Infrastructure sounds like a boring word. But in the real world, it's the roads, airports, telecoms which enable us to live and work the way we want to, minimizing the amount of wasted time and maximizing the impact we can have. In our context, the infrastructure we care about falls into four categories:
A substantial part of our business relies on survey research. The challenges involved in migrating as much as 70% of our fieldwork from face-to-face and phone to web-based methodologies have been considerable as has been the move to outsource a higher proportion of our data processing and scripting. But neither of these challenges is as big as those of data quality and engagement. Online panels have many advantages but they have also brought with them problems around fraudulent respondents and over-usage.
There is an urgent need, recognized by us and by clients such as P&G and Coca-Cola, to raise quality standards in the industry as a whole and to do more "research-on-research" in order to understand what has to be preserved in order to maintain the predictive power of our work. At the same time we need to address legitimate concerns around privacy and find ways of engaging with and getting feedback from respondents.
People are willing to spend hours on social networks sharing information about themselves but some of them are reluctant to spend 20 minutes answering a survey. It's not their fault, it's ours for making too many of our surveys incomprehensible and boring and giving nothing back. We recognize the issue, are working with clients to pilot new approaches and want to be the leaders worldwide in engaging with people in appropriate and imaginative ways. The first fruits have already appeared with the launch of Safecount, an unique way of putting consumers in charge of the research process while offering website owners a turnkey solution for carrying out research on their sites.
We have continued to invest heavily in panels. The acquisition of AllGlobal and its merger with WebSurvey has created US's/Europe's largest medical panel with over 200,000 healthcare professionals. Over 90% of our ethical healthcare work is now done online.
Lightspeed's acquisition of the Ultimate Consumer Panel offers financial service clients in the US (and soon, in Europe) an unique insight into consumers and into the primary drivers of bank performance, consumer trends and spending patterns across retail categories. UCP incorporates a stream of detailed credit card and banking statement data that is passively captured from a nationally representative panel (with their express permission) with third-party behavioral data sets and custom survey information.
Lightspeed's general and speciality panels now cover over 2.5 million consumers in major markets around the world enabling us to carry out over 70% of our work in markets such as the US and the UK online. And in markets as diverse as the US, Colombia and China we are now using PDA-based panels and are experimenting with mobile ones.
The recruitment of Matthew Graham-Hyde as our worldwide CIO has provided the necessary impetus to changing our approach to IT. By the end of the year we will have put everyone on to a single worldwide infrastructure, enabling better and faster communication, shared collaboration on behalf of clients and reduced costs.
The other part of the immediate strategy is to increase investment in applications – tools which enable us to deliver more insightful work to clients, in a more engaging way, faster. As individuals we make use of online tools such as Facebook, Mahalo and Flickr, spend hours playing computer and online games, text endlessly and speak to friends and family through Skype. Our challenge is to use this technology to improve the way we run our businesses and the value we add to our clients as much as we have to our own individual lives.
The space we work in affects the way we work. New offices in places such as London, Bogotá, and Los Angeles have been designed to enable us to take a less siloed approach to our clients and have improved retention and recruitment rates. Wherever possible we will continue to take this approach.