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Qlik was an early pioneer in developing a substantial market for a visual discovery tool that enables end users to easily access and manipulate analytics and data. Its QlikView application uses an associative experience that takes  an in-memory, correlation-based approach to present a simpler design and user experience for analytics than previous tools. Driven by sales of QlikView, the company’s revenue has grown to more than $.5 billion, and originating in Sweden it has a global presence.

At its annual analyst event in New York the business intelligence and analytics vendor discussed recent product developments, in particular the release of Qlik Sense. It is a drag-and-drop visual analytics tool targeted at business users but scalable enough for enterprise use. Its aim is to give business users a simplified visual analytic experience that takes advantage of modern cloud technologies. Such a user experience is important; our benchmark research into next-generation business intelligence shows that usability is an important buying criterion for nearly two out of three (63%) companies. A couple of months ago, Qlik introduced Qlik Sense for desktop systems, and at the analyst event it announced general availability of the cloud and server editions.

vr_bti_br_technology_innovation_prioritiesAccording to our research into business technology innovation, analytics is the top initiative for new technology: 39 percent of organizations ranked it their number-one priority. Analytics includes exploratory and confirmatory approaches to analysis. Ventana Research refers to exploratory analytics as analytic discovery and segments it into four categories that my colleague Mark Smith has articulated. Qlik’s products belong in the analytic discovery category. Users can use the tool to investigate data sets in an intuitive and visual manner, often conducting root cause analysis and decision support functions. This software market is relatively young, and competing companies are evolving and redesigning their products to suit changing tastes. Tableau, one of Qlik’s primary competitors, which I wrote about recently, is adapting its current platform to developments in hardware and in-memory processing, focusing on usability and opening up its APIs. Others have recently made their first moves into the market for visual discovery applications, including Information Builders and MicroStrategy. Companies such as Actuate, IBM, SAP, SAS and Tibco are focused on incorporating more advanced analytics in their discovery tools. For buyers, this competitive and fragmented market creates a challenge when comparing offers in the analytic discovery market.

A key differentiator is Qlik Sense’s new modern architecture, which is designed for cloud-based deployment and embedding in other applications for specialized use. Its analytic engine plugs into a range of Web services. For instance, the Qlik Sense API enables the analytic engine to call to a data set on the fly and allow the application to manipulate data in the context of a business process. An entire table can be delivered to node.js, which extends the JavaScript API to offer server-side features and enables the Qlik Sense engine to take on an almost unlimited number of real-time connections  by not blocking input and output. Previously developers could write PHP script and pipe SQL to get the data, and the resulting application is viable but complex to build and maintain. Now all they need is JavaScript and HTML. The Qlik Sense architecture abstracts the complexity and allows JavaScript developers to make use of complex constructs without intricate knowledge of the database. The new architecture can decouple the Qlik engine from the visualizations themselves, so Web developers can define expressions and dimensions without going into the complexities of the server-side architecture. Furthermore, by decoupling the services, developers gain access to open source visualization technologies such as d3.js. Cloud-based business intelligence and extensible analytics are becoming a hot topic. I have written about this, including a glimpse of our newly announced benchmark research on the next generation of data and analytics in the cloud. From a business user perspective, these types of architectural changes may not mean much, but for developers, OEMs and UX design teams, it allows much faster time to value through a simpler component-based approach to utilizing the Qlik analytic engine and building visualizations.

vr_Big_Data_Analytics_06_benefits_realized_from_big_data_analyticsThe modern architecture of Qlik Sense together with the company’s ecosystem of more than 1,000 partners and a professional services organization that has completed more than 2,700 consulting engagements, gives Qlik a competitive position. The service partner relationships, including those with major systems integrators, are key to the company’s future since analytics is as much about change management as technology. Our research in analytics consistently shows that people and processes lag technology and information in performance with analytics. Furthermore, in our benchmark research into big data analytics, the benefits most often mentioned as achieved are better communication and knowledge sharing (24%), better management and alignment of business goals (18%), and gaining competitive advantage (17%).

As tested on my desktop, Qlik Sense shows an intuitive interface with drag-and-drop capabilities for building analysis. Formulas are easy to incorporate as new measures, and the palate offers a variety of visualization options which automatically fit to the screen. The integration with QlikView is straightforward in that a data model from QlikView can be saved seamlessly and opened intact in Qlik Sense. The storyboard function allows for multiple visualizations to build into narratives and for annotations to be added including linkages with data. For instance, annotations can be added to specific inflection points in a trend line or outliers that may need explanation. Since the approach is all HTML5-based, the visualizations are ready for deployment to mobile devices and responsive to various screen sizes including newer smartphones, tablets and the new class of so-called phablets. In the evaluation of vendors in our Mobile Business Intelligence Value Index Qlik ranked fourth overall.

In the software business, of course, technology advances alone don’t guarantee success. Qlik has struggled to clarify the position its next-generation product and it is not a replacement for QlikView. QlikView users are passionate about keeping their existing tool because they have already designed dashboards and calculations using this tool. Vendors should not underestimate user loyalty and adoption. Therefore Qlik now promises to support both products for as long as the market continues to demand them. The majority of R&D investment will go into Qlik Sense as developers focus on surpassing the capabilities of QlikView. For now, the company will follow a bifurcated strategy in which the tools work together to meet needs for various organizational personas. To me, this is the right strategy. There is no issue in being a two-product company, and the revised positioning of Qlik Sense complements QlikView both on the self-service side and the developer side. Qlik Sense is not yet as mature a product as QlikView, but from a business user’s perspective it is a simple and effective analysis tool for exploring data and building different data views. It is simpler because users no do not need to script the data in order to create the specific views they deem necessary. As the product matures, I expect it to become more than an end user’s visual analysis tool since the capabilities of Qlik Sense lends itself to web scale approaches. Over time, it will be interesting to see how the company harmonizes the two products and how quickly customers will adopt Qlik Sense as a stand-alone tool.

For companies already using QlikView, Qlik Sense is an important addition to the portfolio. It will allow business users to become more engaged in exploring data and sharing ideas. Even for those not using QlikView, with its modern architecture and open approach to analytics, Qlik Sense can help future-proof an organization’s current business intelligence architecture. For those considering Qlik for the first time, the choice may be whether to bring in one or both products. Given the proven approach of QlikView, in the near term a combination approach may be a better solution in some organizations. Partners, content providers and ISVs should consider Qlik Branch, which provides resources for embedding Qlik Sense directly into applications. The site provides developer tools, community efforts such as d3.js integrations and synchronization with Github for sharing and branching of designs. For every class of user, Qlik Sense can be downloaded for free and tested directly on the desktop. Qlik has made significant strides with Qlik Sense, and it is worth a look for anybody interested in the cutting edge of analytics and business intelligence.


Ventana Research

Tableau Software introduced its latest advancements in analytics and business intelligence software along with its future plan to more than 5,000 attendees at its annual user conference in its home town of Seattle. The enthusiasm of the primarily millennial-age crowd reflected not only the success of the young company but also its aspirations. The market for what Ventana Research calls visual and data discovery and Tableau have experienced rapid growth that is likely to continue.

vr_ngbi_br_importance_of_bi_technology_considerations_updatedThe company focuses on the mission of usability, which our benchmark research into next-generation business intelligence shows to be a top software buying criterion for more organizations (63%) than any other. Tableau introduced advances in this area including analytic ease of use, APIs, data preparation, storyboarding and mobile technology support as part of its user-centric product strategy. Without revealing specific timelines, executives said that the next major release, Tableau 9.0, likely will be available in the first half of 2015 as outlined by the CEO in his keynote.

Chief Development Officer and co-founder Chris Stolte showed upcoming ease-of-use features such as the addition of Excel-like functionality within workbooks. Users can type a formula directly into a field and use auto-completion or drag and drop to bring in other fields that are components of the calculation. The new calculation can be saved as a metric and easily added to the Tableau data model. Others announced included table calculations, geographic search capabilities and radial and lasso selection on maps. The live demonstration between users onstage was seamless and created flows that the audience could understand. The demonstration reflected impressive navigation capabilities.

Stolte also demonstrated upcoming statistical capabilities.  Box plots have been available since Tableau 8.1, but now the capabilities have been extended for comparative analysis across groups and to create basic forecast models. The comparative descriptive analytics has been improved with drill-down features and calculations within tables. This is important since analysis between and within groups is necessary to use descriptive statistics to reveal business insights. Our research into big data analytics shows that the some of the most important analytic approaches are descriptive in nature: Pivot tables (48%), classification or decision trees (39%) and clustering (37%) are the methods most widely used for big data analytics.

When it comes to predictive analytics, however, Tableau is still somewhat limited. Companies such as IBM, Information Builders, MicroStrategy, SAS and SAP have focused more resources on incorporating advanced analytics in their discovery tools; Tableau has to catch up in this area. Forecasting of basic trend lines is a first step, but if the tool is meant for model builders, then I’d like to see more families of curves and algorithms to fit different data sets such as seasonal variations. Business users, Tableau’s core audience, need automated modeling approaches that can evaluate the characteristics of the data and produce adequate models. How different stakeholders communicate around the statistical parameters and models is also unclear to me. Our research shows that summary statistics and model comparisons are important capabilities for administering and sharing predictive analytics. Overall, Tableau is making strides in both descriptive and predictive statistics and making this intuitive for users.

vr_Info_Optimization_04_basic_information_tasks_consume_timePresenters also introduced new data preparation capabilities on Excel imports including the abilities to view delimiters, split columns and even un-pivot data. The software also has some ability to clean up spreadsheets such as getting rid of headers and footers. Truly dirty data, such as survey data captured in spreadsheets or created with custom calculations and nesting, is not the target here. The data preparation capabilities can’t compare with those provided by companies such as Alteryx, Infromatica, Paxata, Pentaho, Tamr or Trifacta. However, it is useful to quickly upload and clean a basic Excel document and then visualize it in a single application. According to our benchmark research on information optimization, data preparation (47%) and checking data for quality and consistency (45%) are the primary tasks on which analysts spend their time.

Storytelling (which Tableau calls Storypoints), is an exciting area of development for the company. Introduced last year, it enables users to build a sequential narrative that includes graphics and text. New developments enable the user to view thumbnails of different visualizations and easily pull them into the story. Better control over calculations, fonts, colors and text positioning were also introduced. While these changes may seem minor, they are important to this kind of application. A major reason that most analysts take their data out of an analytic tool and put it into PowerPoint is to have this type of control and ease of use. While PowerPoint remains dominant when it comes to communicating analytic results in business, a new category of tools is challenging Microsoft’s preeminence in this area. Tableau Storypoints is one of the easiest to use in the market.

API advancements were discussed by Francois Ajenstat, senior director of product management, who suggested that in the future anything done on Tableau Server can be done through APIs. In this way different capabilities will be exposed so that other software can use them (Tableau visualizations, for example) within the context of their workflows. As well, Tableau has added REST APIs including JavaScript capabilities, which allow users to embed Tableau in applications to do such things as customize dashboards. The ability to visualize JSON data in Tableau is also a step forward since exploiting new data sources is the fastest way to gain business advantage from analytics. This capability was demonstrated using government data, which is commonly packaged in JSON format. As Tableau continues its API initiatives, we hope to see more advances in exposing APIs so Tableau can be integrated into governance workflows, which can be critical to enterprise implementations. APIs also can enable analytic workflow tools to more easily access the product so statistical modelers can understand the data prior to building models. While Tableau integrates on the back end with analytic tools such as Alteryx, the visual and data discovery aspects that must precede statistical model building are still a challenge. Having more open APIs will open up opportunities for Tableau’s customers and could broaden its partner ecosystem.

The company made other enterprise announcements such as Kerberos Security, easier content management, an ability to seamlessly integrate with, and a parallelized approach to accessing very large data sets. These are all significant developments. As Tableau advances its enterprise vision and continues to expand on the edges of the organization, I expect it to compete in more enterprise deals. The challenge the company faces is still one of the enterprise data model. Short of displacing the enterprise data models that companies have invested in over the years, it will continue to be an uphill battle for Tableau to displace large incumbent BI vendors. Our research into Information Optimization shows that the integration with security and user-access frameworks is the biggest technical challenge for optimizing information. For a deeper look at Tableau’s battle for the enterprise, please read my previous analysis.

VRMobileBIVIPerhaps the most excitement from the audience came from the introduction of Project Elastic, a new mobile application with which users can automatically turn an email attachment in Excel into a visualization. The capability is native so it works in offline mode and provides a fast and responsive experience. The new direction bifurcates Tableau’s mobile strategy which heretofore was a purely HTML5 strategy introduced with Tableau 6.1. Tableau ranked seventh in our 2014 Mobile Business Intelligence Value Index.

Tableau has a keen vision of how it can carve out a place in the analytics market. Usability has a major role in building a following among users that should help it continue to grow. The Tableau cool factor won’t go unchallenged, however. Major players are introducing visual discovery products amid discussion about the need for more governance of data into the enterprise and cloud computing; Tableau likely have to blend into the fabric of analytics and BI in organizations. To do so, the company will need to forge significant partnerships and open its platform for easy access.

Organizations considering visual discovery software in the context of business and IT should include Tableau. For enterprise implementations, consideration should be done to ensure Tableau can support the broader manageability and reliability requirements for larger scale deployments. Visualization of data continues to be a critical method to understand the challenges of global business but should not be the only analytic approach taken for all types of users. Tableau is on the leading edge of visual discovery and should not be overlooked.


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