Investing in an Audience Response System is a big decision. Although costs have come down since the systems were first available, it is still a major purchase, particularly if you need provision for a large number of participants. The implications of making the wrong decision are real in both financial and operational respects. If the system does not fulfil its strategic objective then you have wasted money but you have also failed to achieve that objective to boot, whether it be better employee engagement or creating more interactive lectures for students.

In this blog we outline what we think are four major considerations when selecting an Audience Response System.

1: Reliability

10 years ago, when ARS solutions were still relatively new, the prime driver behind selecting system was ease of reliability. Early systems were often temperamental as hardware was evolving and pioneers often had to cross their fingers and say a prayer to the god of technology when it came for the votes to be collected. ARS solutions in 2014 are much more reliable. Incremental improvements in both hardware and software have delivered solutions which will do the job and not fail or fall over at crucial times. So the number 1 consideration must be reliability.

2: Ease of Use

Ease of Use is the second consideration. Generally speaking software has become slicker and more intuitive over time but as systems have added more sophistication have the developers taken the care to put this power easily at the fingertips of the users? However powerful the system is, that power is unlikely to be used if features are hidden in fiddly sub-menus or nested deep within the guts of the interface. When you audition an ARS, spend time looking at the interface and asking whether every teacher or trainer in your organisation will be comfortable working with it. Relying on the opinion of the most tech-savvy staff is not enough, it has to be a system which all can use.

3: Staff Training

Related to the question of ease of use is the question of staff training. Lecturers, teachers and business users of ARS are faced with numerous technological systems they have to use as part of their roles. The time they have to devote to training is limited, so any system which requires, a full day training prior to use is probably going to be discounted.

4: Integration of Online and Handset Voting

Another relatively recent development in the ARS world is the use of voting from smartphone and tablets. The Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) agenda is impacting both education and business sectors and many participants today will expect that they can register votes using their handheld technology. The issue here is whether a system will actually do this, and how well (if at all), the online votes integrate with voting from handsets. It should also be as easy to set up online voting as it is the hardware option. Not all systems are equal in this respect and this definitely worth paying attention to. Even if you only plan voting from handsets today, the chances are you will have needs for BYOD voting in the future, so bear that in mind.

When you started reading this blog, you were no doubt waiting for the point at which we get to promoting OMBEA. This is the OMBEA blog, and Audience Response Systems is what we are passionate about so naturally we are not going to pass up the opportunity to show how OMBEA is the optimal choice of ARS. It is, and here is why! OMBEA is rock solid in terms of reliability but is also very simple to use. The new PowerPoint toolbar is designed to make the most common tasks such as creating a voting slide, or running a report, achievable with the minimum of mouse clicks. This in turn reduces the need for staff training and creates the conditions where the system is adopted enthusiastically across the entire organisation.

Our final consideration is the one how easy it is to monitor how the ARS is being used across the organisation. OMBEA is designed from the ground up with cloud capability. Data in the cloud offers powerful and unique opportunities for system administrators to monitor voting across an entire university or organisation. Reports on how often the system is being used, how many users are taking part and what departments are running the sessions is readily available with OMBEA connect. This is invaluable data to assess Return on Investment (ROI) and also in highlighting if certain departments are not fully using the systems and therefore may require some extra support or intervention.

Some early ARS systems were so hard to use they were used once or twice and consigned to a cupboard - and they may still be in that cupboard under lots of dust. Modern systems are much easier to use and should spend more time in users’ hands than the cupboard. With OMBEA we are certain you won’t end up with a system in the cupboard, and you’ll be able to see exactly how and when it is being used across the organisation.