Open Data Kit (ODK) is a fantastic open-source platform. We took that as our foundation and then added hundreds of improvements, hosting, documentation, and support.

Following are the key differences between SurveyCTO and straight ODK:

Differences in the server (relative to ODK Aggregate)

  • Online/offline spreadsheet-based form design – plus ability to design forms with an online drag-and-drop form designer
  • Online/offline Android-based data collection – plus ability to preview and fill out forms online, using a simple web interface
  • Hosted 24×7 with near-zero down-time (scheduled maintenance Saturday midnight GMT)
  • Mirrored continuous backups on Amazon servers (with option to restore server to snapshot from any day/time in past 30 days)
  • Instant data visibility with built-in Data Explorer, including powerful visualization and monitoring options – even for encrypted data
  • Ability to easily export .csv data directly from the web – even with encrypted forms
  • Automated monitoring of data quality, with nightly email reports
  • Cleaner, faster, easier-to-use UI
  • Extensive and up-to-date online help
  • Extensive library of documented sample forms
  • Your own individual virtual server, with software updates only when you want them
  • Android and desktop software components with matching versions available as part of server
  • Direct upload and validation of spreadsheet-based form definitions
  • Ability to upload form revisions, even when they alter the back-end database structure
  • Ability to safely generate public-private encryption keys with a simple web interface
  • Online relevance, constraint, and calculation expression-builders
  • Online constraint-tester
  • Safe publishing to Google Sheets and Google Fusion tables (all sensitive data can remain encrypted with your private key)
  • Automatic merging of form data into server datasets, which can then be automatically pre-loaded into forms
  • Automatic generation of new form templates, with easy support for encryption and pre-loaded data
  • Automatic generation of printable versions of survey forms
  • Automatic generation of mail-merge templates
  • Statistics tab for monitoring form submissions over time
  • Direct support for transferring files between SurveyCTO and Google Drive

Differences on the Android side (relative to ODK Collect)

  • Support for invisible, random audio recording for quality control (“audio audits”)
  • Option to hyperlink all field references for non-linear workflows
  • Easier navigation via color-coding of hyperlinks and question lists
  • Ability to enforce, log, or audit “speed limits”
  • Optional “case management” interface for centering data-collection on pre-defined subjects or respondents (patients, clinics, schools, households, etc.)
  • Optional main-menu status bar to give status of connection, submissions in the queue to sync, and more
  • Smart form version control (only most recent form version is displayed, updates can auto-download)
  • Ability to receive forms from and send data to laptops while offline (using local wi-fi networks)
  • Compression of form files in transit for better field performance
  • Ability to log administration sequence and timing
  • Ability for enumerators to add comments to any field
  • Flexible new options to validate or skip fields mid-survey
  • Option to hide forms that are under development
  • Additional automated backups to device’s internal storage (in case of SD card failure)
  • Improved handling of very long expressions in calculate, constraint, or relevance expressions
  • Innumerable other incremental improvements in performance
  • Option to resume crashed forms
  • Option to send crash reports directly from devices to SurveyCTO support staff
  • Innumerable other incremental improvements in stability and error reporting

Differences in the desktop software (relative to ODK Briefcase)

  • Dramatically cleaner and more streamlined UI and installation process
  • In addition to raw .csv exports, export to Google Earth or Stata, merge with Excel, or mail-merge with Microsoft Word – all safely for encrypted forms
  • Offline support for directly pushing forms to and pulling data from devices, using local wi-fi networks.
  • Offline form validation and constraint tester
  • Offline relevance and constraint expression-builders
  • Scheduled syncing for periodic background download and export
  • Workflow automation (can fire off custom processes after each export)
  • Support for selective merging of data from multiple forms in desktop software datasets and then into Excel workbooks
  • Built-in support for public-private key generation
  • Built-in support for re-encoding .csv files, for better font and language support
  • Automatic compression of form files in transit
  • Options to auto-clean local storage
  • Export setting to export .csv files with a separator other than a comma
  • Option to export data without group names in .csv headers

Differences in survey forms (relative to XLSForm)

  • New online drag-and-drop form designer, with ability to go back and forth between online and spreadsheet design modes
  • New field types: comments, calculate_here, text audit, audio audit, speed violations count, speed violations list, speed violations audit, caseid
  • New field attributes: publishable, length, minimum_seconds (for configuring “speed limits”), calculated default values (for, e.g., defaults pre-loaded from .csv), notes (for printable versions), organized (for groups)
  • New appearance styles: “show-formatted” appearance style for integers and decimal numbers, “numbers_decimal” and “numbers_phone” for text fields
  • New functions: de-duplicate(), format-number(), duration()
  • Can easily record total time spent filling out a submission (or time spent within individual modules)
  • Can add hyperlinks and menus for within-form navigation
  • Can design collaboratively in Google Drive rather than Microsoft Excel
  • Can use spreadsheet-based form templates designed for ease-of-use (including conditional formatting and help tabs)

Differences in support (relative to ODK community support)

  • Rapid, professional support included with every subscription
  • Software changes made immediately when needed to solve serious problems

A Quick Video

If you’re familiar with ODK, you can very quickly learn about how SurveyCTO is different by watching some of our videos. Here’s a quick one that should give you an idea:

We improve SurveyCTO relentlessly, so this list is bound to be out-of-date. Sign up for a free trial and check it out for yourself.

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