“It’s no longer a question of if or when the industry will change, but how fast”

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During a visit of Are in Munich, R&D Director of ODC Services, Florian Tress took the chance and had a little chat with Are. He was especially keen on the group’s CEO’s perception of 2013 and an outlook on the rest of the year. We want to share this very interesting insights with you.

Florian: The first half of 2013 is over. What was your personal highlight during the last months?

Are: First of all it has been a very good year for Norstat so far. After a year full of changes in 2012 and in a challenging market, it is very comforting to see that we produce significant improvements in revenue and number of projects since last year. Behind these good results are tremendous efforts at all levels of the organization, and it is really motivating to see the level of professionalism in every part of Norstat and to see how the integration process with ODC taking such a positive turn. Finally, and for me personally, it is a boost to be part of a new management group with energy, visions and potential for long term development of the company.

Florian: Six months are remaining to close this year. What will be the main challenges in the next months?

Are: I think our most important task will be to not derail our continuous focus on quality and efficiency in our operation, as we are putting more and more efforts to develop our panels and complex technology initiatives. We have started some very interesting initiatives to deliver exciting new technologies and products, but nevertheless, our main focus must continue to be on delivering the day to day projects in a high quality, high service level fashion to every single customer every single day.

Although we have great panels in Norstat and ODC, as the entire industry we are challenged with a reduction in response rates and a general reduced interest in participating in traditional surveys. We are currently focusing a lot of our R&D efforts on initiatives that should help us tackle these challenges and reinventing the experience for the respondent. This is in my eyes probably one of the real big challenges for the industry as a whole the coming years.

Florian: Norstat is one of the most important European panel providers but still offers a lot of other methodologies in addition (CATI, focus group facilities, …). Will these methods disappear in the future to be replaced by pure online research?

Are: I do not think they will disappear. We are actually seeing an increase in the demand for some of these methods in some of our markets. There is a clear tendency of local preferences when it comes to the method mix, and it also seems that there will always be a certain need for offline methods, both quantitative and qualitative to support online methods.

It remains one of our biggest strengths to be able to run all methods, both because it lets us maintain and develop a leading competency environment with regards to method application, and it enables us to establish much deeper cooperation with clients, where we can help them with any need that they have in the world of data collection.

That being said, there is little doubt that the growth in the industry will continue to be driven by various online methods, and we have great opportunities in developing products, methods and solutions around these.

Florian: Which new services will you bring to the market in the near future? Which services do you think the market needs?

Are: It is always a little dangerous to promise new products and services in advance, but we will obviously launch several initiatives to develop the survey experience for mobile users and products that take advantage of some of the opportunities that mobile technology presents. This will partly happen by launching some new Norstat developed products, and partly by introducing some partnerships.

Further, we are experimenting with some of the potential of combining various sources of secondary data and ways of improving integration of survey results with customer owned data. This is a pretty big project, and it involves some very interesting findings so far. On the other hand, there are some challenges to be handled, mainly related to data security and privacy of the respondents. I just came back from the ESOMAR big data symposium and 3D conference in Boston, and I think the depth of the discussions that were had on privacy issues and respondents’ attitudes towards sharing data in the future is the biggest take away from that conference.

Florian: Which key findings are you bringing home from ESOMAR 3D?

Are: A key observation is that the world of research is already changing increasingly fast. You speak to people that are integrating enormous amounts of secondary data with survey data, large corporations that are having major research projects owned by their IT department, large scale implementation of MROC panels for online qualitative studies and the applications of big data to solve business problems. It is quite clear to me now that it is no longer a question of if or when the industry will change, but how fast. With these changes, I believe there will be a significant growth of the business of taking data based decisions. However, to take a fair share of that growth, no time can be lost by the industry in the development of tomorrow’s products and solutions. Nonetheless, it seems like everyone pretty much believes that for the next few years to come, the main research budgets are going to be spent in much the same fashion as today.

A second observation is that of the privacy debate in ESOMAR and in the society in general, much fueled by the discussions related to NSA over the last weeks. It is clear that this is a major area of development and that the future of the industry will be shaped based on what the outcome of the various debates regarding privacy and data protection will result in, and maybe even more important: How will the consumer of the future will be willing to share their data and at what price?

Florian: Thank you very much!