Qlik Sense's Vision

In this article by Christopher Ilacqua, Henric Cronström, and James Richardson, authors of the book Learning Qlik® Sense, we will look at the evolving requirements that compel organizations to readdress how they deliver business intelligence and support data-driven decision-making. This is important as it supplies some of the reasons as to why Qlik® Sense is relevant and important to their success. The purpose of covering these factors is so that you can consider and plan for them in your organization. Among other things, in this article, we will cover the following topics:

  • The ongoing data explosion
  • The rise of in-memory processing
  • Barrierless BI through Human-Computer Interaction
  • The consumerization of BI and the rise of self-service
  • The use of information as an asset
  • The changing role of IT

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Evolving market factors

Technologies are developed and evolved in response to the needs of the environment they are created and used within. The most successful new technologies anticipate upcoming changes in order to help people take advantage of altered circumstances or reimagine how things are done. Any market is defined by both the suppliers—in this case, Qlik®—and the buyers, that is, the people who want to get more use and value from their information. Buyers' wants and needs are driven by a variety of macro and micro factors, and these are always in flux in some markets more than others. This is obviously and apparently the case in the world of data, BI, and analytics, which has been changing at a great pace due to a number of factors discussed further in the rest of this article. Qlik Sense has been designed to be the means through which organizations and the people that are a part of them thrive in a changed environment.

Big, big, and even bigger data

A key factor is that there's simply much more data in many forms to analyze than before. We're in the middle of an ongoing, accelerating data boom. According to Science Daily, 90 percent of the world's data was generated over the past two years. The fact is that with technologies such as Hadoop and NoSQL databases, we now have unprecedented access to cost-effective data storage. With vast amounts of data now storable and available for analysis, people need a way to sort the signal from the noise. People from a wider variety of roles—not all of them BI users or business analysts—are demanding better, greater access to data, regardless of where it comes from. Qlik Sense's fundamental design centers on bringing varied data together for exploration in an easy and powerful way.

The slow spinning down of the disk

At the same time, we are seeing a shift in how computation occurs and potentially, how information is managed. Fundamentals of the computing architectures that we've used for decades, the spinning disk and moving read head, are becoming outmoded. This means storing and accessing data has been around since Edison invented the cylinder phonograph in 1877. It's about time this changed. This technology has served us very well; it was elegant and reliable, but it has limitations. Speed limitations primarily.

Fundamentals that we take for granted today in BI, such as relational and multidimensional storage models, were built around these limitations. So were our IT skills, whether we realized it at the time. With the use of in-memory processing and 64-bit addressable memory spaces, these limitations are gone! This means a complete change in how we think about analysis. Processing data in memory means we can do analysis that was impractical or impossible before with the old approach. With in-memory computing, analysis that would've taken days before, now takes just seconds (or much less). However, why does it matter? Because it allows us to use the time more effectively; after all, time is the most finite resource of all. In-memory computing enables us to ask more questions, test more scenarios, do more experiments, debunk more hypotheses, explore more data, and run more simulations in the short window available to us. For IT, it means no longer trying to second-guess what users will do months or years in advance and trying to premodel it in order to achieve acceptable response times. People hate watching the hourglass spin.

Qlik Sense's predecessor QlikView® was built on the exploitation of in-memory processing; Qlik Sense has it at its core too.

Ubiquitous computing and the Internet of Things

You may know that more than a billion people use Facebook, but did you know that the majority of those people do so from a mobile device? The growth in the number of devices connected to the Internet is absolutely astonishing. According to Cisco's Zettabyte Era report, Internet traffic from wireless devices will exceed traffic from wired devices in 2014.

If we were writing this article even as recently as a year ago, we'd probably be talking about mobile BI as a separate thing from desktop or laptop delivered analytics. The fact of the matter is that we've quickly gone beyond that. For many people now, the most common way to use technology is on a mobile device, and they expect the kind of experience they've become used to on their iOS or Android device to be mirrored in complex software, such as the technology they use for visual discovery and analytics.

From its inception, Qlik Sense has had mobile usage in the center of its design ethos. It's the first data discovery software to be built for mobiles, and that's evident in how it uses HTML5 to automatically render output for the device being used, whatever it is. Plug in a laptop running Qlik Sense to a 70-inch OLED TV and the visual output is resized and re-expressed to optimize the new form factor.

So mobile is the new normal. This may be astonishing but it's just the beginning. Mobile technology isn't just a medium to deliver information to people, but an acceleration of data production for analysis too. By 2020, pretty much everyone and an increasing number of things will be connected to the Internet. There are 7 billion people on the planet today. Intel predicts that by 2020, more than 31 billion devices will be connected to the Internet. So, that's not just devices used by people directly to consume or share information. More and more things will be put online and communicate their state: cars, fridges, lampposts, shoes, rubbish bins, pets, plants, heating systems—you name it.

These devices will generate a huge amount of data from sensors that monitor all kinds of measurable attributes: temperature, velocity, direction, orientation, and time. This means an increasing opportunity to understand a huge gamut of data, but without the right technology and approaches it will be complex to analyze what is going on. Old methods of analysis won't work, as they don't move quickly enough. The variety and volume of information that can be analyzed will explode at an exponential rate. The rise of this type of big data makes us redefine how we build, deliver, and even promote analytics. It is an opportunity for those organizations that can exploit it through analysis; this can sort the signals from the noise and make sense of the patterns in the data. Qlik Sense is designed as just such a signal booster; it takes how users can zoom and pan through information too large for them to easily understand the product.

Unbound Human-Computer Interaction

We touched on the boundary between the computing power and the humans using it in the previous section. Increasingly, we're removing barriers between humans and technology. Take the rise of touch devices. Users don't want to just view data presented to them in a static form. Instead, they want to "feel" the data and interact with it. The same is increasingly true of BI. The adoption of BI tools has been too low because the technology has been hard to use. Adoption has been low because in the past BI tools often required people to conform to the tool's way of working, rather than reflecting the user's way of thinking.

The aspiration for Qlik Sense (when part of the QlikView.Next project) was that the software should be both "gorgeous and genius". The genius part obviously refers to the built-in intelligence, the smarts, the software will have. The gorgeous part is misunderstood or at least oversimplified. Yes, it means cosmetically attractive (which is important) but much more importantly, it means enjoyable to use and experience. In other words, Qlik Sense should never be jarring to users but seamless, perhaps almost transparent to them, inducing a state of mental flow that encourages thinking about the question being considered rather than the tool used to answer it. The aim was to be of most value to people. Qlik Sense will empower users to explore their data and uncover hidden insights, naturally.

Evolving customer requirements

It is not only the external market drivers that impact how we use information. Our organizations and the people that work within them are also changing in their attitude towards technology, how they express ideas through data, and how increasingly they make use of data as a competitive weapon.

Consumerization of BI and the rise of self-service

The consumerization of any technology space is all about how enterprises are affected by, and can take advantage of, new technologies and models that originate and develop in the consumer marker, rather than in the enterprise IT sector. The reality is that individuals react quicker than enterprises to changes in technology. As such, consumerization cannot be stopped, nor is it something to be adopted. It can be embraced. While it's not viable to build a BI strategy around consumerization alone, its impact must be considered.

Consumerization makes itself felt in three areas:

  • Technology: Most investment in innovation occurs in the consumer space first, with enterprise vendors incorporating consumer-derived features after the fact. (Think about how vendors added the browser as a UI for business software applications.)
  • Economics: Consumer offerings are often less expensive or free (to try) with a low barrier of entry. This drives prices down, including enterprise sectors, and alters selection behavior.
  • People: Demographics, which is the flow of Millennial Generation into the workplace, and the blurring of home/work boundaries and roles, which may be seen from a traditional IT perspective as rogue users, with demands to BYOPC or device.

In line with consumerization, BI users want to be able to pick up and just use the technology to create and share engaging solutions; they don't want to read the manual. This places a high degree of importance on the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) aspects of a BI product (refer to the preceding list) and governed access to information and deployment design. Add mobility to this and you get a brand new sourcing and adoption dynamic in BI, one that Qlik engendered, and Qlik Sense is designed to take advantage of. Think about how Qlik Sense Desktop was made available as a freemium offer.

Information as an asset and differentiator

As times change, so do differentiators. For example, car manufacturers in the 1980s differentiated themselves based on reliability, making sure their cars started every single time. Today, we expect that our cars will start; reliability is now a commodity. The same is true for ERP systems. Originally, companies implemented ERPs to improve reliability, but in today's post-ERP world, companies are shifting to differentiating their businesses based on information. This means our focus changes from apps to analytics. And analytics apps, like those delivered by Qlik Sense, help companies access the data they need to set themselves apart from the competition.

However, to get maximum return from information, the analysis must be delivered fast enough, and in sync with the operational tempo people need. Things are speeding up all the time. For example, take the fashion industry. Large mainstream fashion retailers used to work two seasons per year. Those that stuck to that were destroyed by fast fashion retailers. The same is true for old style, system-of-record BI tools; they just can't cope with today's demands for speed and agility.

The rise of information activism

A new, tech-savvy generation is entering the workforce, and their expectations are different than those of past generations. The Beloit College Mindset List for the entering class of 2017 gives the perspective of students entering college this year, how they see the world, and the reality they've known all their lives. For this year's freshman class, Java has never been just a cup of coffee and a tablet is no longer something you take in the morning. This new generation of workers grew up with the Internet and is less likely to be passive with data. They bring their own devices everywhere they go, and expect it to be easy to mash-up data, communicate, and collaborate with their peers.

The evolution and elevation of the role of IT

We've all read about how the role of IT is changing, and the question CIOs today must ask themselves is: "How do we drive innovation?". IT must transform from being gatekeepers (doers) to storekeepers (enablers), providing business users with self-service tools they need to be successful. However, to achieve this transformation, they need to stock helpful tools and provide consumable information products or apps. Qlik Sense is a key part of the armory that IT needs to provide to be successful in this transformation.

Summary

In this article, we looked at the factors that provide the wider context for the use of Qlik Sense. The factors covered arise out of both increasing technical capability and demands to compete in a globalized, information-centric world, where out-analyzing your competitors is a key success factor.

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