by Michael Lock
To the casual observer this title might seem clumsy and obvious, but for those who had the opportunity to attend the 2nd annual QlikView Analyst UnSummit this past week, these five words are laden with meaning and the title is almost allegorical in its simplicity. So let me dispense with the pompous tone and actually explain what I mean with each of these words.
Next refers to the much anticipated platform release of QlikView Next or Qlik.next, the even slicker, more meticulously designed successor to QlikView 11. Purpose built to support the ever widening needs of consumerized IT folk and IT-ized business consumer personas (more on this later) QlikView Next is aiming for full release general availability toward the midpoint of 2014.
Qlik refers to the consolidation and simplification of the company brand into a single word designed to represent the analytical purpose that lives within all of us. To this day I get asked to clarify the name of the company. When I first started paying attention it was QlikTech. Then it seemed to morph into a mirror of the product and many were collectively referring to them as QlikView. Then the powers that be at NASDAQ that make these sorts of decisions during a public offering started calling them Qlik Technologies. At long last, mercifully and thankfully, the marketing team has rebranded the entire company simply as Qlik®.
Analytics, Naturally refers to the common thread of this event, the heart and soul of QlikView Next, and the powerful (if subtle) differentiator that the executive team at Qlik hope will position them for dominance in a changing software landscape, wait for it… “Natural Analytics”. As someone focused to a large extent on the business user community, I have to admit that the term resonated with me immediately. Natural Analytics is more of a philosophy than a product, and more of a mind set than a toolset. It refers to the (aspirational at this point) ability of analytical capabilities to blend in seamlessly, not just into the daily grind of our work lives, but into our intuitive ways of thinking. With technology as merely the underlying enabler, natural analytics is designed to tap into the human brain’s proclivity for things like pattern recognition, outlier detection, and anticipation. Moreover, from a marketing perspective the natural analytics core of the QlikView Next messaging sets it miles apart from most BI platforms, many of which are designed, collected, and marketed as a stack of technologies like big data, cloud, predictive analytics, and dash boarding.
So if we could for a moment step away from the fluffy and dive into the hard numbers, what would be the theoretical benefit of natural analytics and a BI platform aimed at blending into the natural work life of today’s decision maker? The first thing that leaps to mind for me is of course adoption. The first step in realizing the value of a BI investment is actually using the tool, and more specifically, engaging with the tool on a regular basis. The closest I can come to “data-fying” this concept is the research that I’ve done on embedded BI, the notion of baking analytical capability into other frequently used and culturally adopted software tools. Not surprisingly, my most recent report on embedded analytics, which in this case I’ve dubbed in-process intelligence, showed that leading companies in the use of embedded analytics were able to drive a more active and engaged user base, improve collaboration and knowledge sharing, and support unfettered access to data needed for decisions (Figure 1).
These are the kinds of things at stake for QlikView Next and Natural Analytics and from a feature and function perspective, it’s hard to deny that Qlik is at least making an earnest attempt to “walk the walk”. QlikView has always been positioned as a tool for discovery rather than just static reporting. In other words, for those of us that don’t just seek answers to business questions but seek better questions to ask, analytical discovery is right up our alley. With enhanced visualization and highly functional and usable mobile capabilities, the solution certainly seems like an upgrade to the classic sleek functionality that QlikView has become known for. However, perhaps the most exciting technical aspect to the new release is the powerful, behind-the-scenes capability around what Qlik refers to as associative search.
Associative search is all about taking a text based query, as a typical search engine would, and returning not only the exact match to the query, but results that are associated with or related to the search, all done in a way that is visually unobtrusive. If you searched “sales by rep in England”, it would return the results for your query, but might offer results that were adjacent to, or related to your request. In other words, it would perhaps return results for “sales by rep in Germany”, France or another EU country. For a more powerful example, imagine a healthcare organization investigating unexplained adverse patient reactions to a certain medication. The search might return a list of patients that have been exposed to the drug in question, but might also return the most common other medications and derivative drugs these patients had been taking, allowing for a fast visual representation of potentially dangerous drug interactions.
The most important aspect of QlikView Next and Natural Analytics in my opinion however is the purported persona mapping effort that went into the solution. Rather than defining personas by job role or industry, Qlik undertook an effort to create various profiles or what I would dub “brain maps” of all the different mind sets that use analytical tools. From the novice, to the explorer, the achiever, and the collaborator, the product capabilities are designed to fit into the needs of these people. I’ve long since postulated that BI users should be grouped in the way that their brain works. In other words, I believe we all have some level of analytical inclination in us whether it is understated or all-encompassing, any business decision maker has components of collaboration, and discovery, visual inclination and the will to crunch numbers. It is simply a matter of which of these characteristics are more dominant and which ones are more dormant.
This is all to say that I believe that the effort to define and serve these personas will ultimately make or break QlikView next and the concept of Natural Analytics. If they (Qlik) get it more right than wrong, the capabilities will indeed blend into the daily lives of business decision makers and become ingrained into the natural process of decision making for that person. If they get it more wrong than right, then they will find themselves forcing their own bias toward what functionality is really useful in the workforce, ultimately creating an analytical environment that is, well… unnatural.
This all begs the question though, of what do today’s analytical users look like? Mapping out and defining the mind of the user is a quest I plan on undertaking as we move into early next year, and I’m eager to hear some preliminary thoughts. What is a power user? What is a novice? Do all executives think the same way?