Business Discovery Blog

13 Posts authored by: John Sands
John Sands

Sensory Data

Posted by John Sands Jul 21, 2014

Why do people still go shopping rather than using the internet all the time? After all, the internet is normally quicker and your local shopping centre can never hope to have as many brands as you can find using your PC or tablet. It’s partially a social thing - we like to meet up with friends have something to eat and a chat. While we are shopping it’s a tactile thing - holding the item (or even smelling it!) as this reinforces the fact that it is real and of good quality. Retailers know this and try to lure us in with bright signage and interesting aromas. Once we have purchased our items we sit down with our friends over a drink and compare our purchases hoping for compliments or praise.


Ladies.jpg(Getty images)

 

When we are shopping on the internet we have none of this sensory feedback, apart from maybe a few flashing banners. We have to trust what the retailer has told us about the item and trust that what they say is true even down to the dimensions. This is difficult, and why some people will go to the shop see the product and then buy it on the internet.

If we are like this when shopping for clothes then consider how people  behave when looking at millions of pounds, euros or dollars of sales figures and inventory items.  Just like when internet shopping, we are compelled to trust the numbers and words we see on the screen even though there is much more at stake, the money is not in a safe somewhere or the inventory may be 1000’s of miles away. This is even more important when we talk of fully optimized supply chains where stock is kept to the bare minimum.

 

Logistics.jpg

(Getty images)

We solve this problem of trust by working in groups and comparing against known facts we’ve encountered before. How were the sales of this product last year? What are the sales of comparable products? We then show these figures to our peers and ask for comment, slowly turning over the figures in our head.

So replace the attractive signs with compelling visualisations, the aroma with data scent (bit of a stretch I know) and the chat with friends with real time collaboration.You then have a business discovery tool such as QlikView, which helps people feel, test and believe the data they’re seeing.

None of this is new.  It’s just taken a while for software providers to catch up with the human brain!

John Sands

Laughter the Best Medicine

Posted by John Sands Apr 23, 2014

I have spent the last couple of weeks traveling round Australia and South Africa talking about Natural Analytics and it is fascinating watching the way this subject resonates across the globe. Even though my brain has been turned to mush by the different time zones, as soon as I am on that stage the adrenaline kicks in and I come alive. This is the same adrenaline that would have given me the extra strength to have avoided being eaten 1000s of years ago. So we adapt our innate abilities to help us even when the original reason is largely not valid anymore.

 

When presenting I use humor and this is another example of how we use our bodies natural abilities. Laughter actually triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain. So hopefully when you have watched me present you feel a little better afterwards.

 

Laughter.jpg

 

 

So as we go through our modern life our body is using innate abilities that evolved to help us survive in a very different environment? Well I am not so sure that is completely the truth. Yes of course we are not being hunted down by Sabre Toothed Tigers or having to fight the tribe next door for the best camp site, but we are still to a lesser extent fighting for survival! I admit the chances of you getting a spear in the back as you walk to work are remote but the chances of your company losing a deal to a competitor because you have poor visibility of the sales cycle is much more real.

 

These abilities are within us and have evolved through natural selection to help us. Why does a bubble chart work? It’s because we can easily spot outliers, things that are different and that’s because our visual acuity developed long before our ability to read and write. Which one of the graphics below is easier to interpret?

 

 

Table.png

Graph.png

 

They are both a series of lines and numbers but somehow the line graph is much easier to interpret and see patterns. A lot has been talked about Natural Analytics and how it helps us tap in to innate skills and resources, my journey across the globe has helped reinforce my belief in the common sense of it and how it just works. So come on the BI industry catch up or you may be the one that is eaten by that Tiger.

 

@QlikJohn

John Sands

Touch and Go

Posted by John Sands Feb 21, 2014

My career before Qlik went down many paths. I served in the Royal Navy and after that an electrician, life guard, fax machine engineer, delivery driver for my friend’s bakery, software trainer, product management and finally in to Pre-Sales at Qlik! Two things propelled me in my career choice; either necessity (had to pay the bills) or noticing a new opportunity and going for it. Towards the latter half of my career path it was technology that attracted me.  I’m continually fascinated by how the world of technology is changing. We are very lucky in the technology sector that things change very quickly and you never get bored - there is always something new to learn.

As a consumer we wait for technologies to appear and then make a choice about whether to use them or not. As a technology vendor things are not that simple! Making the decision on what technology to develop - to put your money on - can be a gamble.  Let’s not forget Sony with Betamax and Philips with Laser Discs…

 

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My first experience with QlikView was version 5 and to be honest it was not the fastest tool at the time, because it was an in-memory product and memory was very expensive and you were lucky if you had 32 mb of RAM on your PC and a 266 mhz P2 processor. But the gamble paid off and now my laptop has 4 GB of RAM and with high end servers 2 terabytes of RAM is available.

So Qlik got it right that time. However, the trick is repeating it.  It’s not good enough just to be right once, you have to keep on doing it and in my opinion Qlik has.

One of bets we’re making is to use HTML5. The title of my article is touch and go, that’s because HTML5, really unleashes the potential of any web based software especially in the arena of touch activation. In my opinion in future all software will need to have the possibility to be interacted with on a touch device, whether that is a tablet or a smart phone (or whatever comes next). For those of you who have attended the Business Discovery World Tours you will already have seen the new functionality of QV Next and how it has been designed for touch first. At our most recent employee summit we were blown away by the functionality just around the corner.

 

Typewriter.png

 

 

So finally, we will be able to start moving away from the 150 year old technology of the QWERTY keyboard which after all was designed to stop a mechanical typewriter from jamming.

John Sands

Lost in Translation

Posted by John Sands Jan 14, 2014

Happy New Year everyone and as storms smash against my window and clouds just can’t seem to stop dumping water on my head I start thinking of travel and holidays (picture below shows how stormy it really is close to where I live).

BcLBvWXIQAAh1ar.jpg large.jpg

I live on the South Coast of England and I am lucky enough to be able to make frequent visits to Brittany in France with my wife. When we first started visiting our French was very basic. Whenever we wanted to order a meal we had to point at pictures and hope it was what we thought it was! This was ok to start with, the  pictures made our life easier when ordering a meal, but what if we wanted to find out more? Then it became clear that a nice picture had its limitations. So we went to lessons and learnt how to communicate in French. It’s not easy to learn a new language, but it’s very satisfying.  At last we can get behind the lovely picture of Croque Gagnet, and find out that it’s a toasted sandwich with Gouda Cheese and Andouille sausage!


Croque.jpg


So why the culinary tale of France? QlikView uses a scripting language to give access to some of the more powerful aspects in the platform. Some people feel that a scripting language is complicated and forms a barrier to the adoption of QlikView. “Au Contraire” I cry It is the power of the QlikView scripting language that leads us to more discoveries within our data. So let’s do some very simple scripting. I have a spreadsheet and it contains five pieces of information (fields), here is the script that QlikView uses to load that information.

 

LOAD Customer,
Zip,
City,
Address,
Customer_ID
FROM
[C:\Data\prescriber data.xls]
(
biff, embedded labels, table is Sheet1$);


So to translate, we are asking QlikView to find Customer, Zip, City, Address and Customer ID in the prescriber data spreadsheet. It’s just a matter of getting over that initial trepidation when learning something new.

  I don’t expect everyone to be expert writers of QlikView script, the same as I am not an expert of the French language, in fact “je ne suis pas très bon”. So to get started on that journey here is how we help you out, we have free training and a free download of QlikView so what could be simpler! Start the New Year by learning a new language and explore the power behind the pictures.

John Sands

A Time of Growth

Posted by John Sands Nov 26, 2013

The title of this blog is not just about economic growth but also the growth of my mustache in support of the Movember charity http://mobro.co/johnsands64! My wife will just be glad when it’s gone but I am getting rather attached to it.

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OK, let’s get back on track and try to remove that disturbing image from our memory. I have just finished a tour of four countries presenting at the QlikTech Business Discovery World Tours.  The overall feedback has been really good. I have chatted to many people and one comment really stood out, and it was not about QV Next or Natural Analytics, but rather it was about the presenters. They said you all seem to have a real excitement and energy when talking about QlikTech – which is great to hear.

In my last blog I talked about it not just being features but also being the ethos of the company that make Qliktech special and this comment really underlined that. I presented in Spain and Portugal and even in a time of economic downturn we had nearly 700 attendees in the two countries. 

 

What makes so many people gather in one place and take time out of their busy days? Is it the offer of free food and drinks? Or that feeling of not wanting to miss out? I think it’s the latter. It is our natural curiosity and wanting to be part of something special and the potential that it might just make us a star.

 

A lot has been said about Natural Analytics and how it uses our innate human behaviors such as association, comparison, anticipation and narration. This is nothing new and those same natural behaviors drive us to seek out new things and want to be part of a movement that is disrupting the norm. Wouldn’t it be great to have the inside track on the next big thing?

 

Over the coming months there is going to be a lot of exciting things happening at QlikTech and the World Tours are just the start. Back in 1993 we started a journey driven by disruption. We are not about to stop that disruption in fact we are doing it again, based on the novel concept of creating a software solution that works the way we do rather than the other way round.

 

So trust your natural instincts, and I promise not to show pictures of me with a mustache again.

In my role as an enablement manager at QlikTech I am often asked the question, what makes QlikView Unique? Sometimes you reel off a lot of features like in-Memory, associative search and HTML 5 architecture. But is that truly what makes us Unique? Here is a list of features from two different Smart Phones.

 

Phone A                                                                               Phone B

8 Megapixel Camera                                                       41 Megapixel Camera

32 gb Memory                                                                   32 gb Memory

Touchscreen                                                                      Touchscreen

Blue Tooth                                                                          Blue Tooth

Wi-Fi                                                                                      Wi-Fi

Talk Time 8 hours                                                             Talk Time 13 hours         

A5 Chip                                                                                 S4 Chip

 

Now looking at these specifications you would think they were very similar phones but one of them sold 125 million in 2012 and the other 4.4 million. You will not be surprised that Phone A was made by Apple and Phone B Nokia. Most of the time people don’t just buy on features alone they also use their emotions. Apple has successfully made a product that many people don’t just need but have to have. From opening the box to the feel the phone gives you as you hold it in your hand, it’s the total experience of owning that product that many buyers choose.

 

In my opinion, it’s exactly the same thing that happens at QlikTech.  It’s not just a whole list of features and functions it’s actually how that company makes you feel and the relationship you have with it. I often coach at QlikAcadamy in Lund Sweden, everyone attends whether they’re an engineer or the CFO, the week long experience puts you in touch with QlikTech’s Swedish soul. When I stand up in front of the class (this bit sounds a little corny but it is true) I say “you are what make QlikView unique”.  From the website to the license key and all ways forward it’s all about the relationship with our customers. A testament to that is that we have over 100,000 people who frequently use our online community.

 

Before you think “oh dear here he goes on some big corporate rant” think about your own buying decisions is it purely based on features? Or is it because the salesman was helpful or the website was clear and easy to use. Don’t get me wrong features are important and keeping a close eye on the future and how we evolve is essential, please take a look at our natural analytic s theme if you want to see proof of the fact that as a company we are always evolving http://www.qlik.com/next/our-inspiration/natural-analytics.html.

 

I have worked at QlikTech for nearly 7 years now and that’s not because it has a better feature list it’s because of how working here makes me feel. So what makes QlikView unique? We all do.

John Sands

Please walk on the grass

Posted by John Sands Sep 28, 2013

Let’s start with a little brain exercise; please read the passage below, I think it will surprise you.

 

muddledwords.png

I bet every one of you could understand it and read it quickly and that’s because we do some pretty fantastic stuff naturally without even trying. The brain actually reads the word as a whole and not every letter. So as long as the first and last letters are the same the brain makes sense of the rest.

 

We do this when looking at any type of pattern because our eye actually has a bit missing. If you look at this diagram of the eye and the optic nerve, you will see that the optic nerve joins the eye at the back and at this point it has no rods or cones (photo receptors). This is in fact a blind spot and any image reflected on this point will not be transmitted back to the brain.

 

So the brain has to fill in the gaps, this is a totally organic process and needs no input by us. For all of the skeptics amongst you I have put a test at the end of this blog so you can see the blind spot for yourself (or hopefully not see it).

 

We are always on the lookout for patterns whether that’s in the tea leaves at the bottom of your cup or in the clouds in the sky. This recognition of patterns even has a name Apophenia. With very little help we are able to see natural patterns and even compensate when part of a pattern is missing.

 

So when we walk in to our place of work and start using software or exploring data why is so much effort put in to forcing patterns and paths of exploration upon us? Why aren’t we allowed to explore and discover naturally? Our decisions are much more organic if we are allowed to pull on our boots and make our own path, rather than being forced down a sanitized concrete path that someone else has designed and won’t allow you to “walk on the grass”. As technology catches up with our brain you will find more and more that it will reflect and not change the innate way we humans operate. After all we have been this way for thousands of years so if it isn’t broke why fix it.

 

So take off your shoes and get your feet muddy on a path that is less well trodden.

 

 

Test your blind spot

blindspot.png

John Sands

Am I hungry?

Posted by John Sands Sep 6, 2013

I was reading a very interesting article in the NY Times by Gary Dark from Wired Magazine called a Data Driven Life (http://nyti.ms/AsRlwR)


In the article Gary talks of how we gather personal data from so many different sources. These include what we eat, how we sleep, how much we exercise, and how we feel. This data helps us make important changes to our lifestyle such as increasing our exercise, cutting down on how much coffee we drink or making changes to our mental landscape so we feel more positive about ourselves. The power to make decisions on raw data rather than gut instinct can be very enlightening and also cast a very stark light on uncomfortable facts (maybe I shouldn’t have that second glass of wine).

 

I now cue the inevitable Segway in to the business world (you knew I would). We are storing all of this data about ourselves and we do a similar thing in our business but we miss out one important thing. In our business we don’t always join the dots.

 

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So our body needs more fuel and the stomach needs filling but the brain doesn’t feel hungry or our eyes can see a tiger but can’t communicate this to our legs. Can you imagine a body where the neural pathways were non- existent? I think the human race would have been extinct a long time ago. It’s not a case of the information not being available it’s just not joined up. We live in a data rich and information poor world.

 

An example of this is when a company is acquired; it can take many years for the different parts of the acquired organisation to be joined up. This is due to different types of data and systems not being able to communicate, so in effect you have two pairs of arms and legs all working separately(a rather dysfunctional octopus). If only there was a Business Discovery Solution that took an agnostic view of the data and with the power of association could sort that in a few months rather than years, wouldn’t life be a lot safer?

 

So make sure your right hand knows what your left hand is doing, it might just help you get away from that tiger and not end up running around like a frightened octopus (no animals were harmed in the making of this blog).

John Sands

Contextomy No More

Posted by John Sands Aug 1, 2013

If I was to give you a date; November 9th 1989, what would that mean to you? As a date on its own it means nothing.  However,  if I said Berlin November 9th 1989, would it become clearer? That was the date the Berlin Wall was torn down.   I am sure your head is now full of images of people climbing the wall with pick axes as the wall is slowly taken away piece by piece. You may even remember where you were at the time you heard the news. In this case just one simple addition of one  item of context provides the association you need to reach understanding.

Information with context removed can also lead to incorrect interpretation.  Take the act of contextomy (quoting out of context). By removing context, a whole sentence can change its meaning. A TV critic from Vanity Fair said of the TV program Lost "the most confusing, asinine, ridiculous —yet somehow addictively awesome — television show of all time." When this sentence was eventually published by ABC it read "The most addictively awesome television show of all time" — Vanity Fair.

 

Further,data in isolation and without context can lead to bad business decisions. If you were to base your purchasing decisions just on sales from the previous month you would be in great danger of either being stuck with unsold stock or paying for warehouse space you don’t need. But if you were to wrap context around that data such as last year’s sales figures or sales of similar products you would be able to make better business decisions.

A lot of the time, this data is available but is scattered around the business in isolated silos and in this form can actually be dangerous because it lacks context. By joining this data together we can extract meaningful information that helps us to drive the business.

For example in the following data model; if you only have sales data, you would not see which products had been sold to this customer, or what sales territory had made the sales.

 

DataModel.jpg

 

Historically to do this you may have had to build an expensive data warehouse or invest time and resources in creating a cube. Now though, QlikView joins together the isolated silos of data dispersed within your company simply.  You have got the entire context you need in one app, and users just need to join the dots.

John Sands

Tag Anyone?

Posted by John Sands Jul 11, 2013

The nature of data is changing. At the moment organizations gather data from many different sources including loyalty cards, machine logs, sensor arrays, and social media sentiment analysis (even if they don’t always analyse the data enough)

But what about the future? I recently read a very interesting book ‘Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing’ by Adam Greenfield or, as he puts it, “the colonization of our everyday life” by technology. He talks about the many different ways computing will change and spread from discrete devices to existing within the very fabric of everyday life.

 

This is happening quickly: soon clothing with RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags that let climate controllers know of your preferences in temperature and humidity will be a reality.  Floors that can monitor foot fall and your presence in the room could have advantages such as for the old and infirm - if they fall the floor can sense it has happened and notify the emergency services. As I said, don’t imagine this is all in the future: right now in Japan they have fitted RFID tags in some items of clothing so that when an elderly person uses a pedestrian crossing it keeps the light red for traffic for a few seconds longer.

RFID technology eliminates the necessity for line of sight scanning as the tag itself contains an antenna that can transmit the information to a receiver

 

Here are some examples of where RFID technology is already being used.

 

 

One of the major limiting factors holding back this type of technology has been the lack of enough ip addresses, but with the arrival of IPV6, the next iteration of the internet, this restriction will be removed.  Now potentially everything in the world could have an IP address. Coupled with the way RFID technology is becoming cheaper and more readily available this is a movement that will not go away.  It’s the arrival of the internet of things.Obviously this may raise ethical and privacy issues - very topical considering the recent news concerning the American National Security Agency and the Prism Project.


Organisations are already struggling with the data they hold now and the phrase “we are data rich and information poor” has never been more correct. We are only going to get more data it’s just a case of how we use it. So prepare yourself and make sure the data you hold works for you and gives you the insight to help you make quality business decisions.

As we move through life technology is constantly overtaking us. I think this is one of the best parts of my job at QlikTech as you never get a chance to get bored! One of the most obvious of those is changing mobile technology: last April was the 40th anniversary of the mobile phone. I remember my first mobile phone was a Panasonic transportable. Didn’t I look cool carrying that down to my local bar on a Saturday night?

 

 

One thing that brought home to me how widespread the impact of mobile technology is was when my wife, who teaches 10 year old children, said that on an end of term day when children were told they could bring a toy to school (in my day it would have been Monopoly or Scrabble) four children in her class brought in a tablet pc.

 

 

 

These children were demonstrating the reality of the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend.

 

IT departments around the world are trying to figure out how to live with BYOD (some by putting their heads in the sand).  It must be said that the matter can be complicated by the fact that it varies country to country. In some of the BRIC counties BYOD is much more prevalent because very few companies’ issue mobile tools such as phones and tablets, and arguably because of their burgeoning entrepreneurial spirit. Another factor is that personal smartphones are more function rich than phones supplied by many organisations to their employees, and that it’s a real pain carrying around two phones all day.

 

These forces are pushing us in the same direction towards having to support the BYOD movement. But let’s not be hasty, what do we need to think about when looking to support employees as they use their own device?

 

  • Full or partial funding
  • Security, partitioning of personal and work apps
  • Expanding mobile to other parts of business
  • What platforms to support and incentivize

 

(I will cover these points in more detail during a future blog.)

 

Now there has been a sea change, CTO’s who historically would say “NO!” when asked to support a personal device are now looking at how they can actually save money by doing so and increase mobile coverage within their workforce.   This is a growing fact of life: Gartner states that by 2016 38% of all organisations will only support BYOD and will actually subsidise employees for using their own device.

 

What are you doing about BYOD?  What are your experiences?  How does BYOD relate to how you use QlikView?

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

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

phantom.jpg

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

John Sands

The Key to Associations

Posted by John Sands May 9, 2013

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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