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Research First

February 1, 2007
by Jay Campbell
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Marketers can track changing customer needs and detect new opportunities with self-service research analysis.

With an ever-widening range of constituents including providers, facility managers, insurers and consumers interacting in complex and enigmatic ways, it is difficult for organizations to know how to drive growth. Jay campbell

Companies that succeed are leveraging technology to stay on top of changing needs. While technologies like business intelligence applications are important, they only help organizations see the inside story — information about customers and transactions. Just as important is the ability to quickly and continuously gather external information about the market — needs, attitudes, decision criteria and who is not buying and why.

Until recently, the market research technology available for gathering and analyzing market information was complex and required expert involvement to program surveys, scrub data, build cross-tabs and run statistical analyses. Conducting research was an arduous project that took months to complete, required an army of experts and cost a lot of money. In a fast-changing industry like healthcare, often results were outdated by the time the study was complete.

With the need for faster, more current market information, new "self-service" market research applications have emerged. These applications break down traditional barriers to rapid research by automating complex, manual steps, thereby reducing the need for experts and making it possible for marketers to quickly conduct and analyze their own research.

There are two main types of self-service applications — data collection and data analysis.

Data collection applications make it easy for marketers to quickly and cost-effectively create, launch and gather results from surveys without requiring involvement from research experts. SurveySolutions from Perseus Development Corporation (Braintree, Mass.) and Zoomerang from MarketTools Inc. (San Francisco) are Web-based on-demand applications that walk users through the process of setting up and launching a survey. These applications are designed to be used by marketers, so the software takes care of complex survey setup tasks that previously required experts. With self-service survey applications, marketers can gather information quickly and stay in touch with the changing needs of their customer base.

Successful organizations know that gathering data is only half the battle. To uncover differentiating market intelligence, marketers must have an effective solution for analyzing data and mining it for insights. This is where advances in market research technology are most evident.

Historically, analyzing research required experts who understood how to apply statistical principles and had mastered the complex software applications required to process the data. While statisticians are skilled in techniques of analyzing data, they are often not privy to the business intricacies and organizational challenges the way marketers and business managers are.

The result is a slow and inefficient analysis process that requires a series of handoffs between marketers and statisticians. This takes time and stifles the iterative hypothesis-generation and discovery process that is critical to finding deeper market insights.

Self-service research data analysis applications are changing the way surveys are analyzed. New applications can automate the complex steps in the analysis process and embed the statistical knowledge and decisions that previously required experts. This enables marketers who have the greatest knowledge of the organization's business challenges to access the data themselves and test hypotheses, identify new segments to target and learn about the changing needs of customers.

These Web-based, business-oriented applications are fundamentally different from the statistical software they are replacing. Most are available as on-demand applications or can be installed behind corporate firewalls. They operate on architectures that include:

  • Centralized, Web-based designs that allow users to securely access research data and analyses over any Internet connection.

  • Efficient data storage and processing structures that promote collaboration by enabling multiple users to simultaneously access and analyze the same dataset and share results in real-time.

  • Sophisticated data upload engines that accept standard research data files including SPSS, SAS and Excel, and seamlessly handle invalid data without stalling the upload or analysis process.

  • Distributed, scalable server architectures that provide fast execution of complex calculations and scale to meet the needs of any organization.

These self-service research analysis applications offer organizations a variety of benefits. For instance, executives at Fallon Community Health Plan (Worcester, Mass.) reports that they save a tremendous amount of time and are able to uncover deeper insights. Others, like Boston Scientific, report that they are now able to quickly and rigorously evaluate a variety of segmentation approaches and can better share information and insights across the organization.

Operating in a changing environment is a constant for healthcare organizations. Those that take advantage of self-service market research applications are able to capitalize on these changes faster and achieve competitive advantage.

Author Information:

Jay Campbell is vice president of product for Monitor Software's MarketSight application. Monitor Software is a Monitor Group company based in Cambridge, Mass.

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