10 essential things when choosing online survey software
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If you are looking for a replacement or alternative to Quantum, you will find that there are very few options. Quantum was for many years the number one software package for market research batch tabulations using a scripting language, but it has effectively been retired as it does not run under modern versions of Windows and is no longer advertised on the owner’s website.
What alternatives are there?
If you look at the mktresearch.org website, it lists four products under ‘specialty survey analysis software’, which seems to be code for scripted tabulation software. I would add Merlin to their list to give you five alternatives – MRDCL, Quantum, Surveycraft, Uncle and Merlin.
Quantum and Surveycraft have been retired
As I’ve mentioned Quantum has been retired and Surveycraft is in the same category, a retired product, although Harris Interactive bought the source code in 2001. This leaves just three. I have to confess that I don’t know much about Uncle. It seemed to be undeveloped for many years, but is active again now. However, there is almost no awareness of the product outside of North America, it would seem.
This leaves Merlin and MRDCL. These come originally from the same stable, but have both come a long way since their origins. Like Uncle, Merlin doesn’t seem to travel well abroad and is rarely encountered when I travel the world, although there is a different version of Merlin in North America. MRDCL is supported around the world and is used by companies of different sizes.
However, there is no doubt that Quantum, Merlin and MRDCL are all powerful and effective programs for analysing market research data using a scripting language. They can do more or less any table-based survey analysis that you may want. Quantum just doesn’t work well in a modern computing environment.
Does MRDCL have an edge?
Well, whilst we respect Quantum and Merlin as good products in this field, we feel that MRDCL has an important edge. The software has always been rich in features, so development has focused on productivity. What MRDCL can do that no other competitor can do is de-skill the task of using the software. Ultimately, this reduces your staff costs and, in our view, reduces errors – a common and known problem with scripting languages.
How MRDCL can reduce your costs
How does MRDCL de-skill the task? There are two ways. Firstly, you can drive MRDCL entirely or partially from Excel. It can even be an Excel add-in. This means that all or parts of a project can be prepared in Excel using junior staff. Secondly, you can build your own MRDCL templates. Templates tend to benefit users in two ways – simple requirements that are time-consuming to specify can be entered using intuitive, interactive forms and, conversely, perhaps, regularly or occasionally needed complex requirements can be used by junior staff who do not need to understand the underlying script that manages the template.
Example of using a template
A good example of a template that one of our clients put together was one that handled rating scales, something that is encountered on most projects. The client discovered that they displayed tables from rating scales in one or more of fifteen different ways. For example, mean score summary (ranked or unranked), top two box analysis, summary tables, mean score with top box etc. All that the user has to do is enter the variables name (q3, for example), enter the list of statements or reference the texts in a worksheet and select which of the fifteen rating table choices are wanted for that rating scale. Anecdotally, clients using templates report cost savings of 50%, and sometimes significantly more, on most projects.
Are there other software products that could replace Quantum?
Of course, there are plenty of other tabulation software products on the market and many have useful shortcuts that make repetitive specification quicker. Others allow you to write Visual Basic, Python or some other language to produce tabulations, but I don’t think they qualify under the heading of scripting tabulation software packages. Maybe, there is another out there, but tabulation software products that are capable of more or less everything within the commands available in that software package are undoubtedly few and far between with seemingly no new players.
So, although Quantum has been the market leader for a long while, it looks as though it can enjoy a well-deserved retirement. This poses a problem for many research agencies and data processing outsource centres as Quantum becomes less and less usable. But, MRDCL can answer those problems.
Efficiency saves money
In our experience, DP staff convert well from Quantum to MRDCL. It’s a different language and, for sure, there’s the odd moan that Quantum handled the odd thing better than MRDCL. However, it’s the big gains that make the difference and reducing the cost of producing tabulations by 50% or more is an attractive proposition to anyone who produces more than a few tables each year.