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If I already have an SPSS license, then why should I invest in Tabx too?

9th October 2021 in Blogs by Andy Madeley

SPSS Base, known formally as “IBM SPSS Statistics Base”, is a cornerstone application within the MR industry and personally (and professionally) I can’t do without it! However, it really isn’t a simple market research savvy analysis tool and it’s definitely not a data visualisation tool. SPSS is just one of the applications I use and the reason for writing this article is to share my own best practice advice on using SPSS versus Tabx versus any other applications. I hope you enjoy! Any feedback welcome.

One of the analogies I have used in the past to explain why I have an SPSS (base module) license and why I do not use SPSS outside of its core strengths, is this. If I were a professional graphic designer, would I use MS Word, MS PowerPoint or MS Publisher to complete my project? Unlikely, but possible! And would I use a graphic design application (e.g. Adobe Illustrator, Affinity Designer or Corel Draw) to create a questionnaire? Unlikely, but possible! My favourite phrase here is “horses for courses!” which basically means choose the right application (at the right price for your budget too!) that will deliver the optimum support and deliverable offer. And this is why I feel SPSS, as great as it is within its core strengths, is not the one and only application professional market researchers should rely on for all their project needs.

Please note, I know SPSS has an extensive array of add-on modules. I have used the BASE package for 20+ years. I know that the Standard, Professional and Premium packages give you even more functionality and cater for specialist statistical, marketing and analysis needs. However, the two powerhouse “standard” features of SPSS that are market research invaluable are data transferability and statistical analysis (e.g. AMOS, Regression analysis, Conjoint analysis and Neural networking).

We use SPSS on a daily basis for receiving data from clients; i.e., for data transferability. Most, if not all, recognised data collection and data analysis applications have “export to SPSS” and “import from SPSS” capability and as SPSS files bundle data and metadata together too, there is nothing better for market research project delivery across different stakeholders and/or applications.

In addition – most, if not all, market research agencies have access to SPSS (or Stata), so it makes receiving or delivering data a breeze!

That being said, I am a seasoned data processor and when it comes to collating survey data and creating (tables) analyses, I stay away from SPSS. I think SPSS syntax is good, but it’s akin to my analogy above where I think it’s like using MS Publisher instead of something like Adobe Illustrator. It’s not quite the right horse for the course! The more advanced SPSS Tables module is better, but still doesn’t appeal for the simple fact that IBM SPSS isn’t specifically built to handle market research survey data. The only exception to this statement, in my opinion, is the “SPSS Dimensions” application. Last time I researched “Dimensions” it was only being used by the very large research bureaus and it was an expensive piece of kit!

In summary here, at this point, as Microsoft products are for generic users, I think this generic use case model could be applied to SPSS Base too. The only exception I would apply to this “generic user” model, is that SPSS has a phenomenal specialised area for statistics modelling. Using my analogy above at this juncture, I think using SPSS for basic survey data collation and analysis needs is like using a graphic design application for creating a questionnaire. It can, but it may not be the most practical nor the most finessed (fit for purpose) application for the following survey activity areas -  collation; data collation, tabular analysis or data visualisation. Some might contest the “data viz” reference here, but I have to also look at cost of application and SPSS Premium is too expensive for my budget, especially when it’s still not quite the right horse for the course for me! 

Just a quick FYI here before switching attention to Tabx: In the data processing world we “compile” and work in “batch-mode” – it’s much cleaner, more precise and so much easier to audit and retain path related information.

In taking the decision to create our own combined data analysis and data visualisation application, we knew this could be an admirable add-on application to any market research agency software portfolio. Where SPSS is still not the best at handling survey data (especially multi-categorical question types), we truly believe end-user friendly analysis should be fast, easy to use and question focussed. In Tabx, you analyse the questions and the actual physical data is hidden from view / access. In my opinion, SPSS is somewhat clunky and unappealing for the most basic (crosstab) analysis need. We’ve received some great feedback regarding the usability of the Tabx interface and its more contemporary, point-and-click, environment.

In addition, and as much as this article title does not reference Tableau – we think SPSS + Tabx is a much more attractive proposition than SPSS + Tableau. We used Tableau for 3+ years, but overall, as much as the visualisations themselves are whizz-bang and exceptionally professional looking – the data management burden outweighs the end-product. I still feel the pain of working with Tableau and the way survey data was more an afterthought in the business model. As I believe, Tableau wasn’t originally created for handling survey data. Once Tableau successfully established themselves in their own market sector, I guess they saw an opportunity to diversify. Survey data is very niche and the subtle differences are somewhat painful to handle in Tableau. SPSS is definitely better, but I do think SPSS and survey data are not a marriage made in heaven either.

Even if your company doesn’t use SPSS, then this isn’t an issue for us. Feel free to talk to us and we can show you how easy it can be to set up the analysis space to interrogate your survey data.

If I can be classified as a “geek” regarding any specific area of my work, then it’s my overall interest for trending survey data. Yep, I really am the complete geek and my ears prick up when I hear the request “we want to look at wave trends across our survey data”. I’m quietly confident that we are going in the right direction with Tabx re: handling this type of data. We’ve created some attractive dashboards and handled some very large data files (200MB+) and there is a certain amount of positive head-nodding in the team and across our clients regarding how we have conceptualised Tabx and how we support wave trend survey data!

I’ve just finished reading an article about the imminent launch of Microsoft Windows 11 and I think it apt I finish this article by concurring wholeheartedly with the quote from the Windows chief product officer Panos Panay, who told the BBC the latest (Windows) version was built to be "clean and fresh and simpler" for the user (reference:

Cleaner, fresh and simpler is the way to go, at least within my business mind space – survey data has to be more readily accessible with more visual messages to support this! I’ll truly finish now by cloning a much revered phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” by saying “a clean, fresh and simple dashboard is worth a thousand words”!

If you’ve got to this point of the article, then I guess you are interested in what I am writing. My e-mail address is Drop me an e-mail!


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