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.

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