules are just a bit too wide for comfort at this point. Given Conversoft’s recent rate of development, It is likely to look much more complete in as little as six month’s time, so for anyone planning to upscale their software platform next year, this is definitely one for the short list.

Converso Enterprise follows an entirely different architectural principal to most of the other new-generation research platforms on the market. Conversoft rejected developing in Microsoft’s .NET framework in favour of using Java, both J2EE, for desktops, laptops and servers, and J2ME (the flavour of Java for mobile devices). This approach does not on its own give the product a Web 2.0 pedigree, but it is a good start. It means that the software is totally platform-independent, so all users – researchers, respondents, technicians or end-clients – can use the browser or the operating system they want – Apple, Linux or any of the Windows varieties. This technical agnosticism extends to the relational database at the heart of the product, for survey data and panels, if used, which could be any of the modern database platforms – Microsoft, Oracle, or open source databases like MySQL or Postgres.

Conversoft also intends to create an open-source development platform to allow customers to extend the capabilities of Converso for themselves, but this does not exist yet.

What does exist is a wonderful portal-building tool that lets you snap into place any of the components of the Enterprise toolkit. You can create your own portal just for you or for entire groups of users – and then you can selectively switch on controls that will allow them to tailor the portal you gave them, to add in their own favourite things.

It could be the survey editing tool, a summary report showing the latest set of KPIs, an RSS news feed from the BBC or a link to Google Maps. This is where it gets exciting, because, once the missing developer tools have been developed, the techie people would be able to build whatever components you wanted to create so called ‘mash-ups’ of data from different sources on the internet, alongside your survey data – for example, to present geodemographic data in map form. What is more, Converso Enterprise components can be used as applets in other portals – so you could broadcast your poll results to other sites, or even Facebook.

Already, there is a rich library of components to choose from, particularly in the reporting area – which was never a strength for Converso in the past. It is relatively straightforward to create client data portals and dashboards that will present data graphically or as cross-tabs, or use intelligent reporting methods to highlight exceptions and provide alerts. Alerts are defined as triggers – really rather like dynamic filters that operate against the data and present a message. It all works fine with published data, but at the moment, you would struggle to show any real-time data from live surveys – such as to track response or get a live snapshot in a topline report. For these you need to resort to some of the legacy modules still.

Similarly, you can deploy new surveys through the portal, define your sample, and even use the very comprehensive access rights management tool from the portal – all of these are java programs. But the survey authoring tool is still a Windows program, and uses the old and rather complicated Converso scripting interface. That is promised for later this year, although nothing was available for Interface to obtain a preview.

These are not the only gaps waiting to be plugged. These are being addressed – and they need to be – though given Conversoft’s recent track record, the current feeling of being on a new highway where the cones are still in place, should have gone by the middle of 2008.

On the plus side, there is true multimodal interviewing with CATI. Web CATI is an integrated and very versatile handheld interviewing capability that will work on a very broad range of smartphones and BlackBerrys. The mobile interviewing is a new development and is impressive. There seems to be complete backwards compatibility with the old Windows-based CATI too.

Panel management exists but is not fully developed yet – the main panel management and respondent selection capabilities are there, but the panellist recruitment and community part is still missing. When it comes, it will offer integration with CRM systems, to use customers as a sample source, or to create customer panels.

The analytical tools are starting to look impressive too. A range of tables and charts can be created and presented directly in Word, Excel or Powerpoint, and it will populate native Excel or PowerPoint objects with data, to permit dynamic linkage. But if you wish to move data out to other MR analysis tools, then you are stuck until the planned Dimensions and Triple-S links are ready.

Converso Enterprise is an ambitious redevelopment project which deserves much praise for embracing what Web 2.0 technology has to offer. The portal-building and alert capabilities are excellent, and the main data collection platform is robust and sophisticated. But as an end-to-end solution it is still very much a work in progress. Substantial chunks are ready for production work now, but the gaps within and between these modules are just a bit too wide for comfort at this point. Given Conversoft’s recent rate of development, it is likely to look much more complete in as little as six months’ time, so for anyone planning to upscale their software platform next year, this is definitely one for the shortlist.

A version of this review first appeared in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, November 2007, Issue 498

Tim Macer

Tim is a world-renowned specialist in the application of technology in the field of market and opinion research and is probably the most widely-published writer in the field. His roots are in data analysis, programming, training and technical writing. These days, as principal at meaning he works with researchers, users of research data and technology providers around the globe, as an independent advisor. He is quite passionate about improving the research process and empowering people through better use of technology.

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