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Rewiring Qualitative Research Businesses with AI

Paul Kingsley-Smith 10/9/23 5:00 AM
Rewiring qualitative research businesses with AI

How research agencies and consultants can respond to realise the potential of Generative AI

Has it really been less than a year since generative AI burst into our world and consciousness? It’s hard to believe that it was only last October that ChatGPT emerged and set off a chain reaction that is changing our world.

Generative AI tools have grown explosively, changing the software business at enormous velocity. The competitive landscape for Qualzy as a research platform developer is evolving at speed.

Meanwhile, research businesses are just one among most (maybe all) sectors who are eyeing the anticipated upheaval and change with more than a little trepidation.

According to the latest global research by McKinsey, generative AI is in active use by at least one business function for a full third of businesses*[1] Businesses that had already embraced traditional AI such as machine learning, robotic process automation and so on are unsurprisingly leading the charge when it comes to deploying genAI in their sectors.  

Few research businesses were of this type, however. Despite having long-ago recognised the power of digital for online and mobile data gathering and the power of analytics, the reality is that qualitative research businesses are people- not technology-centric.

Uncertain appetite for change

The appetite for automation has been muted in research firms. Because the needs of brands and businesses for insights evolves and revolves around their commercial priorities, qualitative research projects are always unique. Although there are many standard task types and activities that might be used, decisions about their use are entirely contextual and part of the creative design process.

Enhancing research projects with generative AI has been a topic of debate all year. Naturally, there is some uncertainty about how this might work, and how participants would respond. That is why Qualzy collaborated with Mustard Research in early 2023 to actually test that – you can download the results of what was a fascinating AI in qualitative research experiment here.

The results were intriguing. They only reinforced our view that there is (in fact, there must be) a role for generative AI both in the qualitative research process and in supporting qualitative research professionals.

We’ve watched with interest as our partners and customers adjust their thinking and embrace change. Flume is one of these. They see the difference clearly, saying: “AI cannot interpret or find the meaning in content. Only a human brain can do this, and it’s the fundamental skill of a good qualitative researcher.”

We see AI not as a barrier, but rather as a route to deeper analysis and ultimately to a richer understanding of what makes people tick – and that is like gold dust,” they conclude.

We agree whole-heartedly.

You don’t have to look far to see that the smart consulting advice is that every company will need to plan for this change, or risk withering away.

With trillions of pounds up for grabs in the global economy, Accenture talks of reinventing how work is done[2]. McKinsey writes about rewiring organisations at fundamental levels[3].

They definitely aren’t ignoring the impact in their own businesses – in April PwC announced a $1 billion investment in developing its own genAI services, for example.

How research businesses must prepare to rewire for AI

We see 7 areas where research businesses should be thinking about how to rewire their operations. It isn’t only about enhancing research capabilities, speeding the time to insights, adding project flexibility and engaging participants real-time at any time. Attention also needs to be placed on how the business itself works, and how AI could potentially give it greater resilience, and competitive advantage.

  1. Brainstorm the competitive potential of developing enhanced and value-added research services by shaping generative AI around your own expertise and business needs
  2. Explore how generative AI is powering up core business systems for SMEs and enterprises alike, enhancing the capabilities of finance, HR and marketing solutions
  3. Start to rewire current research roles and expectations for an AI-enabled future – so today’s team is prepared for a changing market and new demands
  4. Take a look at talent plans and needs, integrating genAI skills, familiarity and experience into research administrative, management and moderation roles for recruitment – starting now
  5. Consider how time use could change with human-like decision-making or responses to manage simpler inputs and queries, so professionals can focus on the complex, revealing opportunities
  6. Weave AI into technology plans. Seek AI enabled tools that can enhance research design, building and moderation workflows, making setup faster and steps smoother – like Qualzy
  7. Leverage not just the analytic power of AI to find new patterns and insights in collected feedback, but also generative AI ’s potential to shoulder more load on presenting them

There is no future in any qualitative research business that does not include AI in some form – not least because there will soon be implicit expectation from research clients and brands that you will naturally leverage it to its maximum potential on their behalf.

Starting to rewire your business to embrace AI is simple. Don’t just explore the above list but see what your own team-members conceive when you open the floor to them. Gather the whole team to brainstorm around one simple phrase: “What if AI could…”

Putting AI straight to work in your next qualitative research project is simpler still – because we have already done the hard work for you.

Want to learn more?

Fix a demo of Qualzy today and we can show you how to gain AI capabilities for your team and projects instantly and creatively.