As I'm re-immersing myself in the BI market after a few years in another technology space, I've had the opportunity to meet with several industry analysts to get their perspective on the current state of the market. The overall consensus that I've been hearing is that while the market is healthy and growing, it has not yet hit its true potential or original promise. Each analyst had their own take on the symptoms - and the solutions - but a few common themes emerged.

  • BI is too complex. The pendulum has swung way too far towards packing more and more features into a single monolithic application, leaving most users very confused, and leaving IT organizations scrambling trying to manage these behemoth stacks. Given the amount of BI shelfware out there, vendors need to rethink their strategies and focus more on enabling intuitive task or goal-centric BI apps vs. trying to cover all possible needs in one application. (See related post here.)
  • You can't conceive all requirements at the outset. Another commonly used term for BI is decision support - meaning a system that supports decision making. This implies answering questions I don't know the answers to today. Which in turn means I'm not 100% sure where the answer lies or how I will arrive at it. (See related blog posts here and here.) By requiring a heavy metadata layer to define all possible dimensions and measures, traditional BI systems are effectively pre-determining what questions the business users can answer. This imposes significant limitations on real-world decision making where you don't know what questions you want to answer until you start looking at the data. The BI app must be flexible enough to allow business users to conceive new questions and requirements as they are using it.
  • You need to start with the decision, not the data. When creating BI applications you need to be decision-centric, not data-centric. Too many BI deployments are focused on pulling together as much data as possible and shoving it into the mother of all BI applications. Instead, BI applications should be geared around specific decisions or needs and bring together just the data needed to support that area.

Here at QlikTech the mantra is "Simplifying Decisions for Everyone." We are clearly focused on the points above, making BI easier to use, more flexible, and focused on meeting business user needs. What else would you add? Where do you think we, or the market, need to go to ensure BI meets its full potential?

"Start with the visual. That forms the question." It was these eight words in a tweet by John Maeda, President of Rhode Island School of Design, that drew me to watch a 12-minute TedX video titled "Math Curriculum Makeover" featuring high school math teacher Dan Meyer. In this video, filmed on March 6, 2010, Meyer described the way he is turning high school math education on its head to teach kids math reasoning and patient problem-solving skills. He is struggling to overcome a number of student issues like lack of initiative, lack of perseverance, lack of (knowledge) retention, aversion to word problems, and eagerness for formula.

What does high school math education have to do with organizations using business intelligence software? A whole lot, it turns out. Think about this quote from the video, "What problem have you solved, ever, that was worth solving, where you knew all of the given information in advance? Or you didn't have a surplus of information and you had to filter it out? Or you didn't have insufficient information and had to go find some? I'm sure we all agree, that no problem worth solving is like that." That's life in the real world.

What strikes me is that QlikView-a software product-plays the same role in the workplace that educator Dan Meyer is playing in the high school classroom. In this video, Meyer made a few recommendations to educators that apply directly to organizations that are trying to derive business value from BI software:

  • "Use multimedia." In the BI world, I'd translate this to: "Deliver interactivity and data visualization." Enable users to engage with the software, to explore and "go off-road" with their data. Enable them to visualize the data-not just with fancy charts and graphics, but in a way that leads them to see relationships in the data and quickly glean insight from it. (See related blog post here.)
  • "Let students build the problem." He also recommends that educators ask the shortest question possible and "be less helpful." The BI corollary is: providing just pre-canned reports (the equivalent of old-fashioned math word problems, in this video) does not encourage people to think about things in new ways. It doesn't encourage people to think for themselves. Put tools in the hands of decision-makers-including operational decision-makers-that encourage them to think for themselves, to ask and answer not just the first question but the second question and the third question. To investigate not only the "why" questions, but also the "why not" questions.

Meyer uses a great quote attributed to Albert Einstein in his presentation: "The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill." I think this quote applies directly to people at work trying to improve processes, make optimal decisions, or identify opportunities. Check out this video and tell me you agree. Smile

QlikTech has entered a QlikView application into the Mozilla Open Data Visualization Competition. Mozilla Labs wanted to explore creative visual answers to the question, "How do people use Firefox?" Mozilla provided information collected from 164,000 test pilot study users-more than 150 million records (5.7GB of data in total).

Our QlikView app, "How Do People Use Firefox?" is an interactive tool for analyzing Firefox users and understanding metrics for Firefox usage. Select any values within the application to visualize how your selection is related-or unrelated-to the rest of the data. For example, if you want to know more about Android users, point and click on the "Google Android" value in the "Smart Phone Device" category. You can then see Android users' habits highlighted throughout the application (see snapshot).

I spoke with Shima Nakazawa, director of QlikTech's demo and best practices team about the creation of this application, and she shared some insights with me:

  • We spent a fair amount of time on the planning process. We received a huge chunk of data from Mozilla. We had to explore the data and think long and hard about the story we wanted to tell. The hardest part for us was having to make design decisions without being able to talk to the application's end users first.
  • We had to be creative while looking for ways to associate the data. Because of the way the survey was stored, it turned out to be a bit of a challenge to show the dynamic association among different types of users, including their behaviors and habits. But we figured it out and with each click you make, QlikView calculates the associations of all 150 million records in the application. You can already access the "How Do People Use Firefox?" application online; shortly, you'll also be able to download it to your hard drive-and then you'll be able to see the script we used to associate the data.
  • During the design phase, we focused on keeping the application clean and simple. We created five sheets: an introduction, the basics, Firefox usages, Firefox features, and correlations. We kept the number of sheets to a minimum. The look and feel is consistent across sheets. The sheets are neat and uncluttered. We used subtle, consistent colors and easy-to-read fonts, and there's a bare minimum of non-data "ink." These are all best practices we recommend to QlikView customers.
  • We uncovered some interesting findings in the data. For example, male users tend to visit more news sites whereas female users tend to visit more social networking sites. Google Android users tend to use Chrome, and Microsoft Windows Mobile users tend to use Internet Explorer. On iPhones, people use Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Safari more or less equally. And some people use more than 350 tabs or 65 windows while browsing the web (perhaps due to popups?).

About the Mozilla Open Data Visualization Competition

The organization's goal with test pilots is to encourage people of all skill levels improve the web experience by conducting and participating in these studies. More than a million Firefox users from all around the world participate in test pilot studies. For this competition, Mozilla provided information collected from two test pilot studies. It includes user interactions with the Firefox user interface; browsing data such as startup/shutdown events, session restore information, memory usage statistics, profile age, and history size; and user demographic data such as gender, age, and self-reported technical level.

Winners will be announced on January 7, 2011.

Twas the week before Christmas, and the pressure was mounting,http://community.qlik.com/cfs-file.ashx/__key/CommunityServer.Blogs.Components.WeblogFiles/theqlikviewblog/WeeQ-before-Xmas-graphic.png
Bob, from IT, needed to build reports for Accounting.
The data was scattered, all over the place,
And his spreadsheets were blowing up, right in his face.
Bob needed help, and he needed it quick,
He wished for a present, from good, ole St. Nick.
Bob was tired and weary, when he looked at the time,
And that was when he heard that familiar, soft chime.
It was his Inbox alerting him that a message was new,
So he instinctively opened it, like we all often do.
It was late in the evening, and he wanted a drink,
But as he read through the message, he started to think.
This looks awesome and easy, but could it be true?
Could my problems be solved by this tool called QlikView?
So Bob clicked on the link, and went to the site,
He started reviewing the demos, late into the night.
Later that night, while he laid in his bed,
Thoughts of dashboarding objects danced in his head.
He needed to get back, and get QlikView running,
The way it handled data was visually stunning.
So early the next morning, through a fresh layer of snow,
Off to the office, with a smile did Bob go.
Bob downloaded QlikView, and ran the install,
In a matter of moments, he received a phone call.
It was Shawn, from Wipfli, a great QlikView partner,
Checking to see, if Bob needed help getting started.
After an hour on the phone, and some clicks of the mouse,
Bob had built his first dashboard, without a data ware-house.
He had pulled together data, from multiple places,
Associated it all, and was off to the races.
He built Accounting a dashboard, ready for slicing and dicing,
With information on inventory, A/R and pricing.
With the day nearly over, he started to think,
This Christmas after all, just may not stink.
There are so many things that I want to do,
With this amazing new software, that they call QlikView.
The next day Bob spent some more time with the tool,
He was starting to see that this software is Qool.
By the end of the week, Accounting came to visit,
Bob lifted his head and asked "Who is it?"
"Accounting" they said, as Bob looked to the door,
got up from his desk and walked across the floor.
He then showed them their new dashboard, and let them start to play,
They were amazed at how easy they could see their information this way.
With a click and a drag, Bob could see in their eyes,
The joy that they felt from his new QlikView prize.
They asked where this came from, and could it be true?
Bob then proceeded to tell them about this tool called QlikView.
They said they must have it, who should they call?
Bob added it's not just good for Accounting, it could work for us all!
So they called that guy Shawn, who was pleased, you might say,
To start on Bob's project, the very next day.
With just a little help, Bob built more dashboards very quick,
Because Bob's wish had come true, from good ole St. Nick.
Bob had gone from being unknown, what some call a "zero,"
To the master of data, and a Christmas-time hero.

 

Now this story you know, is really not true,
But it just might be possible, if you download QlikView.

 

The End.


By Shawn Helwig, manager of business intelligence and CRM consulting at Wipfli. Reprinted with permission from his original post on the Wipfli blog. Wipfli, a QlikTech partner, is a 1,000-person professional services firm that provides consulting in a number of areas including business process improvement. Shawn is the firm's BI subject matter expert and leads the company's QlikView service line.

Last week we published a QlikView product roadmap white paper to share with you our vision and high-level product roadmap. Consider this a living document; we'll keep updating it as our vision and positioning evolve and we're able to release more detail about our product directions.

The ongoing explosion of computing power is reshaping the enterprise software market. Technologies and trends that began life only a few years ago are now reaching mainstream adoption. As a result, the traditional domain of BI is being transformed.

We see three dominant trends guiding the evolution of BI software: the consumer enterprise, life after laptop, and freedom from operating system constraints. We are tailoring our product strategy to match. In this QlikView Technology White Paper, we examine these forces and describe how QlikTech is harmonizing our product strategy to position QlikView as the industry standard for business analysis.

Our vision? Simply put: QlikView is every size, every place, and accessible to everyone - until it's everywhere. How will we accomplish this? By continuing to design our software around five themes:

  • Going where decisions are made. Traditional decision making takes place in front of a computer screen. But in our view, that's not the optimal place business decisions should be made. Ideal decision making: in the moment, with the customer or supplier.
  • For everyone. QlikTech's tagline is "Simplifying Decisions for Everyone." When we say everyone, we mean everyone. Our plan is to take what is already the most elegant and successful business analysis software on the market and evolve it into the easiest, most beautiful, and most interactive analytical engine for business users and consumers alike.
  • Webby. In our view, the interface that matters most is the Web browser, which is why we're directing so much effort to delivering QlikView applications through it. The browser isn't just for server-based applications. It can deliver a highly compelling user experience on its own right and unleashes significant mashup opportunities.
  • Open and extensible. Openness is a core element of our strategy. We are positioning QlikView as the business analysis software of choice for anyone wishing to add decision-making capabilities to their own applications. We will continue to open and extend QlikView by documenting application programming interfaces and adding new ones to encourage third-party use.
  • Becoming the standard. Plummeting hardware costs make QlikView's patented in-memory technology more affordable and scalable every day. The combination of falling costs and accelerating adoption is multiplicative. Massive scale will be the norm. QlikView will run anywhere and everywhere.

Expect the next generation of enterprise software to be introduced into organizations by empowered managers partnering with IT departments. Together, they will put in place software that meets users' requirements for flexibility and ease of use, as well as IT's management and security needs. QlikView is focused on enabling IT / line-of-business collaboration and a consumer-oriented approach to business software, with doubled-down focus on our core strengths of visualization, usability, and the associative experience. To experience the power of QlikView first hand, you can download it for free here.

Transparency-you hear this word all the time, upheld up as a corporate and public-sector value. In fact, today a Google search on the word "transparency" returned the U.S. White House's "Transparency and Open Government" in the top six search results. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, to be transparent is to be "free from pretense or deceit," "easily detected or seen through," or "readily understood."

A couple of my colleagues got me thinking about this: QlikTech's financial services segment manager Johan Averstedt, and Jens Boivie, our sales executive for training in the Nordic region. They both have worked with many QlikView customers and have seen cutting-edge organizations use QlikView as a tool to increase transparency. Johan gave a great analogy, "It's not until you see evidence of a situation that you tend to take action. Let's say you went to dinner and spilled meatball sauce on your tie. Until you look in the mirror and see the stain, you don't change your tie. People don't change until they see evidence of their situation."

During a November, 2010 web seminar hosted by Consumer Goods Technology and sponsored by QlikTech, Kraft Foods business intelligence manager Richard Knepper told a real-world story about how QlikView enabled transparency that resulted in business benefit for the $40 billion food manufacturer. (You can view a recording of the entire one-hour session here.)

As you might imagine, a global company like Kraft Foods spends a lot of money on travel and a reduction in this area could do great things for the bottom line. Richard described Kraft Foods' use of QlikView to improve compliance with corporate travel policy (among other uses). Using QlikView, all Kraft Foods employees can now view and understand travel patterns. They get visibility into their own travel and can see where they might have made better decisions. They can see which trips didn't conform to policy. This use of QlikView has had a significant impact on the organization, reducing travel expenses substantially. While Richard wouldn't say by how much, he did say that the application had an "outstanding ROI."

This is not uncommon; other QlikView customers have described using QlikView to achieve transparency, as well. For example, Patrick Nelissen, Franchise and Formula Manager with De Hypotheekshop Centrale Organisatie B.V., said, "Our ability to get an instant 360 degree view of clients, the market, margins and the market potential of branches yields cost efficiencies. The availability of real-time management information through QlikView has resulted in everything our organization stands for: a transparent picture." And Uschi Schäfer, Medicine Controlling with Marienhospital Gelsenkirchen, said, "QlikView puts important key data permanently in view for Marienhospital." Improved transparency has resulted in process optimization at multiple levels of the organization.

It's easy to uphold transparency up as an organizational value-but not so easy to put in practice. Evolving toward transparency requires changes in human behavior. Software tools can help change peoples' behavior, and QlikView is one such tool. Simply making data visible-by putting facts in front of people in an easily-consumable way-can change the decisions we make and the way we behave.

http://files.qlik.com/blogs/theqlikviewblog/What-is-a-list-box.pngWhen you sit down to create a QlikView application, the first thing you do after bringing in your data is view it via list boxes. The list box is a QlikView object that is deceptively simple. Here's a two-minute video that shows the power of QlikView's associative experience to deliver insights through list boxes. List boxes are extremely easy for users to work with, made possible by QlikView's sophisticated underlying technology.

 

 

Without applying any filters at all (what we call "making selections") I can already find meaning in the data. I can see that two documents are titled "Become a QlikView OEM…" I might wonder why there are two documents by the same name. I can see that November 12th was a busy day, with 15 documents published that day. I can also see that we have nine collateral types published in half a dozen formats. While I was creating this simple application, in a URL field (not shown in the video) I could see that one URL appeared twice, assigned to two different documents. Clearly, two different documents shouldn't have the same URL-QlikView illuminated an error in my underlying data source.

In just five mouse clicks, I can glean lots of information. Click on the collateral type "blog post" and you learn that Jeff Boehm and I are the bloggers, and that all our blog posts are in English. Clear the filter and select the language "English." You learn that Beatriz, Jesus, and Natasha are not producing English content. This is very important-you see not only who is producing English content, but who isn't. Clear the filter once more and click on my name in the "author" list box. You learn that I've created 58 documents, only in English, and of various types and formats. And that I haven't created any QlikView demo applications or scripts.

Data visualization isn't just about great charts and graphs-though QlikView provides those too. I chose this simple, straightforward example using just QlikView list boxes to make the point that data visualization is about seeing relationships and finding meaning in data. QlikView's associative experience provides a quick path to insight.

In October, industry analyst Wayne Eckerson published a blog article titled, "The Spanner: The Next Generation BI Developer." Eckerson defines a spanner as a BI developer who builds an entire BI solution singlehandedly. He makes the point that spanners work faster than a team of specialists because they don't have to wait for other people to complete tasks, or spend time in meetings coordinating development. And that because they aren't bound by a written requirements document created by someone else, spanners are free to make course corrections as they go along and discover the optimal solution as it unfolds.

This article caught the attention of QlikTech senior consultant Tom Mackay, who remarked that the concept of a spanner applies to pretty much every QlikView developer. I talked with Tom about this, and put it this way, "With QlikView, you don't need an army. You don't need a huge team. You need someone who has the technical skills to collect requirements and quickly implement them in QlikView. As a QlikView consultant I do this all the time during 'Seeing Is Believing' ("SIB") events. People like me are not experts on the customer's business-but we can extract enough from individuals to put an application together. For even our large SIBs, it's still just a single individual or a very small team who builds and presents the application."

Tom continued, "QlikView developers are jacks of all trades. We talk to the people who know the business inside and out, to gain an understanding of what questions they are trying to answer. We deal with the end user, who tells us what kinds of visualizations they want-say, a bar chart or table. We deal with the people who own the databases, to understand what the data model needs to look like. We take all this and boil it down, and come up with something functional in just a few days using real data and real business requirements."

I also talked about the concept of spanners with another QlikTech solution consultant, David Sedgwick. After a chuckle about the word "spanner" (in the UK where he lives, the word spanner is slang for "idiot"), David went on to say, "Being a QlikView developer means participating in an iterative process of understanding customer needs, understanding what the useable data sources and constraints are, and then designing an appropriate solution. I get involved in all aspects of BI: gathering requirements to sourcing, profiling, and modelling data to extract/transform/load and report development, and testing. I have a background in database design, schema modelling and SQL, and that certainly proves useful."

It's not just QlikView developers internal to QlikTech who tell this story. Prior to joining QlikTech, David worked for a major mail order / web retailer. He spent more than a year trying to justify the investment in building a contact center advisor performance analysis application using a Teradata warehouse and SAP Business Objects, but the project was cost-prohibitive.

Then he was introduced to QlikView and within two days had created a prototype, doing work that without QlikView would have been done by several people. The old way, they would have had to identify requirements and the data, bring the data into the data warehouse, build appropriate dimensional tables, and develop a Business Objects solution and report.

This is a very common story. What do you think? Am I drinking the QlikTech Kool-Aid-or is it true that due to the nature of QlikView, all QlikView developers are spanners?

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