Fighting Fire with Data

Posted by Erica Driver Nov 8, 2010

Thinking on your feet is a good thing when battling a burning building, but not so much when you're a fire department battalion chief trying to decide how to allocate scarce resources. A new QlikView in Action white paper is available, titled "A New Approach to Putting Out Fires: Data-Driven Decisions." This case study, written by CITO Research and sponsored by QlikView, describes the value a municipal fire department in the U.S. was able to achieve with QlikView.

  • The agency's challenge: visibility into the numbers. City agency budgets are under pressure during a time when governments are forced to cut services to try to balance the numbers. But to balance the numbers, you have to know what the numbers are. The systems supervisor at this fire department said, "A lot of our management decisions were made flying blind." Prior to implementing QlikView, the agency didn't have key performance indicators because it didn't have a way to access and make sense of its data.
  • QlikView was brought in to unlock the agency's data. The fire department needed a way to unlock data from its ERP systems so it could begin tackling some tough challenges. The systems supervisor said, "We were putting in data with a bulldozer and pulling it out with tweezers." The bulldozer was traditional BI software and the tweezers were reports and spreadsheets. The systems supervisor read about QlikView in a magazine, and that was the beginning of a shift toward data-driven decision-making.
  • Voila! Reduced incomplete incident reports, faster emergency response time, and more. Since implementing QlikView, the number of incomplete incident reports has fallen from more than 500 annually to fewer than 50-an improvement with national implications, given that these reports trickle up into nationwide statistics. Response times to emergency calls dropped dramatically once this data became visible. Compliance with continuing education courses has dramatically risen. And the fire department chief now understands the total landscape of the agency's finances.

At this municipal agency, tech-savvy business managers were able to take their expertise and apply it to their data, with nobody in between. Less technically-oriented leaders in other departments were able to use apps created by QlikView content developers to better prepare for "combat operations" (firefighting) and derive insights that resulted in improvements to critical city services. To learn more about this QlikView customer story, download the white paper here.

QlikView 10, which was released in mid-October, introduces a whole new level of openness. One of the highlights of this release is a new extensions capability. With extensions, content developers can create custom visualizations and user interface components for use within QlikView. Extensions can also be used to bring existing mapping tools, Gantt charts, tag clouds, infographic charts-or any other visualization-into QlikView. Once integrated into QlikView applications, custom and third-party visualizations can take advantage of QlikView's core capabilities.

This video clip shows stream chart and Gantt chart extensions in QlikView. The stream chart shows group product sales over time. The Gantt chart, typically used for project management, is a bar chart that shows a project schedule with the start and end dates of various project tasks.

Content developers create QlikView extensions using common web-based technologies such as Adobe Flash, HTML, Java, JavaScript, and Microsoft Silverlight. QlikView Workbench includes a template to help jumpstart the process. Once they create and package extensions, content developers can install and use them within any QlikView application. Extensions can be created once and reused multiple times.

Extensions are just one of the new capabilities that make QlikView 10 more open and extensible. For content developers we also now offer the new QlikView Data Exchange (QVX) format for mapping data through custom connectors directly into a QlikView-ready format. For IT pros, QlikView 10 provides a configurable directory service provider for integration with enterprise directories and user databases, as well as a set of new application programming interfaces (APIs) that facilitate the flow of information and command between QlikView and its environment. For more information check out the datasheet "What's New in QlikView 10?"

Last week I completed QlikAcademy Introduction Week. QlikAcademy is five days of intensive training in company values, business processes, best practices, internal systems, and products. It's also a networking opportunity; new hires create relationships with each other as well as with the seasoned managers and executives who serve as our trainers, and with our colleagues who work in the Lund, Sweden office.

  • Building: From trellis charts to cured salmon. A small group of new employees spent five days together at the site of QlikView's heritage: Lund, Sweden. We travelled from Canada, Germany, Spain, the U.K., and the U.S. Throughout the week we attended presentations by executives, engaged in role-playing sessions, earned our basic QlikView certifications, and worked in teams to build QlikView apps and present them to "customers" in mock Seeing Is Believing (proof of concept) events. And-one of the highlights-we cooked a fabulous gourmet meal together in an industrial kitchen under the watchful eye of the head chef at Malmö's horse-racing track.
  • Learning: From how we strategize to the way we organize. One of the biggest eye-openers for me was learning about the ins and outs of QlikView's customer-centric selling process. Teams of account managers, pre-sales consultants, and technical experts work in tandem to deliver proof of value to prospective customers. I also learned how to build a (very, very) basic QlikView application, and gained insight into how the pieces of this 600+ person global organization fit together.
  • Investing: QlikTech is its people. I am part of class #59 -that's 59 intensive week-long classes held over a period of about six years. Each week is a substantial effort in time and resources. You're probably wondering why a software company, especially a public one, would go to this level of care and expense. Anna Kjellberg, our VP of global HR and people development, said, "We see this as an investment because over the years QlikAcademy has paid for itself many times over. This and the company's annual all-hands meeting speed up processes and decision-making. Quality face time creates synapses among us, resulting in a vastly more powerful 'group brain.'"

How many companies can you think of that send every new employee, from entry-level to C-level, to Europe for a week of training? How many companies take managers and executives away from their day jobs (even during the busiest quarter of the year) to give their undivided attention to a bunch of newbies? Not many, that's for sure.

On my long flight home from Europe I watched a cheesy movie about a street dancing team, and one of the lines in the movie has stuck with me: "We will win because of who we are." That, in a word, is how I would sum up what I took away from QlikAcademy. (Are you intrigued? QlikTech is hiring.)

Over time, we've seen QlikView increasingly embraced by large enterprises with thousands or even tens of thousands of employees. We also see it deployed on public-facing Web sites. The ability to scale and support thousands of users has become an increasingly important requirement for business analysis software. We faced this requirement as we began to use our demo site heavily to support corporate marketing efforts.

We recently published a QlikView Technology White Paper titled, "How We Scaled to Support Thousands of Users Daily on a Global Scale." This paper describes the scalability approaches we took to make our demo site (demo.qlik.com) available to thousands of visitors a day - with high performance and fast response times. It tells the story of our "Kick It and Qlik It" close-to-real-time analysis tool for fans of the 2010 FIFA World Cup® football (soccer) matches.

We were successfully able to handle a peak load of 8,000 distinct anonymous Kick It and Qlik It users a day by:

  • Utilizing the cloud. We moved our QlikView servers from our data center in Sweden to a US data center in the Amazon EC2 cloud. This shift to an elastic, cloud-based resource enabled us to meet spikes in demand affordably.
  • Adding geographic locations. We put servers in three geographic locations. By putting the servers closer to the people, we were able to reduce network lag and improve response times.
  • Adding server capacity. We bumped up from "large" to "extra large" servers and increased the minimum number of servers in each geographic location from three to five. This enabled us to support a larger number of users simultaneously.

This story is one example of how we live our customers' experience ourselves. For more details about how we did it, click here to download the white paper, "How We Scaled to Support Thousands of Users Daily on a Global Scale."

Maps and a Rubik's Cube

Posted by Erica Driver Oct 21, 2010

We recently published a QlikView Technology White Paper titled, "The Associative Experience: QlikView's Overwhelming Advantage." This white paper includes some good analogies to show how QlikView is different from traditional, query-based BI tools. I already wrote about one of these analogies (see the related blog article, "The Car Engine Analogy.") Here are couple more:

  • Imagine trying to solve a Rubik's Cube® puzzle when you can only see one face at a time. As you change one face, you cannot see what is going on with the other sides of the puzzle. In contrast, using QlikView is like being able to see all six faces of the Rubik's Cube at the same time, so you can understand what else is changing based on changes you are making.
  • Compare traveling with an atlas vs. Google maps. In another example, let's say you are planning a trip from London to Rome. A traditional road atlas can help. But the atlas is time-consuming because you have to find the right page and bookmark it, and then return to it each time you need to consult a map. You also have to relate how the map fits together across multiple pages. QlikView is more like Google maps: you can see the entire route at once or zoom in on areas of special interest. You can identify optimal routes quickly based on construction and traffic patterns. You become far more engaged with the interactive map than with the atlas.

The QlikView associative experience

The terms "high user acceptance" and "business intelligence software" don't typically appear in the same sentence together. QlikView is an exception to that rule. Our underlying associative engine, made possible by our in-memory technology, is the reason for the passion our customers feel for our software. Our pioneering, in-memory approach certainly enables high-quality performance. But even query-based BI vendors that also offer in-memory solutions cannot deliver the unique combination of benefits QlikView's associative architecture delivers: ease of use, speed of deployment, and unexpected business insights through an associative experience.

Click here to download your copy of the QlikView Technology White Paper, "The Associative Experience: QlikView's Overwhelming Advantage."

Beautiful Lovely Data

Posted by Erica Driver Oct 19, 2010

Data is mind-altering. It's the new oil. No, it's the new soil.

I just watched a terrific TED Talk by David McCandless called "The Beauty of Data Visualization." David McCandless is a writer, designer, and author of the book, "The Visual Miscellaneum." (You can follow him on Twitter here.) This video is dated August, 2010.

 

In this video, McCandless uses visualizations to draw some very interesting conclusions about billion-dollar spending (in his "Billion Dollar-o-Gram"); Americans' fears as indicated by mentions in the media (his "Mountains Out of Molehills" chart); peak breakup times during the year (as indicated by Facebook status updates); and the evidence for nutritional supplements (his "Snake Oil?" graphic).

Some of the points McCandless makes about the importance and power of data visualization are perfectly relevant to QlikView's place in the world. My favorites:

  • Data is the new soil. McCandless talked about a phrase he hears a lot: "Data is the new oil." The phrase is supposed to mean that data is a ubiquitous resource we can shape to provide new innovations and new insights . . . that it's all around us and can be mined very easily. This phrase is a little out of date, so McCandless has a new adaptation: "Data is the new soil." Data a fertile, creative medium. Visualizations and infographics are the flowers blooming from this medium.
  • Data experimentation and connections lead to new insights. If you start working with visualizations, and playing with data, interesting patterns can be revealed. If you ask the right kind of question or work it in the right way, interesting things can emerge. Absolute figures in a connected world don't show you the whole picture. They're not as true as they could be. We need relative figures, connected to other data. This that can lead to us changing our perspective.
  • Visualization is the answer to information overload. The solution to "data glut" is using our eyes more. It is visualizing information so we can see the patterns and connections that matter. And designing visualizations so they make more sense, or tell a story, or allow us to share only the information that's important. The eye is exquisitely sensitive to patterns and shapes. By combining the language of the eye (visualization) with the language of the mind (words and numbers), you get two languages working at the same time, each enhancing the other. We can use this new kind of language to alter our perspective and change our views.

If you get a chance to watch this video, let me know what you think!

"Mekko?" you ask. "Didn't I see that on a menu somewhere?" No-the Mekko (sometimes called Marimekko) chart is a way of visualizing data. It portrays a relationship (ratio) among dimensional values within a bar chart. A regular bar chart has fixed-width columns. Instead, Mekko charts have variable-width columns, which show another dimension of data beyond what is possible with ordinary bar charts.

Mekko charts can communicate complex information in a straightforward way. You could use the Mekko chart to show budget and cost breakdowns, stock indices over time, and revenue comparisons across multiple companies-to name a few. 

QlikVeiw 10 has a number of capabilities that make it easier to use than ever before. In addition to Mekko charts, QlikView now offers associative search and an improved current selection box for end users. for designers and content developers, QlikView now features containers, list box expressions, and web view mode in the installed client. For more information, download the datasheet, "What's New in QlikView 10?" Also see the related blog post, "As Easy as Your Favorite Consumer App."

On October 11, 2010, Gartner released a report titled, "SWOT: QlikTech, Business Intelligence Platforms, Worldwide." (A SWOT analysis covers strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.) According to the report, "In the past four years, QlikTech has been one of the fastest-growing vendors in the business intelligence platform market, underscoring the strength of the company's offering. However, to reach a broader market and maintain growth, QlikTech needs to address some challenges."

We are proud that Gartner called out the strength of our user experience (because if users don't adopt the software, nothing else really matters), midmarket and departmental adoption, scalable business model, and low time and cost of implementation. We consistently hear this kind of feedback from customers and industry analysts. (See related blog articles here and here.) But we aren't resting on our laurels. While we just announced QlikView 10 this week, our R&D and product management teams are already hard at work on QlikView 11.

I thought I'd take this opportunity to address a few of the weaknesses Gartner listed, and share with you some insights into where QlikTech is headed.

  • Product vision. We've got five themes on our 5-year roadmap: for everyone, webby, open and extensible, becoming the standard, and going to where decisions are made. Two immediate areas of focus for us are mobile BI and self-service BI. We already have a strong mobile offering available for iPhone/iPad, Android, and BlackBerry. We are using our QlikView Labs facility to innovate quickly in this area. (See related blog article and video here.) Also, we are laser-focused on the consumer enterprise. In our view, business software can never be too easy to use. We're focused on delivering business software that's just as intuitive, fun, and scalable as your favorite consumer apps. (See related blog articles here and here.)
  • Enterprise readiness. QlikView 10 provides a number of new capabilities to enhance QlikView's enterprise manageability. For IT pros QlikView 10 offers auditing, centralized user management, and centralized section access management from within QlikView Publisher. (If the Publisher administrator adds a new user to the centralized section access table, and fifteen QlikView documents use that table, all fifteen documents pick up that change the next time they are refreshed.) New functionality to make QlikView more manageable for designers includes linked objects for streamlining document layout management, metadata tags and comments for capturing supplementary information, and separation of load/database thread from QlikView so QlikView can use either 32-bit or 64-bit drivers for database connectivity. (For more info, see the "What's New in QlikView 10?" datasheet.)
  • Metadata model. QlikView takes a pragmatic approach to metadata. With QlikView, metadata management is optional and retrospective and developers can introduce metadata usage over time. We don't require a huge upfront metadata effort. QlikView handles three types of metadata-descriptive, administrative, and structural-and makes it available through the QlikView Monitor and a dashboard template. QlikView's metadata model is a centralized, automated collection, organization, and presentation of metadata for monitoring and distributed use within dashboards. The model is a collection of tables exported from QlikView.
  • Real-time data analysis. QlikView has supported real-time data feeds since QlikView 9. The dynamic data update capability makes it possible to programmatically update field data in realtime without running a script. Any QlikView field data can be updated directly in memory. Updated data is then pushed out to the QlikView clients from the QlikView Server.

Gartner's SWOT analysis is balanced and fair, with a solid mix of kudos and fair warnings. The report said, "QlikTech's focus on doing things differently, as well as its fast growth and successful initial public offering (IPO), have resulted in a disproportionately high amount of press coverage, further enabling the company to carve out strong market 'share of voice.'" As a fast-growing company with formidable competition, we know we've got our work cut out for us. But we're up for the challenge and moving full-steam ahead!

QlikView Under the Hood

Posted by Erica Driver Oct 13, 2010

Our customers often ask what goes on under the hood of QlikView. To answer this question, this week we published a QlikView Technology White Paper titled, "QlikView Architectural Overview." This white paper provides a close look at QlikView from two perspectives: its functionality (see first figure below) and its components (see second figure).

A functional perspective

A functional perspective on QlikView's core processes can help IT professionals and tech-savvy decision makers better understand what makes QlikView so special. This section of the paper describes how the QlikView file (a native QlikView format) contains everything needed to support QlikView analytics, and QlikView documents serve up data stored on a QlikView Server.

A component perspective

QlikView's individual software components support QlikView content creation (QlikView Developer), deployment (QlikView Server/Publisher), and consumption (QlikView clients). Not all our customers require a full QlikView Server/ Publisher deployment; depending on your requirements, QlikView Desktop alone may be sufficient. The component overview section of this white paper describes how developers load raw data into QlikView; designers create QlikView content; QlikView documents (applications) are reloaded, published, and distributed; and users consume content anytime, anywhere.

Click here to download the full QlikView Technology White Paper, "QlikView Architectural Overview."

QlikView 10 makes it easier than ever for users to find the data they're looking for-or even the data they didn't know they were looking for. Associative search is a simplified, everyday search tool that enables you to find data using the keywords that make sense to you. It is a filtering mechanism available with every QlikView list box. Right there in the list box, you can search for values by searching against values in associated data elements. Here's a one-minute video clip showing how it works.

Let's say you want to know who the sales rep was who sold sardines to a particular laboratory customer in the Nordic region during the second quarter. You can't remember the name of the customer account. In this example, in the list box that contains sales reps' names, you might click on the search icon and start searching for terms. First you might type in "nordic" and select the Nordic region. Then you might type in "q2" and select the quarter Q2, 2010. Next, you type in "lab" and when you see "ACME Laboratories" you recall that that's the name you were looking for. You'd then search for "sardine," and find that the sales rep you were looking for is Karl Anderson. To learn more about his bookings history, you might click on the "Sales Rep" tab. It's that easy.

Associative search is just one of the new capabilities that make QlikView 10 easier to use than ever before. Other new capabilities for end users include Mekko charts and an improved current selection box. For designers QlikView now offers containers, list box expressions, and web view mode in the installed client. For more information, you can download the datasheet "What's New in QlikView 10?"

Traditional online analytical processing (OLAP) uses queries against pre-aggregated data for decision support. Many variations of OLAP exist. Some are flexible and others are high-performance. But by their very nature, most query-based tools divorce data from their context, leaving gaps for people who are trying to make data-driven business decisions.

ROLAP, MOLAP, and HOLAP all have shortcomings

The ubiquity of structured query language (SQL) creates a blind spot to the shortcomings of using queries - whether SQL, multidimensional query expressions, or otherwise - as the fundamental component of a decision support engine.

  • ROLAP extracts data in real-time as it is needed, making it flexible. The oldest form of OLAP decision support is relational online analytical processing (ROLAP). ROLAP is still prevalent today. It uses SQL or other query technology to extract and calculate data aggregates in real time as the user needs them. Once thought of as slow and unresponsive, today ROLAP is enjoying something of a renaissance with the more scalable decision support database architectures. ROLAP can be flexible, without requiring predefined dimensionality, but is computationally intensive and can therefore be slow. And because ROLAP is query-based, it is unable to maintain associations.
  • MOLAP pre-aggregates data, making it fast. The next generation of technology for decision support came in the form of multidimensional online analytical processing (MOLAP), also known as cube-based OLAP. The main difference between ROLAP and MOLAP is that with MOLAP the query results are aggregated in advance while for ROLAP they are aggregated as needed. With MOLAP, data is pre-aggregated for multiple permutations of data points along preselected dimensions. This approach provides near-instantaneous access to aggregates as long as the question the business user has in mind lies within the predefined dimensionality. Because the aggregates are pre-calculated, MOLAP can be faster than ROLAP. However, with this speed comes a loss of flexibility. And again, because MOLAP is query-based it cannot maintain associations.
  • HOLAP offsets some ROLAP and MOLAP weaknesses. The relative strengths and weaknesses of ROLAP and MOLAP led to the creation of a third technology: hybrid online analytical processing (HOLAP). HOLAP is any architecture that leverages both ROLAP and MOLAP in an attempt to offset the relative weaknesses of each. Because HOLAP is the product of the marriage of two query-based technologies, it is also a fundamentally a query-based technology. And - you guessed it - it does not maintain associations in the data.

QlikView is different

In contrast, QlikView is flexible, fast, and maintains associations among all data elements. QlikView offers the flexibility of ROLAP (no predefined dimensionality) with the speed of MOLAP (near-instantaneous access to aggregates). While MOLAP tools sometimes have drill-through capabilities (in essence, a multidimensional engine with on-demand relational queries), QlikView is just the opposite: a relational engine with on-demand cubes. QlikView manages associations among data sets at the engine level, not the application level. QlikView stores individual tables in its in-memory associative engine. Every data point in every field is associated with every other data point anywhere in the entire schema. Datasets can be hundreds of tables with thousands of fields. When users look at two different data points they know precisely how the points relate to each other. They are not restricted to seeing the effect upon just a set of query results. Any and all aggregates are recalculated in real time, regardless of the source fields.

This blog article is excerpted from the upcoming QlikView Technology White Paper, "The Associative Experience: QlikView's Overwhelming Advantage." Stay tuned! I'll update this post with a link when the white paper goes live.

Why I Tweet

Posted by Erica Driver Sep 28, 2010

It's sometimes hard to explain to busy people why I use Twitter. "Who has time for that?" is a common question. They want to see data that shows spending time on Twitter really adds value. While I don't have data, I have anecdotes that I've been saving up. I've used Twitter heavily for the last couple of years to build my network and keep a finger on the pulse of what's going on in the communities I care about.

I often keep a Twitter dashboard up and running on a second monitor in my office. During the last couple months I've used Twitter to:

  • Learn. I'm relatively new to the BI software market. I've been an industry analyst for the past 14 years focusing on a wide variety of technology and strategy areas?but never focused closely on BI. So I use Twitter to listen and join in on conversations taking place among industry analysts, consultants, vendors, and users of BI software. Conversations are under way on lots of interesting topics including in-memory analytics, self-service BI, stack vs. portfolio approach, and BI in the bigger context of enterprise software.
  • Drive conversation. Since early August I've been working on white papers and writing blog articles. In just a quick glance at a one-line post, Twitter helps me engage with people with others interested in the same topics I'm thinking about.
  • Build my network. It's through professional networks that knowledge is shared, trust built, customers earned, and jobs found. (Speaking of: QlikTech is hiring!) When I have a few minutes, I see who my connections are following and add to the list of people I follow. This freshens my tweet stream?and helps round my perspectives. Twitter can also be helpful in leading me to more information about people I want to be connected to. Twitter can sometimes lead me to more information about people who comment on my blog posts, for example.
  • Spark creative thoughts. In my role in product marketing at QlikTech, I blog on themes like the consumer enterprise, the BI software market, innovation at QlikTech, and the associative experience. Sometimes I look up to my Twitter dashboard and see something float by?a link to a blog article, an announcement, or simply an observation?that gets my creative juices flowing. This tweet by Forrester Research analyst James Kobielus is a case in point.

 

 

In his 2009 book, The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking Is the Next Competitive Advantage, Roger Martin presented the concept of the "knowledge funnel." The knowledge funnel is the advancement of knowledge from a disorganized mystery state to well-ordered algorithms. This is achieved through trial and error or rapid prototyping. The knowledge funnel is a model for how businesses of all sorts can advance knowledge and capture value.

The knowledge funnel has three consecutive stages, each of which represents a simplification and ordering of knowledge. According to Martin, "As understanding moves from mystery to heuristic to algorithm, extraneous information is pared away; the complexities of the world are mastered through simplification."

QlikView Is a Tool for Mastering the Knowledge Funnel

QlikView technical advisor Elif Tutuk has identified ways in which QlikView is an optimal tool to help decision makers move through the knowledge funnel quickly and easily.

 

 

Stage

Description

The QlikView Solution

1

Mystery

  • The observation of phenomena-things we see but don't yet understand
  • A first stab at trying to answer a question
  • Load millions of records in memory from multiple data sources
  • Observe the data
  • Search associatively
  • Visualize relationships in the data
  • Select values and see what data is associated
  • Narrow down selections

2

Heuristic

  • A method or procedure that serves as an aid to learning, discovery, and problem-solving by experiment or trial and error
  • A rule of thumb that helps to narrow the field of inquiry and work the mystery down to a manageable size
  • An organized way of exploring the possibilities-of thinking about the mystery-that provides a simplified understanding of it
  • Analyze granular data with no pre-calulation or pre aggregation
  • Build metrics on the fly
  • Use charts to see patterns or catch outliers in the data by aggregating the data with any combination of dimensions
  • Narrow the business questions
  • Understand the root cause of an outlier on a chart by selecting that data point on the chart and digging in to explore its meaning

3

Algorithm

  • A fixed formula
  • An explicit, step-by-step procedure for solving a problem
  • Means of simplifying and adding structure to the loose, unregimented heuristics so anyone with access to the algorithm can deploy it with efficiency
  • After finding the answers hidden in the data, formalize analysis and share findings with others using bookmarks and collaboration objects
  • Once a new way of analyzing the business has been established, easily merge the chart or the QlikView application into the production environment, under the control of IT


People need a BI tool that helps them pass through the knowledge funnel quickly. The tool should be flexible and nimble enough so that users do not get stuck in any stage. They should be able to build to think?ask a business question, build a chart to find the answer, make selections to see associations and outliers, and change the chart or create a new one. Decision makers should have access to a tool that helps them rapidly advance through the mystery, heuristic, and algorithm phases of the knowledge funnel quickly and easily, freeing them up to move on to the next business challenge.

For more insights by Elif Tutuk, see these related blog articles: "Build to Think: Applying Design Thinking to BI" and "QlikView Supports a Build to Think Approach to BI."

One of QlikTech's core values is "Take Responsibility." As part of taking responsibility for the products we deliver to market, our demo and best practices team tests each new software release candidate in a real-world environment and uncovers and shares QlikView best practices. We have a QlikView Technology White Paper coming out in a few weeks highlighting best practices the team has uncovered around scalability. To set the stage, I caught up with Shima Nakazawa, director of the team, and I've got some of her insights to share with you.

Erica Driver: What is the mission of the demo and best practices team?

Shima Nakazawa: At a high level, I'd say it is to ensure the quality of our products and share best practices with customers and partners.

Erica Driver: Why did QlikTech establish this team?

Shima Nakazawa: The team was established about three years ago with a few focus areas: operating our public demo site, improving the operations of QlikTech's internal QlikView environment, and sharing QlikTech's best practices with customers, partners, and prospects.

Erica Driver: What are some of the best practices you've identified for overseeing a QlikView deployment that consists of 200 applications and 900 users?

Shima Nakazawa: Wow, where do I start? By trial and error, we learned many lessons in the past few years. Here are a few best practices we've identified. Use a collaborative software development platform, and QlikView Workbench, for team development efforts. Test applications in a staging environment prior to production rollout. Craft a QlikView document deployment plan. Load data incrementally rather than all at once. Run memory-intensive services (such as QlikView Server and the QlikView Distribution Service) on separate machines. And consider virtualization for efficient use of machine processing power.

Erica Driver: What are some of the things your team has been working on lately?

Shima Nakazawa: One of the most visible projects is a demo app called Kick It and Qlik It, in support of a global marketing campaign. We designed the deployment of this application in such a way that we were successfully able to handle 8,000 users a day on this one application. We will be sharing some best practices we uncovered while doing this project in the upcoming QlikView Technology White Paper, "How We Supported Thousands of Users Daily on a Global Scale." Stay tuned!

SAP recently announced a set of pre-packaged, industry-specific BI applications. We feel compelled to weigh in because SAP's announcement exemplifies a philosophical approach that is fundamentally different from QlikTech's. Our philosophy is that software should easily fit the business?it must be flexible. Why is this so important? Because flexibility is a pre-requisite to fast deployment, quick time to value, and ongoing business relevance.

 

Pre-packaged, industry-specific BI solutions are by their very nature born out of a different philosophy?one that contends that all organizations in an industry share some portion of business processes and practices in common, and therefore flexibility isn't all that important. Not to say there's anything wrong with useful functionality provided out of the box?as long as that functionality can be easily modified to fit the business. Here's the catch:

  • No two businesses are the same. Organizations in one industry (say, healthcare) tend to operate differently from organizations in another (say, retail). It certainly seems logical that software vendors try to capture best practices around how organizations might analyze sales performance or inventory, for example. But even organizations within industries may be wildly different from one another. Business processes and practices vary based on culture, geographic location, business process innovation, how long the company has been around, and how centralized or decentralized the organization is. Small nuances often result in large differences in the data required for business intelligence, how that data is consolidated, the analysis required, and how that data is visualized and consumed.
  • Your choices: live with what's in the box, or customize it?over and over again. Put another way: "Modify your business to fit our software . . . or pay a lot of money to modify the software." Because no two businesses are the same, pre-packaged, industry-specific solutions nearly always require customization?which comes at a cost. BI tools that are not associative at the engine level (see figure) require long deployments while developers customize the application layer to manage the specific associations required to answer a particular business question. (See the related blog article, "QlikView Is Associative to Its Very Core.") Keep in mind that dashboards change over time as the business changes, so money spent customizing a packaged solution must be re-spent every time the dashboard has to be modified. When the BI application needs to answer a slightly different business question, a developer must alter the application layer again. This process is time-consuming and expensive.

In contrast, we designed QlikView around our philosophy that software should be easily molded to fit the business. Using QlikView, organizations can prototype with their data very quickly?in line with their own requirements, not ours. (See the related blog posts, "Build to Think: Applying Design Thinking to BI" and "QlikView Supports a Build to Think Approach.") QlikView is flexible and agile so as the business changes, so does the software. This makes it quick to deploy and modify.

This strength came out in a couple of recent analyst studies, which included survey responses from BI users in a wide range of industries. BARC, for example, found that QlikTech was among leaders in implementations within 3 months and had 85% of customers implemented within 6 months (see the August, 2010 report "The BI Survey 9: The Customer Verdict"). Aberdeen Group, in another example, found that QlikView users were on average able to drive a revision to dashboards from conception to completion in a single day, as opposed to an average of 3.5 days for all survey respondents (see the August, 2010 research brief, "QlikView Customers Outperform Best-in-Class with Dashboards").

I'd sum it up like this. It's important to pick software that fits your business, not just your industry, because no two businesses are exactly alike. With QlikView you spend your money and time not on software customization, implementation, training, and business re-engineering . . . but on attracting customers, bringing new products and services to market, and building your business.

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