It is fitting that I write this blog post while I’m riding the Amtrak Acela Express from Boston to Philadelphia. We just rolled over a bridge near Old Saybrook, Connecticut. Outside the window, sailboats are tied up in a marina and snowy egrets fish in the marsh. The train really is a wonderful way to travel.
No wonder there are some die-hard railway enthusiasts out there. People like Joe Parker, QlikTech’s QlikMarket manager, for one. Joe is a certified railfan — railfans are railway buffs who study trains, photograph them, and blog about them. They meet at conventions, share knowledge, and start up hobby businesses — like Joe did.
Joe and a buddy started up such a business to create railroad-related memorabilia and sell it at conventions and online. A big money maker? No, “but I love trains,” said Joe. He took photos and applied them to canvas. He created mouse pads and coasters with railroad logos and pictures on them.
It was easy to manage inventory and sales in Microsoft Access when Joe and his partners sold just a few items. He didn’t need any visual analysis. But as the number of permutations approached 1,200, Access became unwieldy. Joe had created Access forms in which he would enter the name of the item, the size, how many he had in inventory, and individual dates and sales.
With 1,200 items, the resulting Access reports were 20 pages long. He didn’t have a way to do quick comparisons. “I love the ‘show me the top 10’ functionality in QlikView,” Joe said. “I can easily track which items were the top items we sold last year. I can click one more time and see which items are our top sellers at the hobby show.”
When Joe joined QlikTech, he downloaded QlikView to play around with it. He used the QlikView wizard to create his first app in 10-15 minutes. (For a short video on building your first app from Excel, see this blog post, “How about a piece of apple pie?”) That first app was just list boxes and basic graphs but "even with that I gained so much insight," Joe said. "It is powerful to be able to just click on things. You don’t have to be an IT genius to be able to get the answer to your next question, and the question after that.”
One of Joe’s first “a-ha” moments was a realization that there were places in his Access database where the logic (calculations) was incorrect. For example, he had the quantity of items sold and the price at which they were sold, but no totals were showing up.
After he cleaned up that problem, Joe was able to use his data to uncover new opportunities. He now has a better view of his inventory so he can more easily make decisions about which items to list on eBay. “I had the data all along but would have had to click through lots of forms to get insights out of it,” Joe said. “I had the questions all along, too. But I didn’t have an easy way to get answers.”
What’s my point in all this? That Business Discovery is for everyone. It’s for decision makers at the world’s largest banks and for Joe Parker, railfan hobbyist. Everyone who works with data has the potential to save many hours by spending one hour setting up their first QlikView. Joe put it well: “Anyone can use QikView to get more pertinent information than they ever thought possible. Plus,” he added, “I’m a geek, so, I think this is just really fun.”