Custom Panel or Online Research Community – managed in-house or fully outsourced?

There is plenty of debate over which is more appropriate a custom panel or an online research community (ORC), and the choice of one or other of these is very specific to an organisations business and research requirements and there are certainly merits for both.

This in isolation though is just one of the decisions an organisation has to make when considering the value a custom panel or ORC can bring to its business. One of the lesser discussed topics and one that can cause far more issues is whether the panel or ORC should be managed in-house or fully outsourced.

The benefits of management of any project in-house are that it gives the organisation greater control, means that cost becomes an internal one rather than external and enables the organisation to set its own agenda, processes and usage.

However the arguments for a fully outsourced solution are equally compelling, especially when considering a custom panel or ORC. The first is the benefit of wider experience and skills that an external organisation can provide. Many organisations are not able to recruit a specialist with relevant experience and more often than not will put “someone in the deep end” and leave them to make their own learning and mistakes.

Managing an online research community

In addition, managing a custom panel or ORC requires more than one skill set, for example a technical person to build and develop the solution; a campaign / project manager to build and manage the research studies or moderate the forum; a researcher to provide research know how and derived insight; a data processing specialist to manipulate data and manage CRM feeds; a compliance manager knowledgeable about Data Protection, MRS guidelines, Gaming and Prize Draw law;  an overall manager to give it direction and drive value into the business.

The issue for the organisation is whether to spread these requirements across a group of individuals, often not in the same team or division and with other duties to perform or to incur the cost of recruiting a specialist team which adds to overall cost. The advantage of the outsourced custom panel or approach is that all of these key skills are available on an “as needed” basis allowing an organisation to benefit from specialist knowledge as and when required and cutting internal salary and associated infrastructure costs.

Resource is a key factor and at a time when most organisations have recruitment freezes or policies for staff replacement only, the outsourced argument can look very favourable.

Outsourcing of a custom panel or ORC also provides the organisation greater flexibility in usage, is far more scalable and there is less of an issue when key staff are on leave or ill.

So are in-house or fully managed solutions the only options or are there any alternatives? One option is the “hybrid” management solution where certain key skills are retained in-house but the organisation works closely with a partner in a partially/shared managed custom panel or ORC. This approach has many of the benefits of the fully outsourced solution but also enables the organisation to utilise existing internal resource. Teamwork, definition of roles and responsibilities and a good working relationship are essential in such an approach but with trust and careful management can be an extremely effective option.

So the decision is not only a custom panel or an ORC, but also how it is managed. Download our Custom Panel Best Practice Guide here.

We would be interested to hear your views on these issues and any key successes/challenges that you have experienced.

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