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!

Chester Liu

Don’t Suffer in Silence

Posted by Chester Liu Jan 29, 2013

People who suffer sometimes think they are the only ones, and that no one else understands their pain and suffering. They suffer in silence. That is one of the reasons why support groups exist for various conditions and chronic illnesses. Being part of a support group of people dealing with similar issues breaks that misconception and points the way to solutions that, when shared with the group, lead to genuine life changes.

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Likewise, we as knowledge workers in business tend to think we are the only ones who are not Excel jockeys or have trouble making sense of the data we have to work with. We get frustrated with our data and the tools we are given. As a result, sometimes we end up making decisions based more on instinct than on facts.

On a recent webcast for CIO magazine, I co-presented with Jeff Brobst, VP Financial Planning & Analysis at McAfee. (You can watch the recorded webinar in its entirety here.) Jeff mentioned a number of pain points that existed within the finance group in his organization that many of us can easily relate to. The finance team traditionally spent three weeks at the end of each quarter on the closing process.

Their existing BI tool was available only to a limited group and it was very difficult to combine and analyze data from heterogeneous data sets. Most of the team’s processes were manual, tedious, and time-consuming. The result was more time spent gathering and formatting data and less time on real analysis. Furthermore, multiple sources of truth and inconsistent use of data led to more work and fact-checking.

Jeff showed how QlikView changed all that. His team was able to consolidate data from multiple sources and create useful interactive dashboards that contain up-to-date data throughout the quarter, not just at the end, making it possible to course correct more than just four times a year. The closing process went from three weeks to three days. Broad access to near-real-time sales data enabled McAfee to sell products to customers at the right time at the right price.

At the close of the webcast, an attendee asked me a great question: “How would you compare the ROI of QlikView versus other products?” My answer was two-fold. On the investment side, QlikView is a bargain when you consider the months or years it takes to get a traditional BI stack deployed compared to the weeks or even days it takes to get QlikView deployed. The savings alone in man-hours is huge. On the return side, customers who switched to QlikView often find that BI becomes not the domain of the few but rather the essential, go-to data analysis tool across the company. This democratization of data analysis pays handsome dividends because now all decision makers are using the same data and asking and answering their own questions in order to improve business.

At McAfee, QlikView is truly transforming the culture in terms of how data gets used and produces value. Jeff Brobst commented that those who see QlikView naturally want access to it, and adoption is growing rapidly.

You don’t need to suffer alone. It’s time to join the support group for people who are frustrated with their current data analysis and reporting tools—it’s called QlikView!

Chester Liu

Big Data Is for Everyone

Posted by Chester Liu Jan 24, 2013

All of us have probably experienced this in our childhood: Off in the distance, we see some of our classmates playing a game we have never seen before. They are grouped in a tight circle and we can’t quite see what they are doing. Out of curiosity we walk closer, but we are not sure whether it’s something we should participate in. Maybe it’s boring or a waste of time. On the other hand, if we don’t find out what they are doing, we might be missing out on something really fun or important. At last, we gather up the courage and ask that all-important question: “Mind if I join in?”

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That is how many business people feel about Big Data. On the one hand it’s a buzzword rippling through industry like a secret whispered around a classroom. On the other hand, it might be just a distraction from getting work done. The predicament business people find themselves in is how to determine whether they ought to be asking, “Mind if I join in?”

CITO Research has just published a QlikView-sponsored whitepaper that seeks to address this. It introduces Big Data in an easy to understand format and shows the relevance of Big Data to business challenges. It also compares and contrasts various approaches to getting value from Big Data. Finally, it concludes with two very engaging stories of how Big Data, when put in the hands of everyday users, has been able to achieve truly transformational outcomes for their organizations.

We hope this whitepaper helps you with your understanding of Big Data. You can download it here:

http://www.qlik.com/us/explore/resources/whitepapers/big-data-is-for-everyone

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.

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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.

Why would a theology and philosophy major sell QlikView? Because it satisfies his innate curiosity.

I recently talked with John Burt, an enterprise inside sales rep who joined QlikTech in the summer of 2012. As John began to get familiar with what makes QlikView unique, the importance of it hit him like a brick.

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John said, “I was watching something on TV about NASA sending a probe to Mars, collecting rock samples and looking for signs of life. Then I saw an article on the  BBC website and was thinking about Voyager and exploration and discovery. When I got to discovery, I thought about Columbus, then Archimedes, then Eureka. This was my ‘I found it’ moment. I internalized the associative nature of how things link into each other. If you were to classify all these words in a taxonomy they would all be in a different category. But as you follow your train of thought, you go from one to the next in a way that’s useful to you.”

"What we’re doing with QlikView,” he said, “is enabling people to engage with data in a completely different way. We’re giving people the ability to be the Christopher Columbus of their data. He was trying to find the Far East but what he found instead was America. With most great discoveries, the explorer wasn’t setting out to do just that, they were looking for something else. Think about the apple falling on Newton's head, for example. In those moments, they weren't trying to find those specific things. But they were exploring and one thing led to another and they discovered it."

What makes QlikView unique is it enables business users to ask and answer the next question—and the question after that, and after that—on their own without having to go back to an expert for a new report or a new visualization. It’s self-service BI at its best! “The data that leads to insights might eventually need to be structured in some way for further validation or effective communication,” John said, “but only after the discovery has occurred. If rigid, pre-defined structures are imposed too early in the process, organizations might miss out on crucial game-changing insights.” Well said, John!

The concept of information overload is familiar to anyone reading this blog. But I recently watched the December, 2012 TEDxUtrecht video, “From Information to Understanding–Solving the Small Data Problems,” in which designer and speaker Stephen P. Anderson asserted that information overload isn’t an information problem but an understanding problem. He contends that the information we need to make a decision is often already there; it is just not presented in a way that we can easily make sense of it.

Anderson gave a few examples of situations where the data is there, it is just hard for people to understand and make a decision because of the way the data is presented. These examples include going through a mortgage or loan application; analyzing long-distance phone bills; comparison shopping online for an expensive item like a TV; and choosing a health insurance plan (in the US, anyway).

He also gave a really personal example: managing his 4-year-old’s Type I diabetes. Upon diagnosis, the hospital gave the Anderson family a checklist for managing the child’s disease on a daily basis (e.g., counting carbohydrates, testing blood sugar, eating food, taking insulin, etc.). It took a nurse 30 minutes to explain the form. In a couple of places, the form was so confusing that if a caregiver misunderstood it, he or she could give a child too much insulin, which would be harmful.

From Anderson’s point of view as a designer, the way to address the understanding problem is to take advantage of the most highly developed sense most people have, which is vision. Visually, people can quickly pick out patterns and subtle differences. When it came to the “how,” I was surprised by his perspective. I thought he would say designers should take over the world. But instead he said, “If you can organize a pantry, or you can organize a closet, then you have the skills to fix these problems.”

Anderson showed how he redesigned the diabetes management form without adding or removing any information. He transformed the confusing checklist into something he and his son’s other caretakers could use to easily understand how to manage the child’s diabetes. First he identified the main elements: time and three things they needed to monitor (blood sugar, food, and insulin). Then he replaced words with icons, created neat rows and columns, color coded items, simplified actions into simple verbs, and clearly marked the times when actions are not required with an “X” (as in “this space intentionally left blank”). The result was a form that even the youngster himself could use to make sense of managing the disease.

His take is that the most difficult aspect of the understanding problem isn’t fixing it; it’s identifying and naming it in the first place. He encouraged all of us, next time we see information we don’t understand, to replace the words “I don’t understand this” with the question, “Why isn’t this shown in a way we can understand?” I’ll take that challenge.

“. . . Math in this day and age is like a giant set of power tools that we’re leaving on the floor, not plugged in in health, while we use hand saws.”-- John Wilbanks, VP of Science, Creative Commons

As is probably the case with most people, I’m a fan of efforts to prevent pain and suffering. I heard a good story about this recently: an October, 2012 TEDTalk called, “Let’s Pool Our Medical Data” by John Wilbanks, VP of Science at Creative Commons. Wilbanks runs the Science Commons project. And as I was listening to the talk I thought about the amazing potential for Business Discovery to transform the way clinical research is conducted—to uncover insights that lead to more effective treatments and cures for more sicknesses.

In this TEDtalk, Wilbanks points out that despite gigantic changes in technology during the last 70 years, our methodology for clinical studies hasn’t changed all that much. We have better statistics, to be sure. But still, in 2008 there were more than 12.7 million new cases of cancer worldwide—and 7.6 million deaths from the disease. That’s 21,000 cancer deaths a day.*

Why isn’t clinical research making a bigger impact? In Wilbanks’ view, it’s because of the informed consent laws we as a society created to protect us from harm. The side effect—the unintended consequence—of the informed consent process is that it inhibits innovation.

Wilbanks illuminated two conditions that erode the effectiveness of today’s the clinical research system (at least in the U.S.):

  1. Data silos. The data the medical research community collects during clinical trials is put to very limited use due to the restrictions in the informed consent process. Data that the medical community collects for prostate cancer, for example, or Alzheimer’s, can’t be shared, networked, integrated, or used by people who aren’t credentialed.
  2. Small data sets. The number of people who participate in a phase 3 clinical trial (1,000 to 3,000 people) is, while statistically significant, not big enough to enable the researchers to break down the data into smaller groups to identify variations in the trial participants’ genotypes, environment, or choices.

His proposal? We build a data commons – a public good we build out of private goods that uses standardized legal tools and standardized technologies. It’s something we as a society would build together because we think it’s important. In this commons, people would volunteer to share their medical information: genome data, test results, etc., as well as information about their choices (e.g., what they eat) and their environment.

Wilbanks has started a self-contributed clinical research study that is unlimited in scope and global in participation. Individuals older than 14 can go through an online informed consent process and then upload their data. The idea is that mathematicians will apply their skills to this Big Data research, mapping the data from the science commons against smaller cohorts from clinical trials.

For this science commons to work, not everyone has to participate; with 7 billion people in the world, only a very small percentage has to participate to create statistically significant results. Wilbanks’ goal for the science commons is 100,000 people in the first year and 1 million in the first five years. He is optimistic: “I live in a web world where when you share things, beautiful stuff happens, not bad stuff. . . People like to share, if you give them the opportunity and the choice.”

Imagine if this exploration were open to not just data scientists skilled in using statistics packagesbut physicians, nurses, and others. Picture them, with their expertise in the hospital and with patients, applying Business Discovery software to a Big Data problem and being able to easily explore the vastness of millions of records as they scouted out associations, patterns, and outliers in the data. Imagine if, for example, they were able to identify a behavior or environmental factor that tends has a strong correlation with a particular sickness—but not when a particular drug is used. It could be transformative for all of humankind; I’m keeping an eye on this guy’s project.

* See the American Cancer Society’s “Global Cancer Facts & Figures, 2nd Edition,” published in 2011.

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