The MRDC Reporting Toolkit Webinar
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In industries other than market research, automated reports range from utility bills that we hate to receive to warehouse stock control. Nearly every industry is using automated reporting of some description. In theory, market research is the ideal industry for automated reporting because, as an industry, we collect so much data.
In 1999, I gave a talk at a well-attended conference at which I declared that automated reporting would be the most important development in market research in the next two years. I was wrong. In my defence, I had just written a program using Excel VBA that read a few thousand tables and automatically generated a few thousand reports (it may have just been hundreds, I forget if I’m honest).
In my mind, automated reporting had to be the next big thing. To be able to produce, for example, a report for each country in a multi-country study within minutes of finishing the first report seemed like a big deal. Research execs would no longer have to sit up all night producing PowerPoint reports, waiting for the last interview to come in from fieldwork and having to check and re-check reports if the slightest mistake was made. I was wrong.
In those last 20 years, automation of charts, Excel reports and PowerPoint reports has become more widespread though I’m still disappointed at the effort it takes with many systems. During much of that period, the software used has ranged from good enough to barely adequate with some cobbled together solutions thrown in for good measure.
Although I take the view that automated reporting has taken too long in market research to become good enough, of course, in those 20 years, everyone’s definition of a good report has moved on. Websites, graphics on television, magazine reports all look far better than they used to, which means that market research reports need to look better. And, if they don’t, market research will look like a dated industry.
Market research has standardised on PowerPoint, arguably for far too long. It’s obvious why. Getting a basic chart and adding some text to explain what the chart tells you is relatively quick and easy, but more complex charts can be labour intensive. The output looks OK without too much effort. But, OK is not really good enough, in my opinion. People expect more. Although you can put together neat infographics in PowerPoint, they can be tedious to do.
PDFs are better than PowerPoint files. They are generally smaller in size than PowerPoint files, they look sharper, but, above all, they can be viewed and downloaded anywhere. Viewing a PDF on a mobile device works better and we all know the world is going (has gone) mobile.
The right tool, to my mind, is one that can automatically produce high-quality PDFs that can contain tables, charts, infographics using market research data and doing all those things that market researchers need like adding up the top 2 box, handling weighting etc. etc. And, it should be an inexpensive tool that is easy to use. That’s some need! But, it is available.
Snap now offers sophisticated smart reports which are easy to generate, quick to run and flexible enough to produce professional looking documents. Frankly, what Snap offers makes some of the PowerPoint presentations that I have seen look like something that a 9-year old child might produce.
Well, I suppose it is in some ways because I believe Snap has made high quality automated reporting affordable, but the bigger picture is more important. I would like to see all market research reporting get to a high level and, indeed, Snap’s Smart Reporting to get even better. I believe this because I think it is all very well re-packaging market research as the ‘insights industry’, but it has to demonstrate quality and not corner shop convenience.
There’s plenty more that can push the market research industry forward. Making data available how customers want it at the press of a button should be next. There’s already progress with Iris in making online dashboards easier and faster. This momentum needs to keep moving forward so that data users can get the data they want how they want it easily.
I am hoping that the slow progress of the last 20 years in automated reporting will be followed by faster progress over the next 5 years – or, even less time. Microsoft allowed automation of its Office products as far back as 1993. My prediction in 1999 was wrong. I hope my prediction that things will now move forward more quickly in 2019 is right.