Listening to users is an important part of the IT manager’s job. It's complicated, however, when you consider today's distributed workforce. Getting quality feedback about an upcoming IT rollout is not possible with isolated (and expensive) focus groups or unilateral communication techniques. A tool used effectively in the past to facilitate the ongoing relationship between manager and staff is the survey. With today's Internet, the survey is playing a more significant role in fostering the manager-employee relationship.
For instance, many IT managers develop online surveys to generate feedback from users and technical personnel about their feelings on future IT projects. However, the trouble most IT managers have with surveys is the clunky distribution and reporting methods available to them after the survey is created. Making sure people do not vote twice, ensuring everyone received an invitation to participate, and being able to get informative reporting on the ones that did take part in the survey are all challenges to producing meaningful results. Zarca Interactive seeks to eliminate these hurdles with an outsourced four-step approach to survey development.
As of this writing, Zarca was in the process of releasing a new version of its product (version 3.5).
Entering the site
Zarca begins its survey service in a logical place. Using the Zarca Web site, you simply enter your client ID and password to arrive at the main survey screen, as shown in Figure A.
|Zarca provides the IT manager with the tools to design a custom survey from scratch.|
At the main screen, the survey creation process is conveniently broken down into four main sections:
- Survey Manager
- Distribution Manager
- Reports Manager
- Export Manager
The main work is performed at the Survey Manager level, which allows you to create, edit, preview, and publish surveys. As the administrator, you can add corporate logos, colors, and other elements to give the survey a unique look and feel. The administrator is also in charge of setting permissions and defining who receives the survey. The system uses a Private/Public survey designation to define the level of access. To ensure participants submit only one survey, you can also designate the survey to use a unique key for solicitations.
Clicking the Edit icon of my existing survey displays the current layout and provides additional editing options, as shown in Figure B.
|The survey system can autopopulate common questions so you don't have to enter individual answers, such as countries or states.|
According to Suhail Farooqui, Zarca Interactive’s president and chief operating officer, the Survey Manager can construct three types of surveys:
- Standalone: A series of questions on a single page
- Multipage: Questions on more than one page
- Branching: A multipage survey that guides the user to different pages based on his or her responses
Perhaps the most useful for conducting in-depth surveys is the Branching type, which allows the creator more control over how the survey should flow. Also important are the options for answer type, with eight choices ranging from drop-down boxes to group questions using a grid format.
Once you're satisfied with the content and look of the survey, the next step is sending it out. The Distribution Manager, shown in Figure C, lists all surveys available for distribution.
|The Action column lists icons indicating whether a survey is ready for distribution and whether a survey has received any responses; there's also an option for sending reminders.|
Clicking on the Customize Invitation link gives you an opportunity to personalize the invitation being sent to the survey candidate. This invitation also includes the necessary links the respondent needs in order to take the survey. To distribute the survey, simply click on the Send Invitations icon and either enter the e-mail addresses manually or, perhaps the more feasible option, upload them from a text file. The number of e-mails you're allowed to send depends on the type of survey package you purchase from Zarca.
There are a number of ways to slice the data you get back from respondents. Figure D provides a snapshot of the available reporting options.
|Clicking on the Generate Report button is all that is required to get generic reports about your survey results.|
To really drill down on the survey data, I found Conditional Report to be quite helpful. You take questions from the survey, select a condition (such as equal to or greater than), and provide a desired answer from the survey to discover unique aspects about respondents (such as who they are or where they come from).
To appease the spreadsheet crowd, Zarca has included an export utility for downloading survey results into Excel. The results display in the spreadsheet with survey questions as the heading and the respondents’ answers parsed among the columns. Also included is a link for XML exports.
The cost for Zarca's service is determined by a number of factors. According to Farooqui, "Our business model has various options and we do not publish our pricing information—we are in the process of finalizing that. The process is a little complex because we also sell in a lot of other countries through partners and resellers." In an e-mail, Farooqui offered this explanation to further describe how Zarca's pricing structure works:
- Fully managed surveys: Many of our clients send us their questions and we manage all aspects of administering the survey working in close collaboration with them. Prices vary greatly based on scope of work.
- Fully managed surveys plus consulting: This is for clients who engage our expertise in the design of the survey as well as require help with interpretation and follow-up of survey results. Consulting is a significant piece of such engagements.
- Subscription for DIY model: Do-it-yourself annual subscription offered on an application service provider (ASP) basis.
- Software licensing: For clients who want to host the product as an internal application.
- Customized solution: For clients who have specific business rules that are outside the scope of a generic solution.
Worth a look
Managing users in faraway locations requires creative thinking when it comes to getting feedback about upcoming IT projects. In the past, surveys have proven themselves a low-cost alternative to face-to-face meetings, yet their results could sometimes be misleading. Harnessing the Internet to distribute a survey is a better use of your network because it eliminates some of the idiosyncrasies associated with survey results.
Zarca extends this process further with its outsourcing option. Other than the vague pricing situation (which is understandable, considering the number of options available), I found Zarca's product intuitive and feature-filled. The learning curve for e-mail distribution was minimal, and the reporting features allow any statistics-centric IT manager the chance to really delve into the details.