Qlik Sense at the BBBT: Setting Up for the Future

Qlik was at the BBBT last week to talk about Qlik Sense. The presenters were Josh Good, Director of Product Marketing, and Donald Farmer, VP of Innovation and Design. It was a good presentation and Qlik Sense seems like the start of a good product, but let me start by discussing a tangent.

A startup’s voice: A marketing tangent

Startups usually have a single voice, the founder, CTO or somebody who is the single and sole owner of the vision. Sometimes it’s somebody who is put forward as the visionary, correctly or incorrectly. It takes a level of maturity in a company to clarify a core message to the level where it’s replicable by a wider variety of people and for the original spokespeople to let go. While the modern BI industry is still fairly young and every analyst group talks about the untapped market, Qlik is one of the biggest players in our nascent business.

Donald Farmer is a great presenter, a smart man and has been, until recently, the sole Qlik voice I hear in every presentation. While I don’t always agree with him, he’s a pleasure to hear. Yet I continually thought “why him, always?” There might be somebody else briefly doing a demo, but he was THE voice of Qlik.

It’s not only because of my product marketing experience that I was pleased to hear from Josh. He wasn’t the demo dolly, but let the presentation with Donald chiming in. They worked well together. It’s clear that both of the startup issues I mentioned are being addressed by a maturing Qlik marketing organization who are now using multiple voices well.

Qlik Sense

I’ve blogged about other companies recently, talking about the focus on UI. Thankfully, it’s spreading. Companies who focused, in the early days, on the business analysts are realizing that they need to better address the business knowledge worker. Qlik Sense has a nice, clean interface. It’s nowhere near the overcrowded confusion of most products from a few years back. For those who want to see it, the client software is freely downloadable to you can try it out.

The one issue I have is, again, the same one I’ve mentioned with many other vendors: ETL. Josh was another person who started the demo by importing a spreadsheet. Yes, I know there’s a lot of data in them and all products need to access spreadsheets, but it’s one way of avoiding the ETL issue. Other than very basic, departmental data, more complex decision making always involves other sources. It’s the heterogeneity of data that is today’s big issue. However, that’s a weak spot hidden by just about everyone.

What was nice was the software’s intelligence in building an initial data relationship diagram base on field name relationships. It’s a start and if they keep at it the feature can grow to something that can more easily show the business user the links between different pieces of information.

A number of vendors have recently begun to have their software look at data and propose initial visualizations based on data type. It’s an easy way for users to get going. Qlik Sense doesn’t do that and the response was marketing fluff, but the display to choose types is better than most. Rather than drop down to select charts, it displays the types with mini-images. That will do for now.

Mobile done well

One fantastic part of the demo was in how well they’ve integrated mobile into the system. They were going to show it anyway, but before Josh could get to it there was a problem with his PC. He quickly pulled up his iPad and, using the same account, continued on his way with the same information that was well formatted to the new display. A key point to that is that Qlik isn’t just using mobile devices for display, he was working to create visualizations on the device.

That other data…

I’ve already mentioned heterogeneity. A number of younger companies, focused on the Cloud, have created clear links to Salesforce and other cloud data sources to easily let SMB and departments access those data sources. Qlik does not have that capability, furthermore access to major ERP and CRM systems. That will still take strong interactions with IT to create links and access for the users.

That matters to me, for one example, because of the repeated demo examples from the sales arena. Yes, sales managers remain heavy users of spreadsheets, but SFA systems have made strong inroads and the ability to combine those sources quickly for sales management is critical.

Data Governance: Thinking ahead

One area where Qlik seems to excel is in thinking about the issues of data governance. Even in this early version of Qlik Sense they’ve included some powerful ways of controlling access, both from administration and a business user standpoints. I’ve seen other vendors talk about it and only some of them willing to show if questioned. Josh and Donald brought it up as part of their basic presentation and showed a nice interface.

Just as with the growth of PCs giving individuals power while hurting data governance, BI needs to get ahold of those issue and help the end user and IT work together to manage corporate data to follow business and legislative polices. Qlik’s focus on that is an important differentiator.

Summary

Qlik Sense is a new product. It has very good visualization, which should be expected from Qlik, and has moved forward to an improved UI for ease of use. While they still have issues of concern with data access, their data governance implementation seems to be ahead of the curve and is well thought out. It’s an early generation product, so it doesn’t bother me that it has some holes. The critical thing is to look at the products in the perspective of your timeframe of needs and see if it’s right for you.

Just as importantly, from my marketing perspective, is the maturation of the marketing message and team. I’m hearing multiple voices speaking the same message. On the product and corporate fronts, Qlik is moving ahead in a good direction.

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