7 problems with automated PDF reports
If you want several automated PDF reports, there …Read more
20 years ago, data from market research surveys were generally reported in the form of cross tabulations, which was often backed up by a written report put together by a researcher combing through the tables. Today, the choices available are far greater. So, here’s 12 ways that MRDC can report on your research data – and, of course, many projects that we work on use a combination of these techniques
Let’s start with cross tabulations, the oldest form of reporting. These allow you to see questions and variables tabulated by one another. You can easily compare the difference in the percentage of survey respondents giving answers by key demographics, for example. 55% of men may use a product or have a particular opinion whilst only 42% of women may share the same opinion. Cross tabulations can be used to show data from complex variables in an easily readable format. Products such as MRDCL are capable of any cross tabulations whilst easier to use programs, such as Snap and QPSMR, can handle most standard cross tabulation requirements. Cross tabulations are, in my view, becoming underutilised as topline counts and percentages (often called frequencies) and high level charting has become the norm to improve delivery times and reduce costs. For in depth analysis, cross tabulations offer much more.
Excel contains a powerful tabulation component which can handle large numbers of records quickly and easily. Pivot tables can produce quick cross tabulations, scale data by quantities and show data nested (e.g. age group within gender). Flexibility can be a problem though as grouping data categories together and building variables is a tedious process. However, for simpler surveys, providing data in Excel ready for pivot tables is a good route.
Excel and PowerPoint were born in the 1980s but it was not until the mid-1990s that the market research (and many other) industries started to adopt these products as the standard way of charting survey data. Since that time, improvements have been made to the tools available, but there have been relatively few major improvements. In 1997, it became possible to program Excel and PowerPoint using VBA, a programming language. MRDC seized on this opportunity and continues to automate charts using VBA.
Excel is often underestimated as a reporting tool. Its grid like appearance seems at first sight to be too rigorous for attractive looking reports. However, with some basic formatting, reports can look professional and when saved as PDF, they can look as good as any many other documents. Automating reports in Excel is possible using VBA as well as using other programming languages that can access Excel and manipulate its output. Automated reports can be achieved using these programming languages, producing thousands of reports, if necessary.
PowerPoint presentations have become the standard way of conveying business information. For market research, it has become the norm for research agencies to summarise findings in PowerPoint reports. Like Excel, PowerPoint can be automated to produce any number of reports, although it is considerably slower than Excel when running the reports. However, producing 100 reports in less than an hour can mean huge labour savings, particularly when changes or amendments are needed. PowerPoint reports can also be saved as PDF files to give a higher quality finish.
Smart reports are automated reports that can have different content which is dependent on the results being published. For example, in a report you may wish to show the top 5 attributes and the bottom 5 attributes. These are likely to be different for every report. Calculated data can be embedded in the report with different commentary dependent on the results. An unsatisfactory score for a retail outlet may advise areas for improvement whereas a satisfactory overall score for a retail outlet may show areas of success or a graphic such as a gold medal. Snap is a product that we often use to handle this type of work.
Excel has some good tools for making dashboards interactive. This means that you can make selections, usually from dropdown lists, and the report, charts and any other data will be updated automatically to reflect the selections made. Excel dashboards can vary from basic but informative to highly customised and visually appealing. These are probably underutilised in market research yet can be produced at a competitive price. Interactive dashboards are also possible in PowerPoint, but the tools to do this are more restrictive.
There are two types on online dashboards with some grey area between the two options. Software built dashboards will have enough tools to display clearly, but will generally have limitations in how they appear. These dashboards can be interactive and have multiple tabs or reports. They are typically used for online dashboards where fast delivery of information is more important than appearance or use by a wider audience. As they are developed within a software framework, they are relatively quick to develop and, therefore, inexpensive, although some of the software products in this sector are expensive. Such dashboards can be valuable tools with live data feeds giving updated results in real time. Snap and DataDynamic are products that we use for such tasks.
A customised online dashboard is like a website development project. Customised dashboards can show whatever the customer wants with cuts of data and displays of data in the most useful way. Subjective preferences will play a part and it is important to have all potential users or different types of users on board. Such dashboards are only really appropriate for tracking studies or projects with a long shelf life. They are typically used by a larger number of users. The whole process is often quite lengthy as the needs of all users have to be considered and the usability has to be carefully assessed so that the dashboard is intuitive to use. It can also be a fine line between providing enough information and too much information.
This is not really another reporting type, but is still worthy of inclusion, in my view. We have seen a growth in the online delivery of reports over the past year. These may be any type of report – PowerPoint, PDF, Excel, for example. The advantages of online delivery are that users or recipients of the information can view or download the information as and when they wish, usage of the reports can be monitored and navigation of the reports can be managed by an organised system.
This is something of a limitless topic, but we have seen an increasing interest in data tracking. This can range from monitoring changes in information from period to period and highlighting significant changes to finding data trends and correlations. Each application of these techniques needs a thorough understanding of the business problem, but it does mean that rapid reporting and valuable diagnostics can be put in place to keep businesses aware of KPIs and other critical business data.
The last on our list of reporting types is alerts. Alerts are being increasingly used in online surveys to flag problems. For example, where a respondent is completing an online survey, it is possible to send an alert to a customer service centre if a customer is particularly dissatisfied, for example. An alert can also be based on aggregated data such that if results for an outlet dipped one week, checks could be made to investigate the reason. Such alert systems give businesses the opportunity to turn round unfavourable experiences quickly and retain customers.
So, there’s our list of 12 report types. MRDC can handle of all these for you, provide software where relevant so that you can do it yourself or run workshops to explore the best ways to handle your reporting needs.
There are a few types of reporting that we do not do. The most obvious ones are multivariate statistical analysis and modelling. Whilst we are fully conversant with most of the principles of multivariate analysis, we do not consider ourselves to be experts. We feel that you should really work with experts if you looking for this type of reporting. Similarly, with modelling and forecasting, we regularly work on many of the aspects that contribute to these techniques, but do not consider ourselves to be experts.
So, what do you need? Talk to us and we will guide you through the right options for you.