Archive for September, 2009

Innovative Use of Technology

September 22, 2009

Today, QSR International was announced the Australian winner of the 2009 Dell Small Business Excellence Award.  There were more than 150 entries for the award and 10 highly innovative finalists.  The award recognizes innovative use of information technology to better serve customers, improve the customer experience, better manage business operations, improve the success of the business, and create a competitive advantage.

Shown: D. Harrigan (Dell), A. Long (QSR International), J. Owen (QSR International), G. Newey (Excom)

Shown Left to Right: D. Harrigan (Dell), A. Long (QSR International), J. Owen (QSR International), G. Newey (EXCOM)

Finalists were invited to submit a 3 minute video for the judges, which can be viewed below.

QSR International develops the world’s leading qualitative data analysis software (NVivo) and uses the software to better understand our customers.  Using NVivo to analyze our customer needs has resulted in direct improvements to our software and how we interact with our customers.  NVivo enables analysis to be undertaken on a range of data types; including rich text, audio, video, and pictures.  This allowed for evidence to be collected, and decisions to be made based on qualitative data (such as interviews, focus groups, and open-ended surveys), rather than relying solely on more traditional quantitative data (such as multi-choice surveys) and personal bias.  I outline below some of the ways we use information technology to better serve our customers.

In 2007, we ran a beta test program for NVivo 8 involving beta testers located in 20 different countries.  The discussions were managed using online discussion forums and interactive webcasts, and the forum threads and digital recordings from the webcasts were analyzed using the beta version of NVivo 8, which provided an evidence based approach to understand and prioritize changes needed within the software prior to release, and ensured our customers were delighted with the final release.  For example, the granularity of audio or video that could be analyzed was reduced from one second to a tenth of a second to facilitate delineation of speech; the format of transcripts that could be imported was made to be more flexible to support other software; and the default view for photos was changed to match customer preference.

In 2008, we conducted an online survey with our existing and potential customers to better understand our market and their perceptions about NVivo 8.  Again, the survey results (predominately open-ended text responses) were analyzed using NVivo 8.  Analysis of the 2008 customer survey revealed that seven of our top 10 customer concerns were not about specific software features, but rather concerns such as increasing the availability of training, extending customer support hours, providing additional user resources, and localizing the software into new languages.  These findings identified business opportunities that were quickly implemented, and greatly assisted in prioritizing the scope for the next major software release.  The customer survey also revealed why our customers enjoy using NVivo; namely the ability to organize, query, and analyze their data; as well as the familiar user interface and flexibility of the software.

In addition, our online discussion forums facilitate regular dialogue between customers, and between us and our customers.  Sub-forums allow interactions amongst specialist groups such as authorized trainers of our software.  Interactive webcasts are also used to facilitate software demonstrations to potential customers across the globe, delivery of comprehensive online training, and personalized live technical support.

The benefit of having our own staff use our software to analyze customer feedback was that they were able to identify feature gaps and usability issues within the software because they were using it in a manner similar to our customers.  Our people were in the best position to ensure that feature gaps and usability issues were addressed by personally advocating their resolution.  For example, staff found transcription of audio or video within the software was frustrating because there was no automatic skip-back option when playing after pausing, or that the software’s auto-save feature would unintentionally disrupt the transcription process and result in the transcriber ‘losing their place’.  These issues were subsequently rectified as part of a service pack release.

The ability to collaborate with customers is paramount to ensure we explore innovative possibilities that result in outstanding software and services.  We’ve accomplished this by interacting with our global customer base through online technologies (forums and webcasts) and using our own software to analyze customer feedback.  This has enabled us to prioritize future software development to address customer desires and expectations.  It does not end here, but rather begins here.

To finish, I quote Michael Dell, Dell Chairman and CEO

Almost 25 years ago, as a small business, we introduced the direct model with a singular focus on listening to customers and working hard to get them exactly what they need. Listening and delivering on behalf of customers has been instrumental in our growth. Our partnerships give us an opportunity to highlight the successes of today’s small businesses around the world.

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How my Interest in Computers Started

September 7, 2009

Many people have asked me how I got into Information Technology.  This blog post recounts where my interest in computers started.

In 1983, at the age of 11, I received my first computer as a gift from my Uncle.  The computer was a Sinclair ZX80 which had a 3.25MHz Z80 CPU and 1KB of memory.  I used a small black and white television to tune the computer’s UHF video signal.  I studied the manual on the syntax of Sinclair BASIC and typed in programs from the ZX Computing magazine I bought from the local news-agency.  The computer did not have a storage device, so any programs I typed in could not be saved.  It was this computer that sparked my interest in computers and reading various computer magazines about the advances in new computer systems and the latest software being released inspired me to learn more.

Sinclair ZX80

Sinclair ZX80

In 1984, I got my first job as a paperboy delivering the The Herald newspaper after school.  I saved up $449 to buy an Amstrad CPC464 which had a 4Mhz Z80 CPU, 64KB of memory, a built-in cassette tape desk, and a green screen monitor.  I studied the manual on the syntax of Locomotive BASIC and typed in programs from the magazine The Amstrad User.  More excitingly at the time, I purchased many games on tapes – including the titles Boulder Dash, Commando and Sorcery.

Amstrad CPC464

Amstrad CPC464

In 1985, I commenced High School which had a computer laboratory containing four Apple IIe computers.  The Apple IIe had a 1MHz 6502 CPU, 64KB of memory, an external 5.25 inch floppy disk drive, and a color monitor.  Me and two friends gained the trust of the school janitor and obtained after hours access to the computer laboratory where I self taught myself to program using DOS 3.3 and created several graphical demos.  The ability to save programs on disk made it significantly easier to learn to program.  I even convinced my English teacher to allow me to write my English papers in the computer laboratory, though my intent was to write my papers quickly and spend the rest of the time playing games.  I also made friends with a senior student who had an Apple IIe at home and he would lend me games – including the titles Aztec, Hard Hat Mack, and Wizardry.

Apple IIe

Apple IIe

In 1986, I sold off my Amstrad CPC464 to buy the improved Amstrad CPC6128 which had a 4Mhz Z80 CPU, 128KB of memory, a built-in 3 inch floppy disk drive, and a color monitor.  My familiarity with Locomotive BASIC and the ease of saving and loading programs on disk got me really interested in developing software.  I sketched out several game concepts on paper and drew game sprites using graph paper.  I ended up developing an arcade isometric maze game and a turn-based 3D dungeon game.  I also played some great games – including the the titles Barbarian, Elite, and Ikari Warriors.

Amstrad CPC6128

Amstrad CPC6128

In 1988, I got a summer job working at the local toy-shop assembling bicycles for Christmas.  I saved up $999 to buy a Commodore Amiga 500 which had a 7.1MHz 68000 CPU, 512MB of memory, and a built-in 3.5 inch floppy disk drive.  Whereas the previous computers were all 8-bit computers, the Amiga was a 16-bit computer that had dedicated chips for graphics and sound.  I never really learnt how to program the Amiga, as the availability and quality of software was incredible, including the titles Bards Tale, Bubble Bobble, Fusion Paint, Kindwords Word Processor, and Test Drive.  The Amiga was the first computer I bought additional hardware peripherals for, including a memory expansion card and a dot-matrix printer.

Commodore Amiga 500

Commodore Amiga 500

It was not until I finished High School and went to university to study computing that I got further into developing software, and it has been for the IBM PC platform ever since.  If you are interested in home computing from the 1980s I recommend reading the UK magazine Retro Gamer.