Phil Hearn: Blogger, Writer & Founder of MRDC Software Ltd.

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Is MRDCL the only replacement or alternative to Quantum?

If you are looking for a replacement or alternative to the Quantum crosstab software, you will find very few options: MRDCL, Merlin, Uncle, and Ruby are arguably the most obvious choices. However, do all these products take into account changing priorities in tabulation production, embracing modern needs? Quantum was the market leader for scripted cross-tabulations for many years and, to its credit, retained that place for several years even though development ceased before 2000.

Why was Quantum successful?

For multiple reasons, Quantum held its place for more years than most market research software products. The four key reasons are:

  • The crosstab market not changing for many years
  • Its power
  • Its user and global knowledge base
  • The lack of competitors

Let’s look at these key factors in more depth and examine how MRDCL, our scripted crosstab tool, stacks up.

   1. Has the market changed?

Of course, market research has changed in the last 25 years. Most surveys are now online, mostly simpler in crosstab terms, though often more complex structurally or in terms of data. There is a growing demand for automation, handling different data formats, speed, and data manoeuvrability. Quantum struggles or has limitations in all four of these areas, whereas MRDCL has moved forward with these needs. Let’s look at each briefly:

  • Automation – MRDCL is designed to automate processes, from reading data to automating analysis and reporting.
  • Different data formats – MRDCL handles almost all data formats encountered in market research efficiently, with an emphasis on ‘efficiently’. Taking several hours to prepare data from another source is not acceptable.
  • Speed – MRDCL has added tools over the years, such as templates, so tasks can easily be shared and deskilled where possible, enabling users to improve delivery times significantly.
  • Data manoeuvrability – We now live in an age where you want to be able to move your data where you need it – to a client’s database, in a dashboard, in reports etc. MRDCL leads in this area.

So, although MRDCL’s functionality only beats Quantum by a modest percentage in terms of functionality, MRDCL is now a mile ahead, both in terms of managing data and what you can do with the tables you have produced. This is crucial.

   2. The power of MRDCL

Twenty years ago, MRDCL and Quantum could rightly claim to be the two crosstab software systems that could produce more or less any table you wanted. Since that time, computing power has improved dramatically. This increase in computing power means we have been able to increase the limitations of MRDCL hugely. Things such as the biggest variables, data files and tables you can handle have increased twentyfold or more. In terms of functionality, MRDCL has some new features to improve productivity, but there are fewer differences in what is possible. Why? That’s because crosstab requirements haven’t increased significantly in that period. However, productivity has become more important as labour costs worldwide have become higher and computing costs have fallen. Nothing matches MRDCL in 2023.

   3. User and knowledge base

In 2000, MRDCL had a narrow user base, mainly in Western Europe. However, there are MRDCL experts around the world nowadays, which, in turn, leads to much-improved use of MRDCL. There’s another critical factor at play, too; MRDCL is a more flexible language than Quantum, giving rise to greater opportunities to handle complex, potentially time-consuming projects with far greater efficiency. Additionally, MRDCL has a modern website packed with videos and tips to help users make the most of its powerful features.

   4. The lack of competitors

On one level, there are far more competitors. There must be over 100 software products that can produce crosstabs. However, the investment needed to develop a new scripted crosstab system that can handle complex variables, data, tables, etc., is prohibitive in the current economic climate. And more importantly, carrying this out when staff productivity matters makes competing even harder. That’s not to say we are complacent, as we continuously improve MRDCL and make it easier for users to fit MRDCL into their increasingly varied processes.

The alternatives to MRDCL

Three obvious competitors are active in the scripted tabulation market. These are Uncle, Merlin and Ruby. Let’s take a brief look at each. Uncle has been around for about 40 years. However, to the best of my knowledge, its user base is locked in North America. From the limited information on the website, it seems to lack the modern tools discussed above. Merlin has had a good track record in the past but seems to have ceased development in recent years and has failed to address modern data analysis needs. This leaves Ruby, which is modern and packed with features. It’s more of a menu-driven system, albeit a powerful one. For complex tasks, it requires you to use an external programming language, which is a ‘big no’ for me.

Using external programming languages

Quite rightly, I need to explain my dislike of using external programming languages for complex tasks. The reasons are simple. Once you use an external language, you leave yourself open to someone building something no one understands. This doesn’t matter with a simple project, but if you have a big project, such as a complex tracking study and when you might use an external language, there is a huge vulnerability if someone leaves or, even, is ill for a few days. It wasn’t long ago that I rescued a client by rebuilding a project in MRDCL because no one understood how a departing employee managed a particular project.

Let’s talk about money

If your requirements are all simple, you probably do not need MRDCL, Merlin, Quantum or any other scripting language. However, costs can spiral if you use the wrong software for projects or situations, such as these:

  • Tracking studies
  • Products where automation should be possible
  • Complex needs
  • Simpler repetitive needs
  • High throughput

A product that reduces staff time by 20% might be significant, but if this leaps to 50% or 60%, it can be the difference between good and poor profitability. MRDCL is relatively inexpensive compared to some survey platforms and allows you to improve your service and profitability. We have anecdotal evidence of the time spent on a project reducing from 20 person-days per month to 1-2 days per month using MRDCL, so using the right tool can be critical.

Software platforms that progress in the right direction

I think it’s essential to buy into systems that offer longevity. When you use any system, change can be time-consuming and tedious at best and highly expensive at worst. So, is MRDCL moving in the right direction? Well, you decide. These are things that are in the pipeline:

  • Automated generation of PowerPoint reports directly from tables
  • Basic dashboard capabilities
  • Improved links to advanced dashboard platforms
  • Improved data management and automation tools
  • Easier integration with other systems, both within market research and client systems

These are areas where Quantum, Merlin and Uncle are unlikely to go and where MRDCL will forge to meet modern needs better and better. Of course, our direction may change as the market research industry continues to evolve. MRDCL is better placed than ever to adapt to the changing landscape of modern research.

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For more information about moving to MRDCL, read these blog articles.