Stepping Out: Pushing the reset button in the wake of Covid19

What a difference a year makes. In Summer 2020, many of us were in lockdown/quarantine mode, working from home, learning how to Zoom, hoarding toilet paper, trying to stay patient, hoping for vaccines to come. We dealt with the fear of getting sick, the isolation, and we grieved the loss of friends and loved ones. By any measure, it was a tough year, about as far from “normal” as you can get. 

The year 2021 feels distinctly different, doesn’t it? In the United States at the time of this writing, nearly half the population is fully vaccinated. Slowly, surely, we are beginning to feel more empowered. We can see the end of the pandemic, or at least it feels like we’ll be able to manage it. Schools and workplaces are opening up. The masks are coming off.  

It’s strange how the things we used to take for granted feel alien to us now. Things like going out to eat, visiting friends and family, entering a shopping mall, going to a house of worship, traveling. It’s like we have to relearn how to be normal. As a cartoon in the New Yorker said it so well, “I forget how to people.” It’s like we have to figure out how to start over again. How do we reboot our lives? 

We have learned a lot about ourselves in the past year, who we are, who we want to be, and what truly matters. Here’s a thought. Maybe, as we step gingerly back into the life stream, we will remember the daily practices of self-care that guided us through a very trying year. Maybe we won’t forget to appreciate the simple pleasures and the people that matter.  

As life begins to open up and we relearn how “to people,” remember to be patient with others and yourself. Here’s to a summer and a “new normal” that feels better, calmer, and more comfortable. We hope you enjoy everything the summer has to offer!  

6 POSITIVE ASPECTS OF WORKING FROM HOME

It is fair to say that we were all happy to see the year 2020 in the rear-view mirror. The new year brings the promise of Covid19 vaccine relief, and maybe (just maybe) a return to some normalcy. In the meantime, many of us remain working from home. To be honest, it sometimes feels like living under house arrest! At MSG, we miss being physically in the presence of our colleagues. We miss the water cooler conversations and casual interactions. We stay close over Teams, but it’s just not quite the same. Such isolation can be unnerving and wearying, but in the spirit of the new year, we asked our teammates to share some silver linings they have found inside the cloud. What are some benefits about working from home?

More time to spend with kids. For those of us with children, we can spend more precious time around them. The kids aren’t going to be little ones forever. OK, OK, maybe that sentiment held for the first month or two, before everyone started climbing the walls! But you get the idea. It’s good to be reminded how much our families matter.  

Being more productive without worrying about commute. Honestly, how many of us miss the drive to work? The past year has made us more aware of the time we spend moving from home to workplace. That is time better spent catching up on email and planning our day.  And think of all the money saved in gas and wear and tear on your automobile! One thing you might miss about the commute, however, is the transition time. Commuting gives you space between home and work life. How do we cope when that buffer collapses? On to our next point….

Being more strategic about time management. One of the major challenges of working from home is finding ways to juggle all the responsibilities of homelife on top of the regular workday responsibilities. We have become better planners.  It is important to set some boundaries and rituals to give your day a semblance of structure. We have also become better multitaskers, finding ways to be more flexible, like say, doing the laundry and feeding the pets in between meetings.

Closer bonds and time with the family. The pandemic has made us appreciate the time we have together. We’ve become closer and more appreciative of our loved ones.  As one of our salespeople puts it, “if it were not for COVID we would not spend this much time together, and because of the pandemic we have all learned to be flexible and to get creative with entertaining ourselves.” Cooking, crafting, doing puzzles, and decluttering—these kinds of activities can be shared with loved ones. They are opportunities to make memories that will be cherished in years to come.

More “outside time”. Because we’re not stuck in the car each morning and afternoon running to and from work, it’s a lot easier to step out for some fresh air, walk the dog, recommit to that morning exercise routine. Attendance at local parks and open space preserves is up. You’ll find plenty of people enjoying quality “back to nature” moments. All of this is good for the spirit.  

More time with our animals. Let’s talk pets. Better yet, let’s revel in the cameo appearances they make during virtual meetings. Who doesn’t love seeing this?! Pets make us smile. They reveal our better nature. They have been faithful companions through a very difficult time. Where would we be without them? They make the workday much more bearable.

As the months wear on with no clear end to the pandemic in sight, working from home is going to remain challenging. Hang in there and take time for self-care. Recognize how the slower pace allows us to appreciate the simple things in life.

Toni Morrison’s advice on work/life boundaries

In the past year, we have all been struggling to maintain some measure of work/life balance. Blame it on Covid19, if you like, but even in the good old so-called “normal times,” workers have had to juggle competing demands from work, family, friends, service, and that all too rare commodity known as “me time.”  

It being Black History Month, we would like to share some wisdom from one of our greatest African-American writers, the novelist and Nobel prize winner, Toni Morrison. Toni published a brief essay in The New Yorker magazine back in 2017 called “The Work You Do, The Person You Are.” The essay recalls an early job she had as a child in the 1940’s, cleaning the house of a presumably white, wealthier lady, for two dollars a day. Toni would give half her wages to her parents. “The pleasure of being necessary to my parents was profound,” she writes. Morrison took pride in the job, but also became frustrated as more duties were asked of her. When she complained about it to her family, Toni’s father gave her some sage advice: “Listen. You don’t live there. You live here. With your people. Go to work. Get your money. And come on home.” 

Toni derived four lessons from that quote, which for those of us trying to navigate the turbulent waters of work pressures and responsibilities and home, serve as helpful reminders of what really matters.  

 
1. Whatever the work is, do it well—not for the boss but for yourself. 
 
2. You make the job; it doesn’t make you. 
 
3. Your real life is with us, your family. 
 
4. You are not the work you do; you are the person you are. 

Morrison concludes, “…I have never considered the level of labor to be the measure of myself, and I have never placed the security of a job above the value of home.”  

To read the full essay, check out https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/06/05/the-work-you-do-the-person-you-are 

A Lesson in Black History from Stevie Wonder

To commemorate Black History Month, let’s do a retro music rewind to the year 1976 and the classic album by musical genius Stevie Wonder, Songs in the Key of Life. This Grammy award winner for album of the year is famous for the hits “Sir Duke” (a tribute to Duke Ellington), “Isn’t She Lovely,” and “I Wish.” When digging into the album’s deep cuts, you’ll find a song called “Black Man,” an 8-and-a-half-minute history lesson about the contributions made by black and brown people to American history. The timing seemed fitting, seeing as the album was released in the USA bicentennial year. 

In this funky exercise in consciousness raising, we learn about African-American figures, many of whom never got the attention they deserved in history class. People like the first man to die for the American flag (Crispus Attucks), the first heart surgeon (Dr. Daniel Hale Williams), the first clock maker in America and surveyor of the District of Columbia(Benjamin Banneker), the first man to set foot on the north pole (Matthew Henson), the founder of blood plasma and director of the Red Cross blood bank (Dr Charles Drew), the inventor of the first stop light and gas mask (Garrett Morgan), the founder of the city of Chicago (Jean Baptiste), and the woman who led slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad (Harriet Tubman).  

Essentially, “Black Man” presents Stevie’s vision of a multiracial democracy, as expressed in the chorus:  

We pledge allegiance 
All our lives 
To the magic colors 
Red, blue and white 
But we all must be given 
The liberty that we defend 
For with justice not for all men 
History will repeat again 
Its time we learned 
This world was made for all men 
 

Words to live and learn by!  

For a full listing of the celebrated historical figures mentioned in the song, check out this Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Man_(song) 

Youtube version of the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEoE2UQXduA 

ARCS Update

At Marketing Systems Group, we believe that research is the key to any organization—product or service based—and we want to pursue creative solutions that help our customers to effectively and efficiently run their research projects. That is our core mission. As we pursue that mission, ARCS is evolving into something bigger and better. In this blog post, we want to give an update of the progress made and where we are heading.

Srinath Sankar, VP of Product Development puts it this way: “We’re looking to build a unified research operation platform that can help our customers to engage with their audience, collect insights, and manage the process as a whole. If you asked me ten years ago the definition of ARCS, I’d have said, it’s a panel management tool. Now we don’t see it that way. We want to cover as much of the research environment—the scope of recruitment, the administration of participants, the data collection piece, the management of people in the organization, governance and compliance, security tools, infrastructure, and more.”

We have designed ARCS to work within different contexts and multiple roles that our customers have to play. We are already known as a strong recruitment administration platform, and we help customers with their needs for compliance, security requirements, and consents. Now we are taking the platform into new regions to see how we can help you build research libraries, how to make process management better, and how to improve automation.

Communication framework

We have always felt that the communication framework is the core to the ARCS platform. We have taken strides towards improving audience engagement by partnering with Twilio. The result is a brand new product, ARCS Voice.

In the old ARCS, if you wanted to do a reminder call to participants, you would either do it manually or use our IVR system to make the call. Now you can accomplish the task with a simple web app; no infrastructure is required. Just log into the app, provide a script, and send the message across SMS.

Within ARCS Voice, you can create different projects and set up call flows and trigger different actions such as transfer call, play another message, and so on. You can also create and pull from call lists, control callbacks, and run reports.

Formerly, ARCS could send only outbound text messages to participants. Now we have a two-way street. You can receive inbound messages, and thanks to improved email queue handling, our smart priority queue feature can flag higher priority tasks and execute those critical actions in a timely manner.

We have also created an inbound message center within ARCS that permits various customizations. The message center can look for keywords present in the message and reply with a text or trigger a workflow. We are currently working on the ability to do text-based surveys in a more automated way using a bot or manual intervention, too.

You will see other improvements on the platform as well, including updated targeting tools, user experience improvements, new filtering and multi-value import features.

On the questionnaire side, we’ve made it even easier and faster to build questionnaires. We’ve added new command types such as ranking, and improved accessibility compliance.

In the security space, we have added native SAML support not just for the participant portal (which was already there) but on the administrative side.

As for recruitment, we’ve added support for time zone settings at the study level and location level.

On the participant side, we have added a feature where participants can now receive and iCAL or Calendar invite to add to their Google calendar, for instance.

The ARCS ecosystem

ARCS is maturing, evolving into a solution for research operations. At the core is the platform our customers have been using all along. Orbiting it is an ecosystem of products that take you beyond panel management, recruitment, and questionnaire building. Let us introduce you to these new products.

Atom

Atom is our insights engine product, our attempt to take insights and drive them into better understandings of how operations work. Access to more data, more reports, more dashboards—all of this is well and good—but you really want these insights to fuel better decision making and growth. Under the Atom umbrella we are introducing three tools. First, a friendly built-in bot to answer questions about ARCS, a self-service analytical module to give better control of data inside ARCS, and multiple partnership agreements to provide enriched data about your panelists: demographic, psychographic, behavioral, updated on a monthly basis.

ARCS Pay

ARCS Pay is our incentive distribution product. It handles rewards management and incentive management and distribution. It offers an improvement over legacy incentive management procedures. With ARCS Pay, you can incentivize any activity in monetary currencies or points—you decide on the right mix. The system can track both. On the distribution side, it lets you select a list of rewards vendors and allows your participants to redeem their own rewards. We have partnered with Tango to provide this piece, all integrated within the ARCS ecosystem in real time. Incentive management becomes an engagement tool now, because you can see what rewards are working and which are not. The setup is configurable, permitting you to try different scenarios. 

Olà a Visitor Management

Olà is our visitor management product, released a few months ago. Our goal was to help customers with in-flow traffic, compliance, quota tracking, and reporting. It includes a receptionist module to ease the check-in and no-show process. Kiosk check-in is available. Text-based check-in is there too. On the compliance side, it supports visitor badge printing, an NDA option, emergency evacuation lists, and audit reporting. On the administrative side there are dashboards and reports to track who is signing up, which quotas are filling and not, whether there are no shows, cancelations, etc.

Coming soon: ARCS cloud and ARCS Survey

ARCS Cloud is a portal for cloud customers.  On the horizon, you’ll be seeing an infrastructure upgrade for our cloud customers. Everything is getting updated: servers, hardware, software. There will be more endpoints across the country that will improve cloud-based performance across our customer base. We are looking to a third-party provider of a more flexible service on the delivery portal, which should improve user experience. Finally, we are working up a new version of ARCS Survey, which should be available by spring 2021. As you can see, we’ve been quite busy! Many of these improvements seen in ARCS stem directly from customer feedback. You have shared real world experiences and needs, and we have responded with more multi-faceted and powerful tools. If you’d like to see the newest enhancements in action, you can view a recorded webinar presented by Srinath Sankar.  And for more information, contact your Marketing Systems Group representative.

From the Desk of Dr. Mansour Fahimi

Sometimes you lose a relative, or even a friend, but then comes a time when you lose a buddy. Rumi says, “Set your life on fire and seek those who fan your flames.” There are those who douse your fire, but a buddy fans your fire to take your flames to new heights. The MSG family has lost a buddy.

I am sad out of my skull to think that Ashley is no longer with us, but then, I am delighted to have had her in my life as a buddy. She was always there to help me curb my ego to have empathy for others, yet she knew exactly how to rub me the right way so that I would go to the next step because she was good at fanning my fire.

With nearly three decades of impeccable service, Ashley Hyon was an irreplaceable pillar of MSG. She was the source staff would go to for seasoned counsel and solace, which are exactly the reasons why her clients would seek her out. You would go to her with a technical or personal problem, but then walk away forgetting the reason why you craved her companionship in the first place. People skills and the ability to see good in everything and everyone are innate qualities that are not acquirable by reading books or even getting older – you either have it, or you don’t.

I envy the time John and Sophie have had with Ashley all these years. She was not a drop in the ocean, she was the entire ocean in a drop. When I first met her almost 15 years ago, I told our late Dale Kulp that “she’s good.” Dale smiled back and replied, “I know.”

Verbosities aside, life must go on – though at the moment I’m just not sure why.

Welcome Back: Dr. Mansour Fahimi Rejoins MSG

Surely you know how it feels when someone close to you has to move on. That’s how we felt when our Vice President and leader of our statistical services group, Mansour Fahimi, Ph.D., assumed a new position as Senior Vice President & Chief Statistician position at GfK in 2013. Mansour was like family to us, but we were happy and proud for him and wished him Godspeed.   

Sometimes in life, after a long odyssey, paths will cross again, and there comes a coming home. We in the MSG family are excited that Mansour is rejoining the company. He will hold the position of Executive Vice President and Chief Data Scientist of MSG’s Advanced Analytics and Methods department. Mansour will play a lead role heading MSG’s Online solutions and new methodologies for survey sampling applications in the Digital Age.   

Dr. Fahimi is an internationally recognized research statistician and data scientist, with over three decades of hands-on experience in survey research methods and applications. Throughout his professional tenure Mansour has served as a senior statistician at leading research organizations, such as Westat and RTI, supporting survey projects for the government, commercial, social science, and nonprofit sectors.   

“Mansour is a respected leader and scholar in the field,” says Jeff Palish, Senior Vice President, MSG. “His stellar record of innovations in design and administration of complex surveys for both public and private sector clients speaks for itself. His research into online data collection improvements is nothing less than groundbreaking, particularly the refinements he has developed for selection of nonprobability samples and cutting-edge weighting and calibration methods for samples with coverage limitations.”  

Dr. Fahimi has a vast collection of publication and presentations to his credit. He has served on expert and technical advisory boards for reviewing government surveys.   

“We are thrilled to have him back on board at MSG,” says Jeff, “as our mission now includes providing high-integrity online options to our clients who for decades have been relying on MSG as the leading provider of sampling solutions. Mansour will be responsible for providing strategic vision for improving the inferential integrity of our online sampling product umbrella, with a focus on increasing online market presence, creating high-efficiency project solutions, transitioning survey projects from traditional to online protocols, strengthening MSG’s analytical services, and enhancing our sampling and weighting / calibration offerings.”  

To others in the profession, he is the esteemed Dr. Fahimi. To us, he is also Mansour, a trusted colleague, friend and member of the MSG family. Welcome back, Mansour!  

Friday Cool Downs: Coping with CoVid19 Stress

The people at Marketing Systems Group are data-driven. We crave the laser-focus on statistics, the wonky allure of sample frames and demographics, panel management and survey methodologies. So when the CoVid19 crisis fell upon us, we, like many others, were forced suddenly to work from home, and it hit us hard.  

When teleworking from home, you are faced with juggling work, running meetings, taking phone calls, responding to emails, helping clients, all while taking care of household matters: our kids, our cats, our dogs. It certainly isn’t business as usual. Distractions and anxieties are all too real.  

Still, the work gets done, and we find ways to manage. By the end of the week, though, everybody starts to feel just a little bit frazzled. Obviously, since we must maintain social distance, a traditional happy hour to blow off steam is out of the question. We have come up with the next best thing: “cool down Fridays.”  

Every Friday at 5 PM we meet by video over Microsoft Teams to decompress and boost one another’s spirits. Yes, indeed, “spirits” are involved, too. Each team member is encouraged to show their “beverage of choice”, and together (virtually) we knock down a few. We chat about our week, the challenges we are facing, how we are coping, even which grocery stores have toilet paper in stock!  

Though it sometimes can feel as if working from home means living as a face inside a box (think the opening credits to The Brady Bunch or The Hollywood Squares), “cool down Fridays” have given us a renewed appreciation for the value of each co-worker.  We have the opportunity to let the hair down, get to know each other better. We see one another as real people, with families, partners, spouses, kids, and cute pets.  

The Friday cool downs absolutely have been a big morale booster. With peer groups communicating in new and unexpected ways, we are forging new connections across departments, seeing new synergies emerge that translate into an even more productive work place.   

Ironically, the social distance has brought us a lot closer as a team. And this is just the kind of attitude that will get us through this crisis: together.  

If you haven’t tried a Friday virtual happy hour at your workplace, consider doing it. And don’t forget to BYOB! Stay safe, stay healthy.  

Helping People Through the Power of Data

In these trying times we are poised to deliver the data you need for the critical task at hand. Marketing Systems Group is always on call.

Never was timing more important than last weekend. As the COVID-19 virus was spreading through California, we received a call from the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration. They had an urgent need to reach those most impacted by the virus: high risk people in need of critical services and food delivery.

Could we help? You bet.

We first mapped the city of Stockton by census block and using our listed landline and consumer cellular database, targeted records that had the presence of ages 65 and over. Each record had full address and phone number which allowed for phone and text messaging. We delivered the files to the client on the same day, enabling the mayor’s office and the Reinvent Stockton Foundation to begin their outreach over the weekend.

Time was of the essence to deliver these essential services. Kudos to the California mayor’s office and the Reinvent Stockton Foundation for their kind efforts during this pandemic.

Marketing Systems Group has the technology, know-how, and data to deliver lightning fast turnaround.

There is no time to waste. We’re all in this together. We are here to help.