Henric Cronström

The Key to Heaven

Posted by Henric Cronström Feb 4, 2014

“To every man is given the key to the gates of heaven. The same key opens the gates of hell.”

                                                                    [As told to Richard Feynman by a Buddhist monk]

 

 

 

To the Buddhist monk, these words were a general guide to how to live your life.

 

To Richard Feynman, the words were about knowledge and science: He was convinced that Science, per se, is neither good nor bad. It is just a tool – a tool that can be used for both.

 

Key.jpg

 

When I see these words, I think of some of the functionality in QlikView: Functions and features that were introduced to solve problems that would be difficult or impossible to solve otherwise: Triggers, Actions, Dollar expansions, Set analysis, Alternate states, Show conditions, etc.

 

These features are all keys to heaven. Correctly used, they can enable you to build an application that calculates and compares immensely complex things, while still presenting the data in a way that a user can understand and investigate further.

 

However, the very same functions are also the key to making user-hostile and unmanageable applications, e.g. through:

  • Set analysis that hard-codes a selection – instead of letting the user select interactively.
  • Excessive use of Dollar expansions, Variables and Show conditions, which make the application difficult or impossible to manage.
  • Alternate states that are poorly labelled, so that the user gets confused about which selection really is applied.
  • Triggers with Actions or Macros that perform navigation or selections that really ought to be user-initiated and not automatic.

 

Enable the user!

 

The user will learn to interact with data, if you only let him. Most users have very intelligent questions and want to navigate in data, explore and discover things. Let them do this.

 

But if you instead obscure the QlikView logic by introducing too much additional logic using any of the above mentioned features, the user experience will be a very different one. Instead of an active, smart user, you will produce a passive user that doesn't understand how to use QlikView effectively and instead uses the application as a static report.

 

Some pieces of advice:

  • Navigation and selections should be left to the user. Don’t automate this. Let the user make the selections and interact with data.
  • Label fields and charts so that it is clear what they show.
  • Avoid hard-coding filters. For example, if you want one graph showing the numbers for 2014 and second graph for 2013, you should not create two separate graphs with the years hard-coded. You should instead use a Trellis chart with year as first dimension.
  • Avoid using Triggers and Macros.
  • Always ask yourself “How is this going to be managed? Is this a manageable solution?”

 

Don’t let the QlikView functions get in the way of making a user-friendly and manageable application. Instead, use them wisely.

 

Simplicity.

 

HIC

Richard_Feynman_Nobel.jpgRichard Feynman was one of the greatest physicists of the last century. His work spanned many disciplines and his curiosity drove him to explore and understand a variety of problems in the universe. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1965.

 

Feynman, when facing a new problem, used a very simple approach to solve it. He first asked questions and inquired about the details. After that, he retired to think about it, and when he came back he usually had the solution.

 

His ability to find the core of a problem and describe it in a simple, yet precise way, was unmatched. The method is summarized (probably by his friend and fellow physicist Murray Gell-Mann) as “The Feynman Problem Solving Algorithm”:

 

  1. Write down the problem.
  2. Think very hard.
  3. Write down the solution.

 

Intended as a joke, this sounds like a ridiculously simplified work flow for problem solving. One can hardly think that it can serve as an instruction for how to solve a problem.

 

But it can. In fact, it is even a very useful approach. Seriously.

 

It can successfully be used when you build QlikView applications. Then you encounter different problems: Figuring out which data to load, modeling this data and how to write different complex formulae.

 

Using the algorithm, you will find that the hardest part is the first point – to write down the problem. Or rather – to understand the problem in the first place. Point two and three often come automatically if you’ve done the first point properly. Just formulating the problem in precise words will help you understand the problem.  And understanding the problem is the core of all problem solving.

 

The exercise of formulating the problem in words, and explaining it to your users or to your peers, will force you to start thinking, which means that you start working on point two. You may even write the first QlikView scripts to test different concepts, which means that you start working on point three.

 

This only shows that the three points are interconnected and that you will need an iterative approach to get it right. I often start working on all three points in parallel, but all the time I am aware that I need to understand the problem and think hard before I can deliver the final solution.

 

Some methods that I find useful:

  • Listen to your users. They are the best source when it comes to understanding what the application should do; what the goals are. Which KPI:s? Which dimensions? Discuss with them. Ask them questions.
  • In data modeling, you should always ask yourself what each table or record represents. Which field, or combination of fields, uniquely defines a record? Study the data. Understand the data.
  • Visualize your data model. Draw it on a piece of paper, if needed. Name the tables so that you understand what each record represents. Don’t load a table unless you understand what its content is and how it relates to existing tables.
  • Start small: Just one or two KPI:s and few dimensions. Make sure you understand the data model and its calculations before you expand it.
  • A smoker, stuck with a problem, usually takes a break. He stops working and takes a cigarette instead. He starts thinking. Taking a break in order to think, is a very good habit that also non-smokers should adopt. So, once in a while you should walk away from the computer just to think.


Simplicity. Feynman was a genius.

 

HIC

Henric Cronström

The Unclearly Said

Posted by Henric Cronström Nov 27, 2012

“What you cannot clearly say, you know not.
With the thought, the word is born on a man's lips:
the obscurely uttered is the obscurely thought.”

 

These lines were part of an epilogue read by Esaias Tegnér at the Lund University graduation in 1820. The last line is famous in Sweden and has become a proverb in its own right:

 

“Det dunkelt sagda är det dunkelt tänkta.”

 

 

Tegnér was professor of Greek in Lund and one of greatest writers in Swedish history. The statue on the picture below is found in central Lund, not far from the statue of Nothingness.

 

He was at the time known not only in Sweden but also abroad. The American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow translated some of Tegnér’s works to English and at Tegnér’s death Longfellow wrote Tegner’s drapa, a poem that praised the man and his Esaias_tegner_lundagard.jpgworks.

 

Tegnér’s words at the graduation were an attack on the Phosphorists, a neo-romantic group with metaphysical ideals. Tegnér himself was more down to earth and believed in observations of nature and a scientific approach.

 

So basically Tegnér was saying to the students not to trust unclear speech because it is a sign of dim thoughts or lack of facts. This message is simple enough and very relevant still today.

 

What has all this got to do with QlikView? At first glance, nothing.  But in fact, quite a lot.

 

People all over the world tend to rightfully distrust obscure speech, irrespective of whether they have heard of Tegnér or not. Further, an implication of Tegnér’s message is that you shouldn’t speak or act until you get your thoughts and facts straightened out. And when putting it this way, the analogy becomes obvious: get your facts right, get your thoughts straightened out – only then are you ready to communicate what you’re thinking. Only then can you act wisely.

 

In a professional situation where a database is a major source of information, you need to use the data not only to find facts and answers, but also to find the questions. You use your gut feeling to create ideas and you use the data to refine the ideas into knowledge. Or, to discard the ideas, if facts show that the ideas are wrong. You need to be able to play with the data, to turn facts around and look at them from different angles before you can say that you understand the data. And you need to understand the data before you can talk smartly about it.

 

This is what Business Discovery is all about: helping you to prepare before you speak, act, or make a decision.  It is the process of going from the dark to the light, from the unknown to the known, from ignorance to insight. It is the process of going all the way from a blank mind to a substantiated allegation.

 

Because - The Unclearly Said is The Unclearly Thought.

 

HIC

Original logo.jpgIn the early days of QlikView, there was a big challenge in describing what QlikView is. A word processor is a word processor and a spreadsheet is a spreadsheet. But what is QlikView? How do you describe QlikView to a person that hasn’t experienced QlikView?

 

Technically, it is a logical inference engine with a visual user interface that utilizes color coding and group theory to display the possible combinations of field values. But that description doesn’t help a lot – does it?


Our first attempt to describe what the product does is in fact found in the original product logo. It was the shape of an aperture that symbolized that the user could focus in on specific pieces of information.


Brain.jpg

 

We soon started to describe QlikView in terms of “associative” and “works like you think.” We recognized that the human train of thought is not linear and predictable and we started to market QlikView as a tool that supports the way the brain works. The brain associates and contemplates. It turns questions around and looks for the opposite, the excluded.

 

We felt that there was a gap between man and machine and that QlikView was the tool to bridge this gap.

 

 

Info Mart 5.jpg

 

At one time there was much buzz about data warehouses and data marts. We of course wanted to position QlikView in this discussion, so for QlikView 3 we started to call it “the associative info mart program.” “Mart” because it positioned QlikView as a tool with a subset of the data (compared to the data warehouse) dedicated for one specific purpose. Today we would instead use the term “app.” “Info” because QlikView was more than just a data mart.

 

AQL.jpgIn 1996 at CeBIT, the big yearly IT exhibition in Hannover, I and a couple of colleagues found ourselves in the Münchner Halle late one evening after a few drinks discussing with potential partners ways we could license our technology to other software vendors. At the same time, Alfredo – a local opera singer – was performing on the stage in his red tuxedo singing “Granada” and “O, sole mio.” He did this every year.To make a long story short: We brainstormed possible trademarks for the technology and came up with AQL – Associative Query Logic. This abbreviation survived many years and is still used by some partners and users.

 

Intuitive data exploration.jpg

 

Since then, we have used many other descriptions of what QlikView is: intuitive data exploration, general purpose multi-dimensional query tool, a revolution in business intelligence, in-memory BI, and now Business Discovery. All of these descriptions are correct. They describe different aspects of QlikView. But Business Discovery is the best description so far.

 

To me, the main difference between QlikView and more old-fashioned query tools is that QlikView supports the entire process – the process of coming from a blank mind, not knowing what you are looking for, all the way to attaining knowledge and taking action.

 

It involves exploring the data. It involves discovering new facts. It involves playing with data, turning them around, scrutinizing the facts and formulating a relevant question. It involves conducting analysis to get an answer to the question.Revolution.jpg And, finally, it involves presenting the answer to the question to other people as a basis for a decision or an action. It supports the entire process of going from ignorance to insight.

 

And how do you describe that in just a couple of words? Business Discovery is in fact quite good.

 

HIC

The first couple of years in QlikTech’s history, the company was called QuikTech and the product was called QuikView. It was a game with words: The product name insinuated that you could view things quickly and at the same time the letters Q-U-I-K were an abbreviation for what we believed in: Quality, Understanding, Information and Knowledge.

 

Banner QuikTech.JPG

 

We believed that a business could improve its processes and product quality by empowering employees and encouraging them to engage in lifelong learning. And we meant all people – we saw everyone as a decision maker. To get information from data was an important part of creating the understanding, the knowledge and the quality. We were inspired by the management trends of the time, especially by employee empowerment as described in the book "Moments of Truth" (Swedish: "Riv pyramiderna") by Jan Carlzon, president and CEO of Scandinavian Airlines.

 

Thus, the abbreviation was an early attempt to make a values statement and it was there long before the genesis of the product. What the abbreviation stood for was really the ideological base when founding the company.

 

Another, less glamorous reason for the strange spelling was the old DOS file name restriction. File names could not have more than 8+3 characters. There was just no room for a “C”. Hence quikview.exe.

 

And why did we change from Quik to Qlik? Well, we tried to register “QuikView” as a trademark, but our application was rejected. There were already too many software products with the prefix Quick, Qwick, Qvick, or Quik. But we still wanted to protect the product name! However, at this time, we had started to realize that a defining characteristic of the product was that you clicked and viewed. The fact that it was quick was not the first thing that came to mind. So the step to rename the product to “Qlik” + “View” was not very big – in fact, it was even an improvement of our values statement: We just replaced the words “Understanding” and “Information” with “Learning” and “Interaction”.

 

Banner QlikTech.JPG

 

Today our mission statement is “Simplifying Decisions for Everyone, Everywhere.” The words we use to describe our mission have changed slightly: From the general “Knowledge” and “Quality” to the more specific “Decisions” – which is the main step in transforming knowledge into quality. As I see it, the current mission statement is more to the point than our original values statement. Further, it includes the idea that all people are included, which is something we took for granted but failed to express in our initial values statement. In all aspects, the current mission statement is a very good description of what we stood for already 18 years ago and what we still stand for today.

 

We are still true to our initial values. We just express them differently.

 

For more on the QlikTech history, see The QlikTech Company History.

 

HIC

I’ve been thinking lately about IT trends that will have a major impact on how business intelligence is used in organizations. A few of my thoughts:

 

  • Mobile technology. Mobile is a buzz word that is sometimes misunderstood. “I am already mobile – I have laptop and can connect wherever I am.” Although it’s true that the laptop is mobile, that’s not really the thing. Mobile is rather about availability — that you bring your device wherever you are, that you can turn it on in a second, and that it is equipped with a touch screen. It’s about connecting instantly to Internet-based apps and resources. Today, mobility is more about smartphones and tablets than it is about laptops. Everyone will soon have one. This will change the IT landscape completely and with this change comes the possibility of having your business analysis at your fingertips wherever you are.

Mobile.jpg

  • Big Data. We will continue to see more cases where we are talking about billions of records instead of just millions. We will also see more cases of analysis where data have been collected from the web, e.g., from social media or customer loyalty programs, or from machines. However, I am convinced that Big Data will not change the lion’s share of BI apps for the foreseeable future. Most BI apps will still be analysis of sales, costs, purchases, suppliers, log files, finance data etc. Most apps will continue to utilize a more moderate amount of data: millions of records rather than billions — even when they include data from “Big Data” sources. The German magazine Computerwoche rightfully asked, “The question should not be, ‘How much data can I analyze?’ but rather, ‘How can I use the data, so that I can make better decisions”? Big Data becomes useful only when it is relevant for the business and in context with other data (e.g., enterprise data, cloud data).

  • Cloud and SaaS computing. Cloud computing, sometimes combined with software as a service (SaaS) licensing models, is another trend that we will see more of. Slowly but surely, more and more data is moving into the cloud. As a consequence, more analysis will be done over the Internet. But this change takes time and most enterprise BI installations will for many years to come remain within the corporate network. Is your company using cloud computing for data that should be analyzed? If so, you should perhaps consider putting your BI platform there too. Check out this related blog post, “SaaS BI: It’s All About the Apps.

  • Consumerization of IT. With this we usually mean how computers, mobile devices, and apps more and more are used in people’s personal lives. But the same trend also exists within people’s professional lives and here it is probably more correct to call it user empowerment. We are talking about a democratization of technology resulting in more and more people using data and needing tools to analyze and make sense of the data. This trend is in my mind the most important one and it is certainly also a driver for some of the above trends. Young people are today accustomed both to using electronic devices for almost anything and to solving problems themselves. They will expect that at work also.

Insight for Everyone.jpg
I think the key to staying on top of the trends is user empowerment. If users are empowered to make decisions they will also take an active part in assessing information, both internal and external. They will drive the need for analysis and they will see which trends affect your business. Empower your staff, give them a good Business Discovery solution, and many needed business changes will come automatically.

 

HIC

Henric Cronström

Green Is the Colour

Posted by Henric Cronström May 18, 2012

On the Pink Floyd album “Music from the Film More” (1969) there is a song "Green Is the Colour". It is a ballad typical of the early Pink Floyd. And it is still good. Listen to it, when you can.

 

Given the title, it could have been QlikView's song. There is no color so associated with QlikView as green. Green is the QlikView brand. Green is how you interact with QlikView, how you focus on a piece of information, how you ask questions. You click and it turns green. And the answer to your question turns up in white. It is so easy.

 

Green and White. Everything is ordered, simple and beautiful.

 

BD Image – Egg c.jpg

 

Then - enter the black swan: Gray, the color that adds spice to QlikView. After all, green is just a query filter setting and white is just a query result. Anyone can do that! But Gray...

 

Gray is the color that reveals the unexpected. Gray is the color that creates insight. Gray is the color that creates new questions. Gray is an important part of making the QlikView experience an associative one — a data dialogue and an information interaction, rather than just a database query. Showing you that something is excluded when you didn't expect it is answering questions you didn't ask. This surprise creates new knowledge in a way that only a true Business Discovery platform can.

 

One of the first times that I went to a prospect to sell QlikView we were at a pharmaceutical company where physicians wanted to analyze their clinical trials database. We connected to the database and were up and running in just a few minutes. I clicked on one of their coming products and we could see the countries where studies of this product were in progress. But one major European country was grayed out when I clicked...

 

The audience was silent. This information obviously came as a surprise.

 

— “Oh,  it does not matter," someone said. "We can get the product approved there using the studies from other countries."

 

— “No!" someone else said. "It is a large market. We need a study there for marketing purposes!"

 

Needless to say, they initiated a study also in that country.

 

BD Image – Piano Key.jpg

 

Things have not changed. QlikView still helps people discover their data and their business. And gray is a crucial part of the discovery process. Therefore I feel uneasy when I get questions like “How do I hide the gray values?” I always try to persuade the developer to leave the gray values visible, because my view on this is firm: Showing excluded values is an important part of the QlikView experience. Don’t hide them!

 

Green may be the Colour, but Gray makes the Difference.

 

HIC

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