Numbers are so boring. Right? Well, sure, if they are represented as black and white characters on a spreadsheet or in a database. But what about when numbers are represented as flowing images on a map? Or when you add the element of time and animate the images into a video? What new insights could numbers give you then?

Check out this video recording of a TED presentation by Aaron Koblin, an artist specializing in data visualization (and the technology lead at the Creative Lab at Google). The video was filmed in March 2011 and posted on TED.com in May 2011.



In this video, Koblin shows several intriguing examples of insights that can be gleaned by exploring data and visualizing it in new ways.

  • The Flight Patterns project depicts human behavior with air traffic control data. Koblin made the point that there are 140,000 planes being monitored by the US federal government at any given time. This volume of air traffic generates an extraordinary amount of data. The Flight Patterns project shows airplane traffic over North America over a 24-hour period. (Watch the YouTube video here.) As you play the video, you see the map of North America fade to black as people go to sleep. You see the red-eyes crossing the country overnight, and then you see people start to wake up on the east coast, and you see the European flights start to arrive on the east coast. When color-coded by aircraft type (manufacturer and model) you can see the diversity of planes in the sky. Color-coded another way, you can see low-altitude and high- altitude flights, and when colored in a third way you can see ascending vs. descending flights. You see the airport holding patterns, and can see the way airports change over time―such as when airports flip their flight patterns. All in a minute or two.
  • Projects out of the SENSEable City Laboratory at MIT show we’re connected digitally. Koblin did a variety of projects with the SENSEable City Lab at MIT. One project, the New York Talk Exchange, illustrated the global exchange of information in real time by visualizing volumes of long distance telephone and Internet data traffic flowing between New York and cities around the world. He set it up as a live globe at the Museum of Modern Art in New York for a “Design and the Elastic Mind” exhibit. The exhibit showed demographic information coming through AT&T’s data stream. In another SENSEable City Lab project, Koblin applied visualization to data about SMS messages in Amsterdam. By animating the visuals, big spikes became apparent New Years Eve and Queens Day, when everyone is reaching out to their friends and loved ones.

Koblin shows some other fun visualization projects in this video, as well, such as The Sheep Market, The Johnny Cash Project, and The Wilderness Downtown. “An interface can be a powerful narrative device,” he says. “As we collect more personally and socially relevant data we have an opportunity―and maybe even an obligation―to maintain the humanity and tell some amazing stories as we explore and collaborate together.”

Self-service BI is simple to use so business people can perform tasks that in the past would have required assistance from an IT pro. It enables business users at various skill levels to be involved in the creation and sharing of analytics and visualizations.


Self-Service BI Gives Power to Users of All.png


I talked to a few of the great brains at QlikTech who put their heads together to describe the different types of users who benefit from self-service BI. John Trigg (product director), Mathias Carnemark (partner development manager), and Johan Averstedt (segment manager, financial services) came up with this list based on their experiences with hundreds of QlikView customers:

  • Data wranglers harmonize and rationalize data. Data wranglers are typically database specialists. They can work with everything from raw data sources (including enterprise data warehouses) to analytics and dashboards. They know what data resides where, how frequently it is refreshed, and how to access it. They are good at acquiring data from multiple data sources, creating normalized views of the data, performing cleansing operations, and readying meaningful data views for consumption by other users.
  • Power analysts create dashboards, analytics, and interactive discovery experiences. Power analysts are advanced BI users who know how to work with an abstract analytic layer to assemble dashboards, views, and reports. They focus on creating line of business analytics and representing data visually. Power analysts know which analytics make sense for a particular situation. They understand the data model created by the data wranglers, and know how to create the best paths of inquiry for collaborative users and netizens.
  • Collaborative users add their perspectives to analytic apps―and share them. Collaborative users add their perspectives―such as new measures or visual representations―to the “single version of the truth” created by data wranglers and power analysts. Based on their knowledge of the business, collaborative users have unique perspectives on visual representation, inquiry paths, and supporting analytics. They work with and extend prebuilt applications by introducing their own analytics into existing charts, creating their own visual representations, and adding new searches or filters.
  • Netizen users explore data and share business insights. Netizen users (otherwise known as “the rest of us”) want to explore their business analytics in an unhindered way. They search, drill, and filter the data―in apps created by data wranglers, power analysts, and collaborative users―based on their current thinking and interests. They may share their observations and perspectives with others by passing along filters and searches to colleagues, along with notes.

With an app-driven approach and the ability to deliver 360 degree views of business information, self service is no longer about drag-and-drop to create the report of the day. In this world of empowered consumers, the bar is continually being raised so that business users can do more and more on their own, quickly and with ease. Self-service BI has become about fine tuning the experience for personalized perspectives and collaboration. It enables a broad spectrum of usage by delivering the right capabilities to those who can use them and by ensuring that the fruits of each person’s labor can be harnessed by others in the chain of BI app creation. IT professionals play a critical role in self-service BI by assembling the data, delivering relevant data, and ensuring scalability and security.

Tell Me a Story

Posted by Donald Farmer May 25, 2011

In the field of Business Intelligence we work daily with data and reports. However, like everyone else, what really sticks in our mind is not data but stories. An analysis can be insightful or not, but to be compelling, wrap it in a narrative.


Our most persuasive communicators are story-tellers.




Good stories are simply constructed – beginning, middle and end will do. Really good tales may have a twist. Most importantly, stories are not abstract: they include characters and emotions. Structure conveys what we learn. Characters are why we care. But emotions are why we remember. Think of the last row you had with your significant other. I am sure you can remember the emotions more clearly than the cause!


So, having made a new discovery in your analytics, how would you tell a data-based story? Start simply.


Who is central to the story? They need not be a “hero,” just a real character. What was their situation at the start? How did that become complicated, and why does that matter? Also, how did the character feel? Emotions resonate. Finally, what did they discover? What did they do? At the end, what has changed, and how does the character now feel? Put this together, with concrete examples at each stage, and you have a data story that will be memorable long after the bare facts.


Let’s try it …


Every month, Mary, in accounting, would discover some line items priced 100 times higher than expected. Every month she manually adjusted them. Eventually, thoroughly fed up fixing these recurring mistakes, she asked the IT team for the raw data to see what was going on. Mary found some weird looking numbers in data from the Swedish subsidiary – what are these commas for? They were not thousands seperators for sure. They just looked wrong. Mary called (probably Skyped!) the Swedish sub and learned that Scandinavians often use a comma in place of a decimal point. The US-localized data import process was misreading the values. The data team quickly coded a fix, but were they ever embarrassed! Mary saved herself a chore, and won respect from her IT team.


You see? It’s hardly Wuthering Heights, but it is a story that conveys a problem, and a solution worth remembering. We have a simple structure – the situation with a problem, what was discovered, what changed. We have concrete examples, and an interesting twist. And very importantly we have emotions, not just facts. Mary’s feelings and the feelings of the IT team make the story more significant to us – no matter who we sympathize with in this case.


For years, we have talked about pervasive business intelligence – let’s do persuasive BI next!



This post republished from http://donalddotfarmer.com/2011/05/25/tell-me-a-story/

The second episode in our “Mobile Minutes” video series is now live. This episode, “Making the Most of Being Mobile,” features QlikView product advocate Donald Farmer sharing tidbits of insight about mobile BI in his charming Scottish accent. His key point in this episode: mobile BI is not just about the same old reporting in new places; it’s about new ways of doing BI altogether.

Still - title clip Donald in car.JPG

The Mobile Minutes video series features pithy commentary by Donald Farmer about how mobility is exploding and the impact it has on business.  We look at mobile BI from various angles, such as:

  • Good mobile BI serves the basic human need people have to be in touch with their information (see the premier Mobile Minutes episode, “Information Foraging”).
  • When people have the ability to do analysis wherever they go, they can influence ideas and innovation.
  • Situational information analysis drives insight creation.
  • New ideas and capabilities are spawned from the ability to go mobile.
  • Mobility is taking off in a lightning-fast way, and the implications to business are vast.
  • Mobile devices can play a big role even inside the office.
  • It takes thought to make BI really useful on a mobile device.


We’ve got a series of 10 or 12 Mobile Minutes coming out―so subscribe to the QlikView channel on YouTube to receive an alert whenever a new one is available.

After a substantial redesign and content migration effort, last week we re-launched our QlikCommunity site on a technology platform from Jive Software. This is very exciting because it radically improves the way our community members engage with each other and QlikTech employees.



The new QlikCommunity platform

For perspective on the highlights of the new QlikCommunity platform, I spoke with Jason Long (community manager) and Peter Simonsen (executive director of web and community). They shared their tips for getting the most out of participating in QlikCommunity:

  • Start out in the “Community Corner” and “New to QlikView” areas. Community Corner is the place to learn about how to use the site, get info on the features and functionality, and ask questions or make suggestions about the site. We recommend new community members start out by spending 5 or 10 minutes here. And if you’re new to the QlikView Business Discovery platform, there’s a section just for you. In the “New to QlikView” area you’ll find tips and instructions for building your first QlikView app as well as an FAQ for QlikView Desktop / Personal Edition.
  • Get social. Use QlikCommunity to build up your network of people who have expertise with or passion for QlikView. Communicate with people everywhere; with the click of a button you can translate any page on the community into any of 44 languages. You can add members as “friends” and easily follow their activities in the community. If you fill out your profile, others can find and connect with you. If you permit, others can download a vcard containing this information, including your email address. And using a “share” link you can easily share any page on the community via email or social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
  • Check out sub-communities focused on specific topic areas. Technical sub-communities include development (QlikView Desktop), deployment and management (Server / Publisher / Ajax / Internet Explore / web parts), connectivity and data sources, integration and extensions, and mobile. We also have sub-communities for QlikView Labs and QlikView-related jobs. Each sub-community has functionality like discussion threads, a “top participants” leaderboard, a shared document space, and tag cloud. 
  • Stay tuned for collaborative ideation. Soon we plan to give members of the community the option to submit, vote on, and comment on ideas about QlikView. Positive votes will rise to the top of the list and serve as valuable input to QlikTech about our product.


I asked Jason Long and Peter Simonsen to tell me their number one recommendations to new community members. Jason said, “It would be this: you get out of it what you put into it. The more you participate―ask questions and answer questions, and share content―you more value you receive. Don't be afraid to ask a question or to offer an answer to someone else's question. If you have knowledge, share it. If you need knowledge, ask for it.” Peter added, “Even if you don't have a question: it's a great place to get inspiration. It can open your eyes to uses of QlikView beyond what you are already doing.”


If you’re not already a member, click here to join QlikCommunity.

The 2010 book Empowered by Forrester Research analysts Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler is about employees who are “HEROes”―Highly Empowered Resourceful Operatives. HEROes use accessible, do-it-yourself technologies to solve problems, connect with customers, and build solutions for their companies. HEROes are agile, innovative risk takers who share their learnings with others. They boost the business with projects that improve the flow of information. Book cover image - Empowered.JPG


HEROes need to provision their own technology

In this book, the authors make the point that two things are necessary for HEROes to be successful. First, the organization’s leadership must encourage innovation and give HEROes the autonomy they need to go off and find solutions. Second, IT must take on the role of advisor to HEROes and their managers.

In HERO-powered organizations, IT is not simply a provider of technology. Instead, IT is a supporter of technology projects created by HEROes. Bernoff and Schadler wrote, “HEROes don’t operate at the speed of IT, they move at the speed of the groundswell―and as a result, they need to provision their own technology.” IT’s job becomes supporting projects as a technology advisor, helping HEROes manage risks, and helping the organization move from what HEROes have built to a system the entire company can use.

QlikView: A technology for HEROes

This story is a very familiar one to us at QlikTech because it is HEROes who are the champions for QlikView. In many QlikView customer environments, the relationship between business users and IT is just as Bernoff and Schadler described HERO-powered organizations. Here’s a typical QlikView scenario.

  1. A HERO finds out about the QlikView Business Discovery platform. They may hear about it from a colleague, peer, or industry analyst, or in the media or from a social media platform like Twitter. They download the personal edition from QlikView.com and use the wizard-driven interface to import data from one or more sources into memory. They set up some charts and list boxes.
  2. The HERO begins exploring data. They conduct searches in QlikView and make selections to instantaneously filter the entire data set. They identify relationships in the data, seeing not only what data is associated but what data is not associated. (For example, when clicking on a customer name all products that customer has purchased are highlighted in white and all products that customers has not purchased are highlighted in gray.) They have “a-ha” moments as they make discoveries that enable them to solve the business problem they’re working on.
  3. More people start using QlikView and adoption spreads throughout the organization. The HERO shares not only their insights but how they arrived at those insights: using QlikView. They point other people in the direction of QlikView so that they can a) start creating their own insights and b) share insights on a common platform. As colleagues see QlikView and hear about how it helped HEROes solve problems, they want it too.
  4. IT takes on the role of advisor, taking the QlikView deployment to a new level. It becomes clear to business and IT leaders that QlikView is not just a team or departmental Business Discovery platform―it is a business-critical technology that should be deployed on a broad scale. IT gets involved and puts plans in place to optimize scalability, security, and performance of the QlikView environment, and to make sure the data is clean. IT partners with the business and empowers HEROs with tools to help them derive their own insights, rather than force-feeding them predefined reports or dashboards.


In nearly all our customers’ organizations, it is HEROes who bring in QlikView. They use it to solve problems, connect with customers, and build solutions for their organizations―typically in a way that improves the flow of information. QlikView is a Business Discovery platform designed for HERO-powered organizations.

While I was in Australia at the Gartner BI and Information Management Summit in February (see this related blog post) I spent some time with Ben Mills, managing director and lead consultant with AtoBI. AtoBI is a QlikTech solution provider that specializes in complex solutions and training.

Moments of Discovery with QlikView.png

Last week I spoke with Ben in more detail about business discoveries some of his customers have made with QlikView. “One of the things I love about QlikView,” Ben said, “is seeing those a-ha moments in the eyes and faces of customers. Recently, a half hour into a QlikView training course, one of the participants literally jumped up, threw her hands in the air and said ‘YES!!! That’s amazing. Can I give you a round of applause now?’ I was demoing how easily we can pull in and associate multiple data sources.”

In financial services: discovery of an invalid $40 million trade

One financial services company Ben worked with made an extraordinary discovery with QlikView. The QlikView user, a savvy global business manager, was sitting at his desk exploring the data. He was drilling down through summary figures to the nitty gritty detail about individual trades―a level of detail he had never been able to see before. As he was exploring the data he found an outlier and discovered that it was an invalid $40 million trade that had been entered into in the system.


He corrected the entry and was then able to accurately reforecast the company’s figures. Aside from the value of correcting this $40 million mistake, the company derived untold value from the confidence they were now able to have in the accuracy of their figures, and their ability to truly and quickly analyze their data down to the detailed level.

In telecom: insights into what drives customer satisfaction

A telecom company Ben worked with used QlikView to put some facts and figures to the theories that had been bandied about regarding the factors that affect customer satisfaction. Ben worked with a customer satisfaction analysis team inside the company to create a QlikView application for analyzing customer data. The application contained more than 20 different data sets such as bills, orders placed, products purchased, customer service interactions, survey data, and phone service activations and connections.


The customer satisfaction analysis team used QlikView to track, analyze, and weight all aspects of the customer experience. Their discovery? Insights into, and quantification of, the factors that affect customer satisfaction. The team is now better able to understand customers’ needs and tailor the company’s initiatives accordingly, setting business targets for customer satisfaction and implementing new initiatives. The company’s thinking is that increased customer satisfaction will lead to increased referrals, to happy customers who stay with the company longer . . .  and ultimately increased revenues.


Do you have your own story about Business Discovery with QlikView? Drop me a line and tell me about it. I’m at erica.driver@qlik.com.

I’m fed up with “end-users” – the term, that is. I simply don’t believe they exist. Perhaps more accurately, I don’t suppose they exist anymore.


At one time, data management, reporting and analytics required specific technical skills. Even publishing content on the corporate network was a specialized skill. Back then, I can imagine there were users who were indeed at the end of something. They may have been the end receivers of a process of corporate intelligence with no technology to take it further. Or they may have been at the end of a chain of custody of data with no means to refine or distribute it further.


Collaboration was round the water cooler. Further analysis meant clumsy downloads to Excel. At the Gartner BI Summit in LA last week, Rita Sallam described how traditional BI tools often become “expensive ETL systems for exporting to Excel.”




These days should be gone. Today no user is the end of anything. Every user is the start of something new.


At the very least, with social networking and collaboration technologies (whether endorsed by IT or not) any user can start a managed, analyzable thread of discussion on the data or reports they receive. If you are not enabling, managing and analyzing those threads, you are ignoring a prime source of knowledge in your business.More powerfully, with Business Discovery tools such as QlikView, any user can begin a new thread of analysis – refining, supplementing, and remixing their received corporate intelligence. Our new enterprises are not centralized point-to-point systems. Rather, each user is a node in a network, with all the flexibility and strength (and yes, redundancy) that networks have.




Our businesses are the better for it. Our users can be more engaged, and more informed. Our IT departments try not to solve every analytic problem, but instead provision the data and services that keep the network humming with intelligence.


So don’t talk to me about end-users. I don’t think they exist, except perhaps in small isolated pockets of dysfunctional organizations. I don’t even think they should exist. Let’s see an end of them.


This post republished from: http://donalddotfarmer.com/2011/05/09/dont-talk-to-me-about-end-users/

Researchers at MIT and the University of Pennsylvania recently published a paper titled, "Strength in Numbers: How Does Data-Driven Decisionmaking Affect Firm Performance." In 2008, researchers Erik Brynjolfsson, Lorin Hitt, and Heekyung Kim conducted a detailed survey of senior HR managers and CIOs who worked for 179 large publicly-traded companies. The survey questions were about business practices and IT investments. The researchers combined the survey data with financial measures (e.g., physical assets, employees, sales, operating income) derived from Compustat and public sources of information.



While the bulk of the paper describes the statistical model used to identify a relationship between data-driven decision making and business outcomes, it summarizes some of key findings from the research:


  • It's not just about collecting data-it's about using it. How do companies make better decisions? They gather detailed data and propagate knowledge from their consumers, suppliers, alliance partners, and competitors. They use data mining and business intelligence software to identify patterns and make sense of all the data.
  • Data-driven decision making leads to business success. The researchers found that companies that adopt data-driven decision making have output and productivity that is 5% to 6% higher than what would be expected given their other investments and IT usage. Data-driven decision making is also associated with significantly higher profitability and market value.
  • Adoption of data-driven decision making is observable by organizational characteristics. The primary characteristics are: 1) company age, and 2) consistency of business practices. Younger companies have less organizational inertia. Organizational inertia limits the ability of the organization to make radical changes in strategy and structure in the face of environmental changes. And companies with more consistent business practices can scale up new business decisions (such as instituting data-driven decision making) more readily, once the initial cost of making the decision is incurred, compared to companies of the same size that have less consistent business practices.


Interesting findings, well worth a read.

Are you a QlikView customer who deeply "gets" the business value of our software? If so, now's a chance to get your voice heard!

Industry analyst firm Business Application Research Center (BARC) is now conducting its annual survey of the real-world experiences of BI software users, "The BI Survey 10: The Customer Verdict."

Click this link or the image below to fill out the online survey, which is open through the end of May. Survey respondents can fill out the form in English, French, German, or Spanish.

The BI Survey is a helpful tool for selection of BI platforms. No vendors (not even QlikTech Big Smile) will be involved with the formulation of The BI Survey. It is not commissioned, suggested, sponsored, or influenced by vendors . . . it contains no sponsored or private questions and the questions are compiled without reference to vendors. Vendors are not given an early preview of the findings, nor are we allowed to review the report before its publication.

We encourage you to fill out the survey. To give you a sense for the work BARC is doing with this study, here is a link to the QlikView summary of last year's report (BI Survey 9). This summary was produced by QlikView and approved by BARC.

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