Before you invest...
Evaluating Systems and Vendors

8 Things to do BEFORE You Invest in a Database

…a Guide for Market Research Firms

1    Evaluate your existing computers and network. Technology moves fast. If you haven't purchased a computer in the past two years, chances are good that you'll need to invest in a new PC in order to make the best use of a database system.   And, if you aren't already networked, this may be the right time to install a local network.   There are many advantages to networking, even if you only have 2 or 3 computers. If your database system is networked, you will be able to have one or more people do data entry while another pulls recruiting lists.

2    Take a hard look at what information you collect and how you use it. Moving to a computerized database from paper records (or from an old, homemade database) is a big step. It can be demanding of your time and staff's resources. One of the most difficult aspects of using a new system is converting information that is in "text" form to coded data, which can be interpreted by the computer. For example, you may collect information from your respondents about their occupation and enter that information on their data card or type it into computer. But, unless you have devised some type of classifications or groupings of types of occupations, you won't be able to use "occupation" as a meaningful data field for a computerized query. If all you really need to know is Business Owner, White Collar, Blue Collar, and Not Employed, change your data collection form and ask respondents to check the appropriate box.

3    Get input from all potential users of the database system. Who's going to be using the database system? Project managers, data entry staff, recruiters, and your resident database "expert" will each have different views on how a system should work and what it should do. As the decision-maker for your company, you need to consider everyone's needs. Keep in mind that you may not be able to please everyone 100%, but most people will accept change more easily if they have been given a chance to speak up.

Good planning will help you identify the steps and resources you need.

4    Think about how internal processes will need to change. Using a computerized database will require at least some of your staff to do their jobs a little differently. If you have a computerized accounting system, you know that there are a series of steps you always follow to handle transactions resulting in financial statements at the end of the month. Using a computerized database is very similar. It will require you to be disciplined in the way you enter and update respondent records, pull sample, recruit, and close out jobs. Unless your business is very small, different people will be involved in at least some of these functions, and they will need to coordinate their work in order to be successful.

5    Consider how the system will be maintained. You may be able to design the perfect database to meet your needs today, but in a modern business environment, nothing stays the same for long. Just a few years ago, no one recruited on the Internet, conducted fax surveys, or sent e-mail confirmations?  Your system undoubtedly will need to change over time. What resources will be available to make those changes? Saving money in the short run may come back to haunt you in the long run if you have to scrap one system and start over.

Technology moves fast. In today's business environment, nothing stays the same for long.

6    Plan for the conversion. As wonderful as a new database system might sound, you still have to get from "here to there". You may be migrating from paper records, or converting data from an older database. You may be starting from scratch. In any case, getting up to speed on a new system will demand extra time and cost money. Do you have existing staff who can take on additional work, or will you need to hire temporary staff? When and where will your staff receive training on the new system? What kind of technical support  will you need and what will it cost? Good planning will help you identify the steps involved in making a successful and smooth conversion.

7    Talk to other market research firms. Find the names of some other market research companies, preferably similar in size, and ask them about their database experiences. Most anyone who has been through this process will tell you it took longer than they expected, and where mistakes were made. They can also tell you what to look for (and look out for) in dealing with vendors or computer consultants.

Most MR firms are busier than ever and clients demand more quality control.

8    Don't procrastinate. The cost of computers keeps going down. Market research firms are facing demands for both efficiency and quality control. Now is a good time to move ahead. With a little planning and direction, you can make the most of technology that will help your business grow and succeed.

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