I watched a fascinating program by VS Rachmandram where he discussed patients feeling pain in ‘phantom limbs’. An example might be pain in an arm that’s been amputated where the person feels their hand is permanently clenched into a tight fist. To solve this problem the brain is tricked by using a simple box and a mirror which makes it think the amputated limb is ok, the hand is open, and the pain disappears.

This serious subject highlights the power of the brain and how powerful visual stimulus is.


There are times when our brain can actually fool us in to seeing or feeling things that are not there. If, for example, we are looking at a chart that’s not well designed we are likely to make assumptions - and we all know how risky assumptions can be.

Further, our brain hasn’t evolved that far away from our distant ancestors, so the thing that really makes a chart or table interesting is if it appeals somehow to our basic instincts:  can it feed my family, gain me an advantage, even make me more attractive!?  (Unlikely, I know.) 

In the world of work, these basic needs are expressed through analogues: hitting your sales target, getting promotion through recognition, or spotting that upwardly trending product. However the information that triggers these appealing insights is too often buried under ‘chart junk’ – stopping you seeing what’s really there. In his book The Visual Display of Quantitative information Edward Tufte wrote:


“Sometimes decorations can help editorialize about the substance of the graphic. But it's wrong to distort the data measures—the ink locating values of numbers—in order to make an editorial comment or fit a decorative scheme.”

So how do we make sure this doesn’t happen? Well, the old acronym K.I.S.S (Keep it simple stupid) applies.  Airport and road signage are a good example of quiet design. They get you where you want to go without most people consciously noticing.


It’s not complicated, it’s not flashy and it just shows the information needed. So when you design your next dashboard always keep in mind why you are doing it.  It’s not usually so you can show the latest info graphic or cool chart type.

I am not saying when you create a dashboard it shouldn’t wow the eyes and excite the brain but, like a super model with a PhD, it must not only be gorgeous but genius as well.


The QlikView Journey

Posted by Erik Lövquist May 23, 2013

As part of my work as User Experience Researcher, people tell me about their journeys of learning QlikView. This includes developers creating their first applications for other people, administrators setting up large scale environments and users of business discovery applications. These journeys describe both what people struggle with and what they find easy when using QlikView. Each journey is unique and extremely valuable for us in understanding how people use QlikView and how we can support their working process in the best way possible.

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A particularly interesting trend I’ve seen is that people working within business, e.g., controllers, accountants and sales managers, can also have roles as QlikView developers at their organizations. Compared to the “conventional” developer who has specific IT or software developer skills, people with a background in business face quite different challenges when learning QlikView. For example, they are often not familiar with scripting or visualization techniques and worry a lot about best practices when designing apps. On the other hand, this specific kind of developers has an in-depth understanding of their business and the needs of their company and colleagues. They might struggle with implementing technical solutions but the applications they create are often immediately valuable to the business.

By understanding our different types of users we can create solutions that help people quickly learn and effectively use QlikView regardless of how they approach it. People’s journeys with QlikView are the basis for one of our most valuable design tools for QlikView.next: personas. A persona is a fictional character that represents core characteristics of real users based on research. Our personas at QlikTech describe behaviors and attitudes that we gather from engagements with large number of existing as well as potential users. When creating these personas, we do not only ask what people want but also observe and interview them to understand how we can support their needs efficiently and effectively.

Our personas give our different kinds of users names, faces and feelings rather than merely being a “type” or a categorization. They provide presence and influence from our users at all stages of the design and development process. The personas cover novice, intermediate and expert users and our aim is to provide solutions that can support them all when learning and working with QlikView.next.

Do you have your own journey to share or seen any similar trends when working with QlikView? Let us know in the comments below!

My youngest son recently turned 10 years old.  And, the sad reality is that in many ways, he doesn’t need me that much anymore.  


In fact, if I wasn’t so unwilling to give up in my role as his mother, I am quite sure that he could manage to get through an entire day without my help.  Thankfully there is a lot more to life than just pouring yourself a bowl of Cheerios. Somebody actually has to make sure that there are Cheerios in the house… and for that matter, milk.


What does this have to do with the business of IT? 


My role as mother is to empower my boys with the tools and resources that they need to be increasingly self-sufficient and to drive toward their own personal goals. As an IT leader, my role has always been to empower the business users and to give them the tools and resources that they need to propel the business forward. 


I had to stand on the step in order to appear taller than my oldest!


Just as my relationship with my boys has evolved as they have grown, business users are much more tech savvy today than ever and it is important that we adapt our methods of delivering IT solutions accordingly. One example of this is happening is Bring Your Own Device or BYOD where business users take on at least some responsibility for self-support of their own technology devices. Another great example is the move toward self-service Business Intelligence where IT departments maintain discipline around their core mission (security, data integrity, scalability, etc.) while business users are provided with tools enabling them to answer their own BI questions allowing them to move at the speed of business.


Gartner’s research note: “How to Deliver Self-Service Business Intelligence” outlines a model for the critical issues that surround delivering a self-service BI capability and includes three key recommendations for IT leaders, all of which we see in organizations using QlikView:


  • Reevaluate long standing organizational models with the objective of creating a stronger partnership between IT and the business. 

    There are several recommendations in the paper including physical co-location of IT professionals with the business as well as changes in organizational structure.  The form that these changes take will vary from firm to firm but the objective should be the same which is to create an environment that fosters stronger partnership between traditional IT roles and business roles. 
  • Establish governance models for certifying business user driven development.

    The reality is that business users already have a long history of developing BI solutions for themselves.  (I myself am a recovering Excel addict.)  However, it is becoming apparent there have been serious business problems caused by the unfettered use of Excel to support critical business processes. Therefore as we empower our users with new self-service BI tools, it is critical that we also put in place the data controls and governance policies necessary to ensure consistency and the integrity of the resulting business decisions.
  • Increase the reach of BI throughout the organization through the adoption of consumerization technologies

    Here the recommendation is to widen the use of business intelligence by supporting all of the ways through which business users may want to interact with the data.  Specifically highlighted here is the idea of moving beyond static reports and enabling interactive dashboards, visualizations and search. 


A point highlighted in the paper which resonated especially well with me as a mother was the idea of giving the right amount of capability to each business user. My two boys are 5 years apart in age and sometimes it is easy to forget that they need different levels of support. The same is true for our business users. Although any business user can gain valuable insight from an interactive QlikView application with only minutes of training, not all users will be able or even want to be able to develop applications of their own. It is important to provide a platform which can deliver capability to both types of users as well as those in between and to help all users grow in how they use BI for themselves.


Learn more about the Gartner research and QlikView’s self-service BI platform here.


I am personally passionate about improving the partnership between business users and IT and would love to hear from you!

  • Are you in IT? How has your relationship changed with your business users over time?  Do you think it is for the better?
  • Are you a business user?  How can IT do more to empower you to meet your goals?

In one of Charles Dickens’ novels, a young English orphan boy named Pip received a large sum of money from an unknown benefactor and was told he would go to London and learn how to become a “gentleman.”  Charles Dickens entitled his novel “Great Expectations”, describing how Pip felt on his way to the metropolis of London. In classic Dickens’ style, things are never what they seem and Pip’s fortune does not lead to a life of comfort and ease.Pip-magwitch.jpg


The theme of Great Expectations came up in a number of different ways on my recent trip to the metropolis of New York City to attend and present at the Big Data Summit organized by CDM Media. The presenters and delegates were a ‘who’s who’ assembly of people whose titles begin with the letter C: CIOs, CTOs, CDOs (Chief Data Officer), and even a CAO (Chief Analytics Officer), from some very well-known enterprises and brands, including American Express, Citi, AIG, Allstate, Suncor, and the National Basketball Association.


I certainly had great expectations going to the event: surely the industry luminaries would have Big Data all figured out and I would be able to come away with a better understanding of Big Data use cases.  The first speaker heightened my expectations – he gave jaw-dropping statistics about how Big Data helps the healthcare industry fight the annual loss of two hundred billion dollars to fraud and how Big Data helps a wind energy company optimally place its wind turbines by crunching massive amounts of weather data.


Another speaker gave an impassioned call to train our schoolchildren in technology and mathematics so they could become data scientists, helping corporations and nations gain a competitive edge.


Three surprising commonalities came out of these presentations and nearly 20 private conversations with these executives:

  • They don’t have Big Data all figured out. Successful projects with large ROI are few and far in between, many are still in the experimental phase.
  • Adoption is low. One executive said, “My problem is getting my people to actually use the expensive data warehouse we bought.” His data warehouse had over 125 terabytes of data.
  • Innovation comes from data mashups. The executives were most excited about the possibilities when internal data is combined with customer data, sensor data, and news feeds to deliver new services that don’t currently exist.


What did exceed my expectations was the high level of engagement the executives had as they learned about QlikView in relation to Big Data. The top reasons were:

  • QlikView helps them walk before they run. When asked if they are making the most use of their existing “small data,” not one person said yes. They saw how QlikView’s Business Discovery platform helps them achieve immediate return on the data they have, rather than waiting years for their Big Data projects to complete.
  • QlikView helps them explore their Big Data. Because creating data mashups is so intuitive and simple in QlikView, they can take extracts from their Big Data source, mash them up with other data sources, and explore the results in real time without the usual query lag and laborious data modeling work.
  • QlikView reduces dependence on data scientists. Everyone who saw a demo of QlikView for the first time was impressed with how intuitive it was to answer question after question simply by clicking, without having to create more visualizations or hire data scientists to do so. Since QlikView can scale from “small data” to Big Data, it uniquely addressed their short and long term analytic needs.


Like a great novel with unexpected plot twists, I entered the conference with great expectations, saw them brought low, but then ended with a fresh excitement over what QlikView can do for the largest of enterprises wrestling with the challenges of getting broad value from both small and big data.

For more information, check out QlikView’s page on what Big Data can do for you.

John Sands

The Key to Associations

Posted by John Sands May 9, 2013

I sometimes get asked to explain what QlikTech means when it talks about association.  Here’s how I explain it…


Too often we are compelled to adapt the way we think to the way software tools work.


This is the case with many business intelligence products, which optimise their performance by forcing us down linear drill down paths. But our brains don’t work in that way.  Our brains work by association.


For example, if we lose our car keys we don’t work through a pre-set drill down path. We don’t think to ourselves, “Hmm.  Let’s see, I was on planet Earth, in Europe, in the UK, in Hampshire, in Portsmouth, in Southsea, on Nelson road, at number 7 and in the kitchen.  Are my keys in there?  No, they’re not!”   After failing we’d then have to start all over again down another pre-set path.  If our brains were like most BI tools we’d probably have to wait for our consciousness to establish a new drill path!


In truth, what we do naturally, is think “What was I doing before I lost my keys? I remember; I was making a sandwich in the kitchen to eat while watching TV on the sofa.  A-ha! There are my keys down the back of the cushion!”  We find or make insights by associating non-linear data points.   (At the same time you might find the remote control you lost or if you’re really lucky some loose change, which you didn’t expect).  Providential discoveries rarely (if ever) occur through over structured thought processes.


We are used to being able to search freely for data quickly across billions of items on the web.  Many users of traditional BI wonder why their BI isn’t as simple as this.  Why do we have to change the way we discover things in everyday life just to suit a set of rules set down by a BI architecture detached from our  working reality?


To give a real life example of this I was trying to book a flight for my family this year somewhere warm and dry  (I live in the UK!) but on a budget. I went to the website of a well-known airline and selected my dates and destinations and then followed the path defined by the website. By the time I got to the 10th step and added all the taxes and baggage costs it worked out to be too expensive.  Wouldn’t it be a much more pleasurable experience if I could enter my budget and dates and automatically get shown the destinations that were available for me? Or a country and budget and see what dates were associated and available with those selections?


Life shouldn’t be that difficult.  We should all be able to just follow the associations.

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