The persuasiveness of the new information technology should force us to rethink what we want from business information. Recent cost reduction pressures have tended to made us minimalists. We merely ask marketing research to (1) ask the right questions, (2) have the right answers, and (3) be cheap. Unfortunately the "right answers" may be dangerous if they are not honest. And cheap is not cheap if the results are not accurate or fully used.
We need to rethink the underlying objectives of business research and information. These should include the following issues:
|While truth may be uncomfortable, we can ill-afford misinformation. Care must always be taken to avoid merely generating expected results.|
|Research must not be merely a repackaging of data. It should provide knowledge and insight into the nature of the world. It is the unexpected finding that provides the basis of value.|
|The reports should engage management into discussion of strategy and programs.|
|CompellingThe results should compel action. If nothing happens from information, it is worthless.|
|Information available only to the gatekeepers has only limited value. The wider the access, the greater the value. However, this is linked with a learning organization. The organization has to learn to use and desire information.|
|Business research is never done in isolation. It is part of an on-going process of organizational learning. Information merges to become organization knowledge. Research must be documented to allow this progression of learnings.|
|Cost effectiveness is critical, but it comes with a balance of value. We need to be efficient producing useful knowledge not merely inexpensive in the collection.|
Improvements in all these objectives can be obtained by appropriately using information technology, through redesigning work processes and by developing a learning organization. Custom Decision Support has been working with organizations to improve their information using processes. Developing effective plans and policies is critical. CDSI has developed workbooks and tools to help structure this process. An outline of our workbooks is available. An outline of these workbooks is available through this link.
One of the potentially effective ways of exploiting information technology may be through use of the Internet and Intranets. The World Wide Web is ubiquitous. Everywhere you see "http://www. .com". It permeates television, print media and work communication. Many organizations have established their own "Intranets" or, at least, have home pages on the World Wide Web. But how can we exploit it? What can we use it for?
In our discussion here, we will consider only the capabilities that are presently available on the current Internet packages. Like all technologies, we expect applications will only grow with maturity. Based on that experience we have identified at least four applications for the web worth considering:
|The Web is a proactive medium. People are on it because they are seeking information. Sites that provide that information are natural focuses for marketing information. While traditionally, advertising can be used with these popular sites, more impact could be obtained by providing the appropriate information targeted to your customers. This may be particularly effective for industrial products and services. For example, major material or chemical manufacturers could sponsor sites for selecting materials based on published properties. Such sites would both provide a needed service to the industry as well as showcase the sponsors' products.|
|Publishing, updating, and distributing business, product and promotional information is extreme expensive. Corrections and changes are expensive to make and can be embarrassing. The Web provides a relatively inexpensive means of publishing and distributing full color documents. Furthermore, they can be readily updated and edited. Changes can be made almost at the speed of light. This has been one of our greatest gains from using the Web.|
|The interactive nature of the web allows for building documents in depth. This was the original idea behind the concept of hypertext. That is the ability to build a document with multiple levels of complexity and detail. Not only does the Web provide a means of wide distribution but allows those documents to be attractive to a broad range of people.|
|The Web provide a unique survey platform. For internal surveys it should be a highly cost effective route for employee and facilities studies. The electronic medium can enhance customer satisfaction studies and complaint control programs. Advertising researchers will find it a dynamic environment to test graphic and text materials. For marketing research,it is a means for iterative studies of concepts and measurement of customer motivation and needs.|
We would be happy to discuss your applications for the Web. We may be of help. There are some ideas and issues on our web page at http://www.lieb.com or E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The web is simpler than it looks. Pages on the web are written in a coded text file format call HTML (HypeText Mark-up Language). For those who have not seen it, HTML is a standard ASCII text file with annotations within the text indicating format or the inclusion of functions.
Most browsers will display the HTML code of the document on the screen. Using Netscape Navigator, you can see the HTML document by selecting the VIEW menu bar and the Source Document option. Similarly, with the Microsoft Internet Explorer, you again use the VIEW menu but with the Source option. If you don't have your own web site, please feel free to visit mine and take a look at the HTML code. It's fairly simple. There are several good references on HTML, but I found them unnecessary once I got a good HTML editor. I followed my Internet access provider's advice and obtained "Hot Dog Web Editor" (can you believe that name) as shareware off of the web (http://sausage.com/). It functions like a standard windows word processor to format text and insert pictures, tables and forms as well as change backgrounds.
I typically generate the web pages with a standard word processing package (Microsoft Word for Windows) and convert to HTML (Microsoft provides this capability with their Internet Assistant which is available free). The resulting pages are not well formatted and I need to use the Web Editor to reformat and insert images.
|Standard GIF Image|
<CENTER><H2><B>This Is a Sample Web Page</B></H2></CENTER>
<CENTER><TABLE BORDER=3 WIDTH=50>
<TR><TDALIGN=MIDDLE><IMG SRC="file:///i|/download/whale.gif"WIDTH=140 HEIGHT=60>
<TR><TD ALIGN=MIDDLE>Standard GIF Image</TD></TR>
Images are inserted in a similar manner as with standard word processors. However, I have found only two formats universally used; GIF and JPEG. The GIF files use reduced color sets and are compact files . A similar JPEG file may be ten times the size of a corresponding GIF file. Therefore, I tend to use GIF files whenever possible. Unfortunately, I have not found it possible to simply PASTE in images. I have needed to convert them from other formats. I found on the web another shareware program, PaintShop Pro, which I use to convert images to either GIF or JPEG formats.
Effective data analysis often needs statistical and graphics capabilities beyond those available on spreadsheets such as Microsoft's EXCEL. Factor position mapping, cluster segmentation and seasonally adjusted forecasts are standard procedures needing advance statistical tools. While there are a large number of statistical packages available for the personal computer, only a few truly qualify as advanced statistics and data analysis packages. These are SAS, SPSS, SYSTAT, Statgraphics, S-Plus and BMDP. All of these have a full range of multivariate statistical techniques and scientific graphics. They are also available in Windows versions.
A caveat at this point is needed. None of these packages are designed for the "feint at heart." They are not for the novice. The packages assume a comprehensive knowledge of the statistical tools being used. Documentation of all these packages is limited to either coding instructions or, in the case of SAS and SPSS, theoretical discussions of methodology. There are a number of textbooks, however, that do discuss data analysis using specific packages. Each package has its advocates. There are unique advantages and weaknesses to each. Among professional data analysts, however, the choice appears to be based on the familiarity of the analyst with the package. My favorite is SYSTAT though I've used SAS and SPSS as well as SYSTAT for marketing research, business modeling and in university teaching. Close colleagues have used Statgraphics and S-Plus and are very pleased with them.
SYSTAT 6.0 for Windows has recently been released. As with previous versions of SYSTAT, it is loaded with advanced statistical techniques and graphics. SYSTAT continues to have the advantage over other packages in execution speed, graphics, memory requirements, ease of use and price.
All of the older statistical packages such as SAS, SPSS and SYSTAT have migrated from the command DOS environment to Windows. As such, they are still mainly command and batch mode operations with some interactive capabilities. This can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on your previous experience with statistical data analysis. SYSTAT 6.0 for Windows does allow the transfer of graphs directly into other Windows applications. The major packages tend to compete with each other in offering new features. SYSTAT has a number of features that are unique. SAS usually wins out with the largest number of procedures. SPSS contains some unique conjoint analysis features unavailable in SYSTAT. However, for most business data application needs, SYSTAT appears to be adequate. Its compactness and ease of use makes it natural for business applications for the more occasional user.
SPSS now publishes SYSTAT and BMPD as well as their own SPSS products. Leland Wilkinson, who was the original designer of SYSTAT and still remains with the product, assures me that SYSTAT will continue to be developed. You can get to the home pages of these products at: http://www.spss.com/, http://www.sas.com/ and http://www.statgraphics.com/.
We have been spending a significant amount of time developing our Internet Web site. The site is dedicated to analytical methods in business research. It contains present and past newsletters as well as longer discussion topics covered in the newsletters. We have also included links to on-line statistical data resources and summaries of recent academic articles that have relevance to practical business research (a rather small number). Please take a look at our site at http://www.lieb.com and send any comments or contributions to email@example.com.
We have recently returned from a visit to central Europe. During that trip I had the opportunity to discuss marketing research and business development opportunities with professionals in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and in Poland. Particularly in Poland there was strong interest in the Internet and the Web. It appears the World Wide Web is truly global and will be increasingly so. It may forge a truly international community.
I hope that the articles in this newsletter stimulate discussion and provide some new insights into the uses of information technology. I appreciate any comments and contributions from you. You can get in touch with me at Custom Decision Support, Inc., Phone (610) 793-3520. Fax (610) 793-2531 or E-Mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.