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Business Discovery Blog Archive

209 Posts authored by: Erica Driver

Every year, QlikTech executes several strategic initiatives. These are cross-functional programs that are funded out of a special budget and are blessed with executive sponsorship from the highest levels of the organization. An example of a QlikTech strategic initiative is QlikMarket, which we launched last year. One of QlikTech’s strategic initiatives for 2013 is called Customer Success.

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This initiative is very exciting for me on a couple of levels:

  • Focusing on the customer first is mandatory. Based on recent research from Temkin Group, most B2B (business to business) companies – whether they are in technology, financial services, aerospace and defense, or any other industry – are still mastering the basics of customer experience.* If in your role at work you deal with people from other companies, you probably see evidence of this yourself. But we live in a world where business customers have high expectations, often set by what they’re used to getting as consumers. B2C companies know that customer experience drives business loyalty. In my personal view, the software companies that will be around in 15 years are the ones that deliver a fabulous customer experience.
  • Your success is my passion. After more than 2½ years in QlikTech’s product marketing group, I have moved into a new role at QlikTech heading up a function called Customer Advocacy. The Customer Advocacy team is focused on measurement and accountability. As you might expect for a company that makes analytics software, we are firm believers that what you can’t measure, you don’t do. So we are launching quarterly customer relationship surveys and putting processes in place to act on your input. We expect the first survey to launch in May. If you see one come your way, please take a few moments to share your open and straightforward feedback with us.

So the focus of my posts here on the Business Discovery Blog will change. Rather than writing about Business Discovery and trends in the BI market, I look forward to sharing updates with you about the Customer Success initiative. Stay tuned.

* See “Best Practices in B2B Customer Experience,” Temkin Group, April 2013 (by subscription or for purchase).

In the Harvard Business Review blog article by senior editor Scott Berinato, “Your Business Needs Insight, Not Just Pretty Pictures” (March 19, 2013), the author identifies an important trend in business communication. “Data comes first,” he wrote, “and it’s increasingly visual.” 

Berinato describes the two drivers behind this trend as Big Data and the democratization of tools for creating good data visualizations. I agree about Big Data. But I would describe the democratization trend a little bit differently; it’s not just about broader availability of and access to tools for creating good data visualizations – because as the title of the HBR blog post says, your business needs insight, not just pretty pictures.

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What’s even more important here is the democratization of easy-to-use, interactive apps that anyone people can use to quickly and easily ask and answer the next question that comes to mind, and the question after that, without having to create a new visualization or report . . . without having to create anything at all.

By its very nature, a data visualization can answer only a limited number of questions. In contrast, a Business Discovery app provides multiple ways for a user to interact with information. It provides many different data visualizations – charts, graphs, list boxes (the most basic object in a QlikView app), tables and much, more more.

With each click, tap, or lasso, users can always see what data is associated with their selections and – importantly – what data is not. They make a selection in one chart or graph and all the other charts and graphs in the app update instantaneously to reflect the new selection. It is this rich, straightforward interactivity, with a full data set behind it (often drawn from multiple back-end systems), that empowers users to discover insights in their data.

I recently read an interview on the Harvard Business Review blog with Amanda Cox, who is a trained statistician and the graphics editor at the New York Times. I appreciate the perspective she shared with author Scott Berinato.

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A few key takeaways:

  • Data visualization improves storytelling. “Most everyone here [at the New York Times] would agree the best way to tell some stories is through data,” Cox said. “Some think very rarely, some think most of the time, but they would concede telling the story with data is accepted.”
  • The primary data visualization skill needed: ability to ask good questions. I often hear people talk about data scientists. I find the term intimidating; it implies that to be able to create excellent data visualizations you need a PhD. I’m sure that’s true for some types of data analysis – but Cox contends that the primary skill needed to create good visualizations is the ability to ask good questions. Right on.
  • Visualizations for visualizations’ sake really don’t matter all that much. Data visualizations only matter when you can do something useful with them – when they are actionable. “There's an ‘Aha!’ moment sometimes,” Cox said. “Even on the most obvious things.”

Data analysis is becoming a bigger part of more peoples’ lives. Amanda Cox mentioned in the interview that the people she works with are journalists, biologists, urban planners, and mapmakers. If I think about my own role in customer advocacy (and formerly product marketing), I am similar—I come from a background as an industry analyst, not a statistician. No matter what our profession or background, we can all benefit from data visualization – a key aspect of data discovery software – to help us tell compelling stories, ask and answer more questions, and take the right actions.

Analysts at Forrester and Gartner are seeing a rise in adoption of enterprise app stores. As Forrester looks ahead a few years, they see corporate app stores moving beyond distribution of corporate-approved mobile apps to provide content sharing, granular discovery, provisioning, and reporting and monitoring services. Forrester goes so far as to predict that app stores will become the primary way for individuals to obtain applications.* Gartner predicts that by 2016, 60% of enterprise app stores will be primarily composed of third-party apps rather than enterprise-developed apps and that by 2017, 25% of enterprises will have an enterprise app store for managing corporate-sanctioned apps on PCs and mobile devices.**

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I talked about this recently with Donald Farmer, our VP Product Management. A concept that’s on his mind when thinking about enterprise app stores is the information supply chain. How will all these apps be able to deliver the information users need so they can ask and answer streams of questions on their own?

In a traditional environment IT would build, own, and manage the entire experience of information, from sources to analysis and visualization. But in the supply chain model, an enterprise data warehouse is only one element of the information landscape, with many peripheral apps extending and augmenting it. IT seeks to publish as much data as possible through APIs, feeds, and other mechanisms – even reports. While some of this infrastructure requires IT support and maintenance, in a supply chain model, the goal is always to provide users with direct access and do-it-yourself tools wherever possible. (See the related blog post, “The IT Supply Chain: Making the IT Store Concept Work,” October 15, 2012 and the CITO Research white paper, “Putting the IT Store Ecosystem into Action.”)

Enterprise app stores and the information supply chain are first nature to QlikTech. Our customers have been calling their QlikView creations apps for a long time: lightweight, purpose-built, task specific applications. Our customers make these apps available to users via an internal web-based “store.” Today we call the place where users can search for and discover QlikView apps AccessPoint. In “QlikView.next,” the new AccessPoint will be QlikView itself. (See the blog post, “Compulsive Collaboration with ‘QlikView.next’ – Many Ways to Make Music Together.”) And as we set ourselves up to support customers deploying IT stores, we’re paying close attention to the information supply chain.



* See the Forrester Research report, “Build A Corporate App Store Into Your Corporate Mobility Strategy,” January 16, 2013 (available to Forrester subscribers or for purchase).

** See the Gartner reports, “Enterprise App Stores Can Increase the ROI of the App Portfolio,” February 4, 2013 and “There’s an App for That: The Growth of Enterprise Application Stores,” September 7, 2012 (available to Gartner subscribers).

“Learning is not a place, it’s an activity.” This is my favorite quote from a TEDTalk by Andreas Schleicher titled “Use data to build better schools.” Schleicher is the Deputy Director for Education and Skills and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

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This talk was about PISA, the OECD’s program for international assessment of 15-year-old students around the world. PISA studies education investments and outcomes and conducts international comparisons. The latest PISA assessment (2009) measured 74 school systems that covered 87% of the economy. The study measures skills directly, not whether students can reproduce what they learned in school. It “measures whether students are prepared for change,” Schleicher said.

This is a video worth watching for several reasons:

  • Great data storytelling. Schleicher used data to tell the story of how countries compare on education metrics and what the trends look like over time. He shared findings on spending per student, how countries spend their money (e.g., hours of schooling and teacher compensation), and value for the money. He augmented the data charts with specific examples that brought the story to life. For example, 9 out of 10 students in Japan believe that excellence in math is a result of their own investment and effort. In contrast, students in North America believe that to be good at math you have to be born a genius.
  • The transformational power of data. To be clear, it’s not the data alone that’s valuable; it’s the sum of the collection, analysis, and communication of the data. Schleicher gave an example of this power in Germany. In 2000, Germany’s scores on the PISA were low compared to other countries. This was a shock to many. For months the public debate centered on education. Policy makers got involved, the federal government increased its investment in education, and the beliefs people held about education began to change. Nine years later, Germany’s scores improved significantly.
  • It’s about one of the most important issues facing humanity. In case you don’t get a chance to watch the video, I’ll share with you some of the characteristics that high-performing school systems share, according to PISA. They place a high value on education. They believe all children are capable of success. (As examples, today every young Korean finishes high school. And in Finland there is only a 5% performance variation across education systems in that country; there, success is systemic.) And they invest in educators. They are careful how they select, recruit, and train teachers, and how they structure teacher pay. They provide an environment for teachers to collaborate, focus on growth pathways for teachers, and provide room for teachers and principals to be inventive.

Find this article and TEDTalk interesting? Check out the related blog post, “QlikView Is Playing a Part in Education Reform,” about how FirstLine Schools is using analytics to measure student and school performance and success and lighten the burden on administrators.

I recently read a New York Times article called “What Data Can’t Do” by columnist David Brooks. The gist of the article is that while data can yield important insights to drive better decisions, it’s not the only input. He gave an example of the chief executive of a large bank that had to decide whether to pull out of Italy. While the data showed a series of downside scenarios, the executive decided not to pull out of Italy based on other, non-data-related criteria: the relationship, trust, and values.

This really resonated with me. Holistic decision making relies on multiple sources of input, some quantitative (hard numbers, GPS info from mobile devices) and some qualitative (e.g., others’ opinions, observations, questions, and ideas — sometimes gleaned while out “on location”). Conversation and collaboration, as well as indicators and information from the world around us, help create the context around data and drive better decision making.

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With QlikView we embrace this reality that people make decisions based on multiple sources of input. Users collaborate on creation of analytic apps and can define and answer their own questions―in formal or informal groups. They communicate with each other to collaboratively explore data, forge paths to discovery and insight, and arrive at decisions.

How? For asynchronous collaborative analysis, when people can’t be in the same place or online at the same time they can initiate and participate in threaded discussions or send each other bookmarks that retain the selections they have made. When they are available at the same time but can’t be in the same place they can interact simultaneously with an app using shared sessions. People who are creating QlikView apps can send the entire app to others, who can pick up where they left off on development or analysis. This is just the beginning of collaborative Business Discovery. Click here to learn more.

This week, InformationWeek executive editor Doug Henschen published an article about the 2013 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms, which came out in early February. (You can read the report in its entirety here.) We’re proud to be positioned in Gartner’s Leaders quadrant for the third consecutive year!

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InformationWeek quoted Gartner analyst and report co-author Kurt Schlegel as saying, "Almost every user organization I talk to now is looking at making data discovery a more significant part of their BI and analytic platform architecture.” He commented that the benefit is improved agility because business users are freed to explore data and find new insights without having to put in requests to IT for new cubes or reports. QlikTech CEO Lars Björk was quoted in the article as saying, “Others are now confirming that [data discovery] is where the puck is moving, and it's a great testament that we're in the right place.”

The most exciting part of this year’s Magic Quadrant is that in our leadership of the data discovery category, QlikTech has helped transform the entire BI industry.  But we’re not resting on our laurels. There’s more to come. Check out the series of blog posts about “QlikView.next,” the next generation of the QlikView Business Discovery platform.

We all like stories. Why? We can lose ourselves in them for a time. Stories can make us feel as if we are experiencing something new. This also explains why movies and, to an even greater degree immersive video games and virtual worlds, are so compelling – but that’s a topic for another day.

I appreciate the insight about the human brain and storytelling in the December 5, 2012 Lifehacker article, “The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story Is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains,” by startup co-founder Leo Widrich. With data storytelling one of the product scenarios of “QlikView.next” (see the related post, “Data Storytelling with ‘QlikView.next’”), the article grabbed my attention.

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Widrich pointed out that when we read words on a PowerPoint slide, for example, our brain goes into language processing mode; the brain is trying to decode words into meaning. In contrast, when we are engaged in storytelling (either on the telling or listening side), not only are the language processing parts of the brain activated—but also any other part of the brain that we would use if we were experiencing the events in the story.

Wait, it gets even cooler. Because this brain activity happens in both the storyteller and the person listening to the story, storytellers can synchronize their brains with the recipient of the story. Whatever the storyteller is experiencing, they can induce the listener to experience too.

What does this have to do with Business Discovery? A whole lot. The same principle applies to numbers on a page or screen as to words. If we just see the numbers in black and white our brain goes into processing mode. We try to figure out what the numbers mean.

With numbers, how do you get your (data) point across? How do you convey the emotion behind your discovery or proposed decision? How do you get others on board with you? If someone is telling or listening to a story about the numbers – how the numbers came to be, why they matter, what their implications are, and what should be done about it – more peoples’ brains (and more of their brains) are engaged. Telling stories with data requires a connection to the data being analyzed.

And, to take this idea all the way to its conclusion, isn’t brain synchronization the nirvana of business intelligence? The nirvana of BI is alignment – getting everyone on the same page so the organization can move as one in the right direction, based on facts.

See these related blog posts:

Thanks to Tom Mackay, principal solution architect at QlikTech, I recently came up on the article, “Seven Dirty Secrets of Data Visualisation” by programmer Nate Agrin and data visualization developer Nick Rabinowitz. In addition to shining light on some best practices in data visualization, this article helps illuminate the difference between standalone data visualization tools and a Business Discovery platform.


The article covered seven dirty secrets of web-based data visualizations; I have thoughts about a few of them:

  • Secret no. 1: Real data is ugly. The article points out that before data can be accessible to, and useful with, data visualization software, a data expert has to find, acquire, load, clean, and transform it. This problem is compounded when the data comes from multiple sources. A lesson? Look for Business Discovery software that enables you to begin working with and analyzing even imperfect data without requiring a whole boat load of external (ETL extract, transform, load) capabilities. Discovery begins with the data. Being able to immediately see the mis-typed, out-of-range, or missing lets you begin tackling the problem from the start.
  • Secret no. 3: There’s no substitute for real data. When getting your hands on software to help you make sense of your data, try it out with your own real data – not dummy sample data. It’s in quickly and easily being able to see the associations in your own real data that the “a-ha” moments occur. This experience may be especially powerful with data sourced from disparate systems. “There is nothing like the moment when a user sees associations between data they have never been able to bring together before,” says Tom Mackay, principal solution architect at QlikTech. He’s speaking from experience; he’s seen it happen time and again at customer sites.
  • Secret no. 6: Visualization is not analysis. Agrin and Rabinowiz argued that visualization is a tool to aid analysis, not a substitute for analytical or statistics skill. True. But it’s not either/or; an analytic app can contain both detailed data, with complex statistical expressions applied, and visualizations that help simplify the picture. Users can analyze the data in the way that is most comfortable for them. And: clear, well-labeled, interactive charts and graphs that are part of an analytic app make it easy for even non-data analysts to explore information and derive insights and meaning – critical in a world where information is strategic and we all have to know how to work with it.
  • Secret no. 2: A bar chart is usually better. “The coolest looking visualisations are often the least useful,” the authors wrote. They pointed out that the cost of the novelty and visual appeal of some data visualizations is clarity of meaning. This potentially leads to comparisons that distort the data and takes viewers to false conclusions. The authors made the same point about animations (“secret no. 5: animate only when appropriate”) and recommended making animations simple, predictable, and replayable. I’d add that another complicating factor is the variety of devices people are using to interact with analytic apps, including tablets and smartphones. We offer some design suggestions of our own in this Technical Brief: “Mobile User Interface Design Best Practices.”
  • Secret no. 7: Data visualization takes more than code. “. . . Creating visualisations that offer real insight or tell a compelling story still requires a particularly wide range of real skills in addition to coding, including graphic design, data analysis, and an understanding of interaction design and human perception,” the authors wrote. A complicating factor is that data experts tend not to be graphic designers. To get past this dichotomy, check out the tips our experts offer on the QlikView Design Blog and take a look at how we are focused on closing the gap between data and design with the next generation of QlikView (see the post, “A Gorgeous and Genius ‘QlikView.next’ – The Best of Scandinavian Design”).

Visualizations are just the tip of the iceberg – the iceberg being a person’s understanding of the data. To be able to derive meaning and insight from data, especially complex data sourced from multiple systems, the user requires not only well-designed, clear, concise data visualizations, but the ability to explore the full dataset on their own. They need to be able to ask and answer their own streams of questions without having to go back to an expert for a new visualization every time they have a follow-up question. This, in a nutshell, is the difference between a standalone data visualization tool and a Business Discovery platform.

During this time when student test scores convey doom and gloom and education budgets are pinched, I jump on positive news when I get it. I came upon some good news recently during a conversation with FirstLine Schools in New Orleans, Louisiana. I spoke with Sia Karamalegos, director of data management, and Rebekah Cain, director of development and communication. FirstLine Schools is a charter management organization managing five public schools. The organization has approximately 2,500 students and 300-400 employees and is a grant recipient in QlikTech’s Change Their World program.

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In the words of Gillian Farquhar, QlikTech’s customer ambassador, “Like in most urban environments across the United States, lots of kids in New Orleans come from broken or economically challenged homes and the public education system has had a hard time producing the success it hopes for. Charter management organizations like FirstLine Schools intervened to make a difference early in children’s lives.”

Sia Karamalegos of FirstLine Schools said, “A lot of schools are trying to reform across the United States. A big aspect of reform in public education is using data to drive instruction. A challenge with this, though, is that school leaders, teachers, and special education and intervention staff are generally not data experts. They need to be able to easily access and make use of the data. But the diverse nature of the source data systems we use presented a challenge. Some systems permit users to export data while others don't. The data is in many different formats and the systems each have their own login. For teachers and administrators and even network administrators, this situation created a barrier to being able to make good use of data. People needed a better way to get a complete view of school and student performance.” 

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Rebekah Cain added, “School leaders have a big job. They are already working really hard. So any way we can make it easier for them to access the data they need to do their jobs, the better. Then they can spend their time on things that will improve instruction instead of looking for data.”

Using QlikView, FirstLine Schools is focusing on:

  • Student and school performance and success. FirstLine Schools is collecting data about students such as grades, classes taken, attendance, demographics, behavior (e.g., merits and demerits, suspensions, etc.), and whether the student is in intervention (performing below grade level). The data team assembles data from myriad back-end systems into a cohesive QlikView app that gives constituents a well-rounded perspective on a scholar’s “at-riskness,” trends in a student’s progress over time, and whether the approaches the school is taking with the scholar are the right ones. With QlikView, stakeholders can explore the data, toggling among students or schools or selecting a particular quarter—all the while seeing only the data they are supposed to see. “If a student is not progressing the way we expected,” said Rebekah Cain, “we know what we are doing isn’t working – so we need to add additional resources.”  In addition, a lot of the data the schools track is not about student grades. Schools conduct progress monitoring and interim tests to see if they are improving across large student populations.
  • Administrator dashboard. New Orleans is an open enrollment city; students don’t have to live in a particular neighborhood to attend a school there. What this means for FirstLine Schools is that it has to recruit students. To aid in recruitment and support people who are writing grants and performing other compliance tasks, FirstLine Schools uses QlikView to track and present statistics like enrollment, year-to-date attendance, tardiness, and truancy. Stakeholders can get the info they need when they need it. They can drill down into school or grade level and can select factors like special education status, homelessness, gender, or others to get just the relevant stats they need. QlikView logs into the various source systems automatically using scripts so the data in the apps is always up to date.

I asked Sia about FirstLine Schools’ “a-ha moments” with QlikView. In one example, they noticed that for different schools in the system, the rate of in-school suspensions vs. out-of-school suspensions had changed. This realization sparked further investigation. Moving forward, FirstLine Schools is planning to tie in additional data to identify which intervention programs are having the greatest success so they can spread best practices.

Are you inspired? I am.

A nighttime murder took place in 1991 in Linwood, California. Half a dozen teenaged eyewitnesses picked a man out of a lineup and he was eventually convicted. No gun was ever found, no vehicle was identified, and no person was ever charged with driving the vehicle.

For two decades, the convicted man – Francisco Carrillo – maintained his innocence. Eventually, forensic psychologist Scott Fraser got involved. He reconstructed the crime scene with a focus on the lighting. He convinced the judge that the eyewitnesses could not possibly have seen the shooter in the dark well enough to identify him; the witnesses’ color perception would have been limited and depth of field would have been no more than 18 inches.

As a result, Carrillo’s murder conviction was overturned and he was released from prison after nearly 20 years.

Scott Fraser told this story in a TEDx talk posted in September 2012, “Why Eyewitnesses Get It Wrong.” Fraser described how even close-up eyewitnesses can create “memories” they could not possibly have experienced. He explained an important characteristic of human memory: the brain only records bits and pieces of an event or experience.

The different bits are stored in different parts of the brain. When we recall those bits and pieces, we have partial recall at best. From inference and speculation and observations that took place after the event, the brain fills in information that was not originally stored there. Our memories – all our memories – are reconstructed.

Reconstructed memories are a combination of an event and everything that has occurred after the event. They are reconstructed every time we think of them. As a result they can change over time. Therefore, the accuracy of a memory can’t be measured by how vivid it is nor how certain we are that it is correct.

In this TEDx talk, Fraser made a couple of recommendations for the criminal justice system. As I was listening to him I thought that these apply to business decisions just as much as to the law. Fraser identified two things are really important for decision making:

  • Hard data. Fraser urged us all to be cautious about the accuracy of the memories we know deep in our hearts to be true. Memories are dynamic, malleable, and volatile. When it comes to workplace decisions, these decisions are very often made based on eyewitness accounts, in essence – on the experience and persuasiveness of people. If all our memories – all our experiences – are reconstructed, our business decisions are just screaming for a more objective rationale. And that rationale is the evidence that comes from hard data.
  • Analytical skills. Fraser advocates for bringing more science into the courtroom by emphasizing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in law schools. After all, it is law school graduates who become judges. The same is true for business decision making. The volume of data available for use in decision making is ballooning and analytical skills are required to make sense of it. By this I don’t mean we all have to become data scientists. But we need to be able to apply logical thinking to the gathering and assessment of information. We need to be able to ask the right questions.

Which initiatives should we invest in? Where should we open a new retail store? What is the best way to retain our most profitable customers? How can we reduce inventory costs? By using analytical skills and basing decisions upon a combination of hard data and experience we are best positioned to avoid big mistakes – some of which could be as significant as sending the wrong guy to jail.

In December, Business Applications Research Center (BARC), one of Europe’s leading analyst firms, published a report called “QlikTech in the BI Survey” – a document specially produced by BARC containing headline results for QlikTech from BARC’s 2012 survey of thousands of BI professionals around the world. You can download the report in its entirety here (registration required).

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BARC grouped BI technology vendors into peer groups, of which QlikTech was included in four: BI giants (revenues >$200M USD and international reach), dashboard vendor (focused on creating advanced dashboards), visual analysis and data discovery vendor (provide advanced visualization features), and small and medium projects vendor (used for small and medium sized projects  with <500 users).  Here are a few of my favorite highlights from the report.

Compared against other BI giants QlikTech ranked #1 (woo-HOO!) in:

  • Visual analysis. This is because of QlikView’s “appealing visual representations and dashboards” and “the ability to analyse data in an associative way [that] is different to the usual OLAP analysis tools.”
  • Innovation. QlikTech’s top score here is due to high scores in visual analysis and mobile BI—“both trends that QlikTech addressed early on.”
  • Project length. QlikTech customers’ project length with QlikView was found to be the shortest of all the BI giants. This is because of QlikView’s “flexible development environment [that] enables skilled consultants and users to quickly build up applications. Projects often use local data integration and analysis of data directly so that time-consuming tasks like data integration or data modeling are bypassed.”
  • Agility. QlikTech’s high score here is due to a combination of short project length and the flexibility QlikView provides for customers to build and change their applications.

And compared against the visual analysis and data discovery peer group QlikTech ranked #1 in:

  • Lowest number of administrators per seat. BARC found that QlikTech customers have a “low ratio of administrators to users. Users can take advantage of self service functions and often do not have to rely on administrators to change applications.” Self service is one of the hallmarks of Business Discovery.
  • Investment. “QlikTech shows the best investment KPI of all visual analysis vendors,” BARC stated. This key performance indicator (KPI) takes into account license fees, external implementation fees customers have to pay, and the number of administrators needed in relation to the number of seats purchased.
  • Mobile BI. “QlikTech has been quick to invest in its mobile clients,” BARC wrote. “As a result the mobile device experience and user interfaces have a large influence in the development of future GUI interfaces . . . ” We’re proud of QlikView on Mobile – which relies on the power of HTML5 to deliver a beautiful, highly functional experience when users are connected to the server. We also enable users to create offline views for when they will be disconnected.

BARC summed up this report by highlighting QlikTech’s high scores in visual analysis, mobile BI, and self service. BARC commented that “Compared to other Visual BI and Data Discovery tools it has the best investment ratios when it comes to license fees, external implementation spend and administrators needed per seat.”

Thanks to all the QlikView customers who participated in the BARC BI Survey 12!

I often hear about customers that tell us QlikView has been part of their organizational transformation. (See the related blog post, “QlikView as a Change Agent.”) Sometimes the transformation is toward increased transparency. Other times it’s toward distributed decision making or data-driven decision making. We recently published a new case study about the latter; QlikView is helping to drive a transformation toward data-driven decision making at Flipkart, India’s largest B2B eCommerce site.

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Flipkart has rolled a few QlikView apps out to hundreds of users so far with plans to deliver more. The first app to go live, a sales app, went into production within six weeks. A separate inventory management app has enabled the company to optimize stock levels and lower costs associated with excess inventory – resulting in a 5% improved in inventory utilization. This is significant for a company that has an expanding network of warehouses and procurement operations.

Beyond these benefits, QlikView is contributing to a broader cultural change. “With QlikView,” said Pravin Shinde, analytics manager at Flipkart, “we are trying to establish data-driven decision-making as a culture within our organization. We’re changing the way we see ourselves. All the relevant teams have been empowered and no longer depend on anyone else for reports and analysis. We’ve developed the capacity to share knowledge holistically across teams, which means we can better evaluate our sales strategy.”

To learn more, download the full case study here.

I recently watched a TEDx video that struck a chord with me. I had just read an article (“Thanks, But No Thanks: When Post-Disaster Donations Overwhelm,” NPR) about how after the tragedy mass shooting in Newtown Connecticut (USA) and natural disaster of Hurricane Sandy (northeast USA), people all around the world donated tons of stuff (literally) to people living in the affected areas. While some of the clothes, food, toys, and other goods were put to good use, much of it inadvertently ended up burdening local charities and government entities. I'm squirming a little bit right now because I was one of the people who packed a box and sent it on a truck down to New York after the hurricane.

In the July, 2012 TEDxPhnomPenh talk, “Using Data to Make Decisions,” public health specialist Dr. Piroska Bisits Bullen, PhD implored the audience to make data-driven decisions about donations to development activities in Cambodia. Her advice could just as well apply to any other kind of charitable donation: do your research first.

Dr. Bullen credits Hans Rosling and a TEDTalk he did a few years back for changing her life. In 18 minutes he convinced her that everything she knew about development was wrong, and did it only with data. (I’ve written about Hans Rosling’s work in a couple of earlier posts, ”Data Brings Joy to People" and “Storytelling with Data Helps Us Internalize Meaning.”)

Following in Rosling’s footsteps, Dr. Bullen told a story about Cambodia—about how a well-meaning non-governmental organization (NGO) distributed $100 grants to HIV positive women in Cambodia, with an unexpected and adverse result. As it turns out, women with HIV were twice as prevalent in well-off households as in poor households. So when poor families living on less than $1/day saw families with ten times as much income receiving $100 grants, the reaction was, “So if I get HIV too I’ll also get $100?”

Dr. Bullen’s point is that when people with good intentions do not look for and use relevant data, donations are wasted. She encouraged would-be donors to compare the size of problems, pick the right strategy for the size of the problem, and evaluate the effectiveness and cost of the development or charitable program. She gives some good examples of each of these in her talk.

She concluded, “Please have a look at the available data. Try looking at the data in different ways . . . If no data exists, collect some. Doing a survey is not that hard as long as you have someone who knows what they’re doing and there are plenty of those people available . . . When you run your program, measure the results. And please please please share those results with other people because the more data we all have, the better the decisions we’re going to be able to make.” Dr. Bullen’s recommendation is specific to development programs in Cambodia. But it easily applies to any charitable effort—or to any important decision, for that matter.

Another takeaway from this TEDx video is the importance of data storytelling. By making data available and easily understandable, we get our points across clearly—and may even change someone's life, as in the case of Hans Rosling.

In mid-December I had the pleasure of joining a fabulous QlikView customer, Andy Quirin, up on the CIO.com virtual stage. Andy is a product marketing analyst in the global enterprise solutions group at Rackspace Hosting, an open cloud company. He shared a terrific story about a transformation at Rackspace from “flying blind” at times to a culture of making data-driven decisions. You can listen to the recorded presentation in its entirety here.

Screen shot of webinar screen.PNG

My favorite part of Andy Quirin’s presentation was his personal story about QlikView. Within the last year he took a new role at Rackspace: to be part of a new team of business analysts in the global enterprise solutions group. There were to be 6 or 7 analysts in the group, one for each product line. Andy was the first analyst to join the team.

The very next day after he was hired—BOOM!—all the other analyst headcount was redirected to other areas of the business. Now what? Now Andy was tasked with supporting not just one product line but ALL the product lines. He alone would now be responsible for all the ad hoc data requests, product revenue analysis, and communications about the analytics. On top of the workload, he didn’t yet know much about SQL and hadn’t yet gotten familiar with all of the company’s product lines.

What Andy did have was experience with QlikView from his previous role at Rackspace. He also had an internal community of QlikView pros he could rely on for support. Andy dove into his new role and quickly began to understand the areas of limited to zero visibility that existed in the company. Within six months he had created a few apps that were able to knock out big areas of self-service reporting.

These apps were:

  • A PMO dashboard. This app integrates with a Microsoft SharePoint site. Project managers use it to submit progress plans and problem reports. Leaders can always see the progress of projects. The program manager uploads graphs and charts to all the TVs in the area, so anyone nearby can see what’s going on. The time it takes the VP to compile a week’s progress report has gone from 3 hours/week to 5 minutes/week.
  • A pipeline dashboard. This app sits on top of Salesforce and a proposal management system. Prior to QlikView, the business had no visibility into its proposal management system and had limited Salesforce reporting. Now, business users can see opportunity size, close rates, top sales reps, and more. They can make selections in the data to focus on product line or sales team or any other aspect. The accounting and finance teams use the app to track line items. The supply chain team uses it to see big deals coming to make sure they have all the equipment they need.
  • A customer dashboard. This dashboard tracks all the company’s customer-related KPIs in one place—KPIs such as revenue, churn, and NetPromoter Score—and shows the relationships in the data. The app integrates with Google Maps to show where customers are located. Everyone in the company has access to this app, which aligns with the company’s core value of full transparency. With this app, Rackspace is better equipped than ever to deliver on its promise of exceptional customer service, called Fanatical Support®.

Business Discovery has become a major part of the way “Rackers” work.  “. . . All the sudden,” Andy said, “the business gets really excited about their data—about pulling up reports in meetings and leveraging them to justify their decision. The conversation shift is almost immediate, from, ‘Can I trust the data?’ to ‘What else can we add to the dashboard?’ From ‘We can’t do anything without a requirements document’ to ‘You can have this up next week? Really?’”

Why would business people be so excited about using a piece of software? It’s because the software enables them to get their work done more quickly and easily than ever before because they are able to ask and answer their own questions streams of questions without having to go to an expert—and wait for—help. Andy found that a wide range of people throughout the organization are using the apps for purposes far beyond the initial vision and people are making 10, 15, 100 selections in a session, really digging into their business.

Way to go, Andy. You’re an inspiration to many.

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