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Editor's note: Mayer Danzig is senior vice president of product management  at Research Now.  

Automation has been one of the hot topics in research for the last several years. Publications routinely include articles about its promise; industry conferences have sessions and even whole tracks to help researchers and companies understand what it means.

To date, however, most of this interest has been focused on what can be considered the first wave of automation, in which individual elements of the research process are automated. I’ve seen surveys that break out more than a dozen different facets of the process.

This piecemeal approach to automation has been met with widely mixed acceptance. In one study, the percentage of respondents who were either using or considering automation for a specific task varied from 21 percent to 71 percent, depending on the task.

Not surprisingly, this first wave of piecemeal automation has focused almost exclusively on efficiency as an end in itself. Automation is applied to ‘this or that’ facet of research to save time, save money, or both.

Now we’re seeing a new approach to the use of automation in research. Instead of automating this or that individual task, automated research platforms represent a coherent, planned approach that incorporates automation throughout the research process, creating an end-to-end solution designed to achieve specific goals in simplifying or accelerating research.

For example, an automated research platform might enable studies to be initiated online, using standardized, custom or semi-custom survey templates. The platform could automatically collect and aggregate responses in real time and automate the reporting of results through a dashboard or Web portal. Such a platform would address surveys of some complexity and scope, while also meeting quick-and-easy research needs that go beyond the scop...