Based in Hungary, Ipsos Szonda Media, Opinion, and Market Research Institute, a part of Ipsos Group Worldwide, provides comprehensive market, advertising, public opinion, and health and media research services. The company relied on macros in Microsoft® Office Excel® spreadsheet software to generate customer reports for its customers. However, this method was time-consuming and unreliable. Working with MTA SZTAKI, Ipsos Szonda deployed a new, high-performance report-generation system that uses the Open XML Formats to automate the processing of research data and customer reports.
Established in 1990, Ipsos Szonda Media, Opinion, and Market Research Institute provides comprehensive market, advertising, public opinion, and health and media research services. Ipsos Szonda is headquartered and managed from Hungary. The company has more than 100 full-time employees, and is part of the IPSOS Group worldwide. The IPSOS Group is a leading international market research institute headquartered in Paris that has 8000 full-time employees in 55 countries and that provides research services to 5000 clients in more than 100 countries.
||One of the great advantages of Open XML is that … [it] provides robust performance and reliability even with a high volume of data and a large number of reports created.
Certified IT Engineer, MTA SZTAKI
Data used as a basis for research analysis is collected by Ipsos Szonda through questionnaire-based, computer-aided personal interviews (CAPI), telephone interviews (CATI), or Web (CAWI) interviews. The company also conducts omnibus research on a monthly basis using a representative national sample. Further, the company maintains regular working relationships with eminent representatives of academic and university research bodies in Hungary, involving them in the efforts as research or expert specialists in their particular fields.
Ipsos Szonda’s professionals cater to customer needs when completing assignments. This includes translating tasks into research language and consulting or integrating results into short-term or strategic plans. The consistent quality of research projects conducted by Ipsos Szonda is guaranteed by a quality assurance system certified to conform to the ISO 9001:2000 standard.
Ipsos Szonda collects data using the same questionnaires on a weekly or monthly basis—or at a regular interval a client requests. The resulting data is used to generate trend analyses for customer satisfaction, brand awareness, or the impact of an advertising campaign.
“The data may come from paper-based questionnaires filled out by the interviewer or mailed in, but most are collected through computer-aided in-person interviews,” says Bálint Kátay, Operations Director for Ipsos Szonda. “The Institute has established the largest notebook fleet in the country for this purpose; interviewers use more than 300 portable computers. This working environment, which also includes the pre-processing of electronic questionnaires, entirely relies on Microsoft .NET technology.”
Output from the research projects that Ipsos Szonda conducted was in SPSS format. To share this information with clients, Ipsos Szonda researchers had to first convert data into spreadsheet files, and then used macros in Microsoft® Office Excel® to create various reports.
“These reports, as a function of the assignment, had to be created frequently, and often with breakdown by geographical location, for a high volume of data,” explains Kátay. “The Excel macros do not provide the flexibility and dependability to support that approach as they are not designed for processing such high data volumes subject to frequently changing criteria. Changing the report structure was also cumbersome in the old system as the researchers required the involvement of the developers to do so. That environment lacked the robustness and efficiency to provide effective support to the processes that resulted from our activities. Consequently, completing the assignments often required significant extra effort, and employees had to put in overtime.”
Ipsos Szonda sought a better solution. In the summer of 2006, it worked with MTA SZTAKI to explore options using the Open XML Formats to create a more efficient report-generating structure.
||Now a new report does not require the creation of new macros and their maintenance, so less development and fewer support resources are required for our efforts.
Operations Director, Ipsos Szonda
“That was when we started designing the new report-generation (RG) system, and the first step was to familiarize ourselves with the Open XML specification in detail,” says Balázs Molnár-Sáska, Certified IT Engineer at MTA SZTAKI. “The Open XML Formats supported by RG is a ZIP-XML structure, which means that a document is in fact a compressed directory containing mostly XML files, with the most important advantage being the open and fully documented source code. As a result of the logically structured format, documents can be interpreted purely through XML read/write operations, and the variable parts can be replaced through automated processes. Open XML handles the descriptions for tables and charts on a shared platform so they are easily portable between different document types.”
MTA SZTAKI harnessed these features when creating the new RG system for Ipsos Szonda. Its client-server architecture is based on the Microsoft.NET Framework, the Visual C#® development tool, SQL Server® 2005 database software, and the Visual Studio® 2005 development system, and it integrates with the Open XML Formats.
“Using the RG client software, Ipsos Szonda researchers create dynamic data and tables required for the analysis on a central server,” explains Molnár-Sáska. “Each table is also available to view through the client software interface but the point is that the end-user can export the data and specify the presentation environment: a document or spreadsheet. The uploaded file can be utilized as a template where the researcher specifies the formatting of headers, tables, charts, and other items. At the same time it references the dynamic items that are being replaced by the system with real data when generating the report. When uploading, the formatting settings can be saved by the user so that the template can be re-used.”
Ipsos Szonda currently uses the new RG system to analyze chronological data from a tracking or longitudinal data collection and to create reports that present the findings of that analysis. Nevertheless, the technology deployed and the structure of the system that MTA SZTAKI created allows the application to be extended.
With the new report generation system, Ipsos Szonda can automate the processing of research data to a great extent.
Improved Performance and Reliability
“One of the great advantages of Open XML is that the data is not managed in a single large XML file but in a well-structured tree, so the RG system can quickly identify the data to be loaded into the document templates,” highlights Molnár-Sáska. “That provides robust performance and reliability even with a high volume of data and a large number of reports created—and that is exactly what Ipsos Szonda needs. Another great benefit of this technology is that applications can have direct access to these data, so no additional steps are needed to create the reports. Nevertheless, when the need emerges to change the look of the report, the researchers themselves can easily make the changes using the user-friendly, intuitive tools in document or spreadsheet applications.”
Through the elimination of manual efforts, the new system boosted the productivity and reliability of report creation and lowered the risk of mistakes. At the same time, Ipsos Szonda has the flexibility to easily meet ever-changing customer needs and requirements.
“Now a new report does not require the creation of new macros and their maintenance, so less development and fewer support resources are required for our efforts,” says Bálint Kátay. “Our RG system is harnessing the capabilities of Open XML and provides a much better investment under much better conditions than the implementation of other specialized report-generation applications available in the market. Open XML–based report generation also saves time through automation, so our staff can focus on research and on meeting the needs of our customers. Even pre-configured, off-the-shelf research can be more easily created and customized in this system. As a result, the solution provides major support in terms of sales and customer satisfaction.”
Ipsos Szonda and MTA SZTAKI created the system design for RG in the third quarter of 2006. Development and implementation occurred in the first half of 2007, followed by testing in the second half of the year and launch in November.
“The completed RG system works to our satisfaction, which is a credit to the skills and efforts of MTA SZTAKI as the development partner. But it also indicates the maturity of the Open XML Formats: it served as the basis for the development of excellent quality,” concludes Kátay.
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