In the near 20 years that I have worked in research, development in technology has always driven change across the industry. However, in my mind at least, the ever more rapid pace at which technology moves on has led to seemingly ever faster change in the approaches we adopt.

RSM and Critical Research conduct regular research amongst a range of industry representatives. In the most recent wave we examined the impact of some of the ‘new’ and more data driven disciplines emerging within the sector.

Online surveys are now ubiquitous and heavily entrenched across the research industry. 87% of respondents to our survey had used online research in the past 12 months and 62% expected to see an increase in its use over the next 12 months. However rather than crowding out traditional research methods, much of the predicted increase is actually expected to augment the amount of survey research being conducted – in no small part due to the growth of DIY surveys.

As part of the study, we explored attitudes towards online surveys and the extent to which they have and continue to disrupt the industry for good or ill. A worrying sentiment emerging from our research is that whilst online surveys offer considerable benefits in terms of cost and speed, the method is thought by many to invite inappropriate use – often leading to a reduction in research data quality and insight. This is no doubt an issue that will come into sharper focus as more DIY approaches are adopted – something our audience fully expect

Respondents to our survey were asked to consider the influence of specific methods on the industry as well as the extent to which they are ‘disrupting’ the industry. Online surveys unsurprisingly come top of the list in terms of influence and this is echoed by 56% of respondents (78% of suppliers) that see the DIY survey as key influence. Supplier anxiety is confirmed by the 55% of those suppliers responding who believed that the use of DIY surveys was a key disruption to the industry.

With 42% of our respondents having used mobile/tablet surveys and 31% and 27% respectively having used online focus groups/bulletin boards and online communities there is a clear appetite for technology solutions that make the interaction with the respondent more timely, more intimate and more interactive.

Furthermore, expectations for growth show appetite for these methods will only increase, with 62% of respondents seeing Mobile/Tablet surveys usage increasing and 44% and 40% respectively of respondents believing online focus groups/bulletin boards and online communities usage increasing.

This no doubt will produce challenges as well as opportunities for face-to-face and voice methodologies and are likely, as online quantitative surveys have done and do, to re-define the methodological landscape.

Analytics too is beginning to emerge as part of the researcher’s toolkit with more than more than 1 in 10 respondents citing social media, web, big data and text analytics as methodologies used in the past 12 months. Growth of usage in analytics is predicted by approximately a third of respondents.

Using observable data facilitated by its automatic collection through the Internet presents great opportunities and challenges for researchers. The perceived influence of social media and device innovation is significant across both suppliers and buyers and further establishes the very real transformative potential of technology on the sector.

To conclude, I believe that advancements in technology are undoubtedly resulting in significant change across the research industry. However rather than simply treating approaches like DIY as a threat our industry must use them as an opportunity. An opportunity to engage with, educate and support a group finding research for the first time. A group who will in time, come to respect and benefit from, and ultimately we hope be willing to pay for, our undoubted skills as researchers.

Jon Wood