Raosoft energizes survey wares

Raosoft Inc. next month will release the first Microsoft Corp. Windows-based version of its EZReport data analysis package, along with an enhanced version of SurveyWin, its survey automation software.

The statistical report writer, EZReport 4.0., will be available for the first time with a graphical user interface running on Windows 95 and 98 and Windows NT. Previous versions were DOS-only, said Catherine McDole Rao, president of Raosoft, Seattle.

The new release, which will be available Oct. 26, also adds capabilities that make it easier for users to analyze and extract information, the company said. For example, users will be able to view graphs and tables of multiple variables, as opposed to single variables, on the same screen instantly.

The product also will allow users to combine variables to form new questions and to analyze text comments from participants by word count and word string in order to formulate new response categories. The release also can instantly perform statistical calculations such as sum, count, average and standard deviation.

Raosoft also has added functionality to SurveyWin, its software for conducting online surveys. SurveyWin Release 4.0, which is targeted for an Oct. 15 release, contains new options for guiding survey participants through forms, such as "if-then-else" logical statements, the company said. These advanced "skipping paths," which tell respondents which question to answer next based on what they have just replied, can be selected via a point-and-click menu, making survey design easier.

Entry screens provide "more validated entry," which means that the software ensures that survey participants stay within the requirements of the survey, such as filling out an entire data field.

The new release also allows survey designers to determine how much text participants can write in as comments, rather than limiting survey participants to 250 characters, she said.

The main module of SurveyWin collects information and performs analysis, so customers can "quickly see information organized as charts and other groupings," Rao said.

Because the new release uses object technology, data can be grouped into different categories instantly with accompanying pie and bar charts and tables by "point-and-click selection," Raosoft said.

Capt. Scott Hopkins, a software technology insertion engineer with the Air Force Center for Innovation, Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, uses Raosoft packages to send out surveys to thousands of people relating to "quality of life and organizational climate" issues, he said. "We do data collection Air Force-wide" for as many as 500,000 people, he said.

The advanced skipping mechanism is a good ease-of-use feature in SurveyWin, Hopkins said. He also praised the "break-out pie chart and graph" software as requiring "fewer clicks" and the menu structures as being "more meaningful." These attributes of the new release "save time in putting together surveys and reduce the analysis effort," he said.

Hopkins also noted Raosoft's willingness to add features requested by users. The Air Force, for example, requested "counterbalancing," a mechanism that randomly rotates groups of questions so all participants do not see the questions in the same order. Counterbalancing is a concern because the order of questions can create a bias, according to Raosoft.

EZReport's improved "template-based mechanism" enabled Hopkins' office to generate reports more rapidly, he said. In just more than an hour, the software put together 3,600 reports in similar formats but using different data.

The Air National Guard also has tested the new releases, said Capt. Wes Forgey, chief of information systems at the organ-ization's Center for Excellence, Andrews AFB, Md.

The center sends out surveys to as many as 110,000 people, collecting data on "culture and climate and customer satisfaction" with training, personnel issues and programs.

Forgey said he likes the improved user interfaces and the advanced scripting and skipping features of the software packages. On the analysis side, Forgey said, his office "performance-wise has experienced a 20 percent to 30 percent increase in the responsiveness [of the software] on the same type of equipment.

"Where we really noticed a gain was in the statistical computations with SurveyWin," Forgey said. Now these require little time, whereas in the past "we used to take a coffee break" while the numbers crunched. All in all, his office can build and distribute surveys and compile the response data into reports more rapidly than before.

EZReport will cost $299 on the General Services Administration schedule, while SurveyWin will cost $287.

Adams is a free-lance writer based in Alexandria, Va. She can be reached at cbadams@erols.com.

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