From PowerPoint to online dashboards in market research

In the mid-1990s, PowerPoint suddenly became the way to present market research data. It replaced a variety of clumsy alternatives saving time and money and improving quality. But, little has changed in that time. Until, that is, relatively recently as products such as Dapresy and MarketSight have come on to the scene. This article explores where things are moving and the choices available as we move from the PowerPoint era to online reporting era.

Automation of PowerPoint

One improvement that was made to PowerPoint and the whole MS Office suite in 1997 was the introduction of macros using VBA (Visual Basic for Applications). This meant that laborious tasks could be automated by writing VBA Script. It required good knowledge and/or training to use, but it meant that reports could be automated. Or, perhaps, as importantly, multiple reports could be automated – potentially thousands of reports. MRDC was (and still is) one of a small number of companies that specialise in this field. Other software developers have built systems around this functionality.

Recording macros

One useful function within MS Office was the ability to record macros. This function allows you to record VBA Script from a series of tasks you might perform by selecting a sequence of menu selections and keyboard entries. This generation of VBA Script meant that users could start to learn VBA as the script was automatically generated for you. Strangely, Office 2007 dropped the recoding of macros from PowerPoint, yet this feature still remains in Excel.

Getting information online

Something has changed the last few years. Market research has suddenly woken up to the fact that everyone is getting their information online – whether that’s the price of goods, what’s on at the cinema, the latest stocks, sales figures, the tracking of a delivery and so on. Market research findigns need to be online too. The change is slow but market research data is slowly but increasingly being supplied online. As a result of this shift, new software systems like E-Tabs, Dapresy and DataDynamic have come on to the market with varying levels of success.

Online means accessibility and interactivity

The first key benefit of online information is the accessibility – wherever there is an internet connection, you can access your valuable research project. The second key benefit is that, unlike a static PowerPoint presentation, a dashboard can be interactive and become an analysis tool where what-if scenarios can be explored.

Do It Yourself Online dashboards

First of all, let me say there are some good online data visualisation tools available. Their strength is what they enable users of data to do; their general problem is that they are often compared to PowerPoint, which has become a kind of reporting standard. In practice, software systems that produce online dashboards have enough tools in most cases to display data in a usable form. Some struggle with pulling together data from different sources, such as sales figures or other internal metrics – things that you might just type in when using PowerPoint. Do It Yourself online dashboards start to become less practical when there is a more specific requirement rather like producing a bespoke website. Alternatively, the software just becomes too difficult to use without a lot of training for more complex or detailed specific requirements. So, it depends what you want.

Custom dashboards

Custom dashboards developed for you are an alternative and there are some good suppliers in this field. In my opinion, suppliers outside the market research industry will tend not to be good suppliers of market research dashboards, even though they may see the assignment as just another web development project. Understanding research matters. It means that you can provide exactly what you want and data feeds can be automated. This, of course, tends to restrict this method of providing online systems to tracking studies or other repetitive tasks as small ad hoc research projects may be less viable if large amounts of information need to be made available.

The change in market research

Market research is changing. The move to online surveys means that surveys have to be shorter than paper questionnaire surveys. This makes survey analysis and reporting generally easier meaning that the barriers to providing reports online are much reduced. Using software or building systems to convey key information, combining that with internal data where possible, means that the research industry has an opportunity to gain a higher profile within research buyers.

The difference between Business Intelligence software and MR online reporting software

It’s easy to be confused about the differences between Business Intelligence software and online reporting tools used for market research. The difference is in the data. Most commercial data is millions or at least thousands of records with a small number of fields. Market research data is typically a relatively small number of records with a large number of fields, many of which are multiple response question options. The Dapresy website explains this well in its FAQ in response to the question “Is Dapresy like Tableau, Qlikview & Spotfire?” – “No. Those are BI tools designed to process huge transactional data files. They do not work with survey data, and they are limited dashboard tools. Dapresy is a data presentation system that works directly on respondent level survey data. It can also take the non-survey data output from these business intelligence tools”

The cost of online reporting

The cost of online reporting is coming down and will continue to fall as the market broadens and more software becomes available. Developers of custom dashboards have more and more prepared programmed routines that can be plugged in which means that we can do things more cheaply than even a year ago.

What should you do?

Our advice is to explore and ask if you have no experience of online reporting. Online reporting is the fast growing part of MRDC Software’s business and we do not expect that to change in the next 5 years. PowerPoint reporting may not be dead, but it can be laborious to pull together PowerPoint presentations. Online reporting almost always impresses clients, giving an immediate tangible benefit and it does not need to be as expensive as it once was. We are always willing to look at how we can help even if we do not have the ideal solution ourselves.