Replacing Quantum Software – What Matters?
The need to replace Quantum as a tool for processing market research crosstabs has been gathering pace in recent years. It’s not its lack of power that is the problem, but its lack of support, development and its inoperability under modern Windows platforms makes it less than efficient. The alternatives are few: our own MRDCL product, Merlin and Uncle are the only real alternative scripting languages, although the authors of Ruby claim that their product is a viable alternative to Quantum.
Is it just about the problems with Windows?
This article will argue that productivity should really be a good enough reason to switch from Quantum even though many are switching because they feel forced to change.
What really matters?
This article looks at what matters most when choosing a product to replace Quantum. Quantum was indeed the market leader in the 1990s and into this
millennium, but it’s easy to lose sight of what modern crosstabulation (or crosstab, tabulations, tables) software should do. Our belief is that the demands on a high level professional data processing product have changed over the last 20 years, which has been clearly reflected in our development priorities.
The key differences
There are five key differences since the days where Quantum was the market leader. These are:
- The importance of productivity
- The growth of online surveys
- The increasing importance of tracking studies
- The improved skills of staff
- The importance of incorporating other data with research data
Let’s look at each of these in turn.
a) The importance of productivity
In the last 25 years, relative to all business costs, labour costs have increased and computer costs have reduced. This is true to some degree in virtually every economy in the world. This means that staff productivity has grown significantly in importance since the 1990s. MRDC’s development of MRDCL has focused heavily on productivity over the last 15 years. The tools we have added have drastically reduced the time users spend on preparing and running projects. Our EPS tools, for example, which automate and deskill work carried out in MRDCLhas halved or better the time staff spend on projects. What’s more, work can be shared amongst a team, less skilled staff can carry out the easier parts of a project and errors are reduced.
b) The growth of online surveys
Online surveys did not exist in the days when Quantum was last developed. A typical online survey is shorter than a paper questionnaire survey. It is usually prepared in a specialist online survey software tool. There are, therefore, no special tools in Quantum to process online surveys. It has become important that we can automate tabulations and analysis directly from the preferred online survey software tool. We achieve this by either using Triple-S as a bridge or by building a link to MRDCL so that tables can be automated.
c) The increasing importance of tracking studies
Tracking studies have been a popular research survey type for many years. What has become more important is the need to automate tables, charts and reports so that processing costs are minimised. Arguably, it’s the same point that labour costs need to be minimised, but there is far more scope to automate processes using modern software. The final output might be Excel, PowerPoint, a PDF file or an online dashboard. However, automating the process can save many man hours. MRDCL has been developed to make this as easy as possible to ensure that the path from data to reporting is fast, error-free and cost effective.
d) The improved skills of staff
You might be thinking the issue of whether a scripting language is needed at all has been avoided. This is addressed further down this article, but one barrier that has diminished over the last 20 years is that there are far more people who capable of using a scripting language like MRDCL. It’s a massive change, in fact. It means that languages like Quantum that made specification easy at the expense of efficiency are less relevant nowadays than a product like MRDCL which can make both highly skilled and less skilled staff effective.
e) The importance of incorporating other data with research data
Quantum was market leader at a time when surveys were just surveys. Modern research often demands that other non-research is integrated with research data. This may be data relating to respondents or figures that may be used for targets or comparisons with research data. The explosion of data in recent years means that there is more need to integrate different data sources as market research moves further towards business intelligence. Our software has moved in this direction too. Accessing databases has been made available for a few years now, but it increased the scope of MRDCL hugely.
Should you replace Quantum with a like for like product?
I am not sure myself what this question really means – different things to different types of users probably. What is important is the need to stop thinking like Quantum makes you think. This is a subtle point, but Quantum works in a very structured way. There is little scope for creativity and finding efficient ways of linking different procedures together. Users switching to MRDCL lose most of the benefits if they write script in a ‘like for like’ way as they used Quantum. MRDCL has evolved due its constant development to offer a vast array of tools to be more productive. To ignore these tools will minimise the benefit of switching to MRDCL.
What are MRDCL’s productivity features?
It’s hard to explain these briefly, but here are five examples:
- Code lists – Users of scripting languages will usually copy open ended code lists or brand lists into their Quantum script. Then, if they want to produce sub-totals with ranking, for example, they would spend hours organising these code lists writing script to specify what they want. In MRDCL, you can build your own custom Excel template that handles this in a spreadsheet. One line of MRDCL code reads the spreadsheet updating the script automatically if there is a change, addition or deletion in the spreadsheet.
- If you have a database of information about respondents, you can merge this data with survey data without time-consuming, error prone manual procedures where data is recoded. You simply merge the sources together.
- Data editing and corrections are part of the research process. Rather than physically change data, making it difficult to trace changes, it is better to store these changes in an electronic form so that they are applied to the data giving an audit trail of each respondent’s data.
- Many customer satisfaction, customer experience programmes and mystery shopping surveys will have targets and other comparative data that is needed in tables. This is easy to do with MRDCL.
- When you have a tracking study, it is easy to automate the whole procedure from data to tables to reports using MRDCL. MRDCL is an open system that allows users to take parts of the data needed for subsequent processes or outputs.
Do I have to switch to another scripting language?
As I said above, I am not avoiding this question. It’s a perfectly good one. There are many good software products that process data and produce tables using a relatively simple user interface. This might be the right type of software as these products have improved a lot over the years. If you handle different project types with different analyses that are relatively straightforward, a non-scripting software solution might suit you best when you are replacing Quantum. You will need to check that all the functionality you need is available, but it could be the right course. Also, if the volume of work is low, learning and using a scripting language will generally be the wrong decision unless there is some unusual prevailing factor.
When does a scripting language give you an advantage?
A scripting language allows you to produce analysis more quickly so long as it is used by skilled staff. MRDCL, however, goes a big step further. MRDCL focuses on productivity. It allows you to build your own templates for complex or repetitive requirements. This has two big benefits – firstly, less skilled staff can assist experienced MRDCL users and, secondly, projects can be taken over or shared more easily when staff are absent or leave. A scripting language should only be used if it offers an advantage. We will tell you candidly if MRDCL will help you or not.
How does MRDCL reduce costs?
MRDCL is more efficient than Quantum and its competitors and offers higher productivity. This following calculation is not untypical. Let’s say the spend on the Quantum team was $100,000 per year. With MRDCL, that cost can probably be halved as less skilled staff can do some of the work and the tools within MRDCL will make staff more productive. Other more hidden costs and risks to business such as taking over a project when someone leaves can be drastically reduced too. As I said at the beginning, our focus is and will remain on productivity and value for money.
At the end of all this, I think we appreciate that MRDCL is an investment for our clients. There is some pain and effort to learn to use such as powerful system. But, like all investments, you should rightly expect a good return. MRDCL will do that and continue to pay you back.