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IT Briefcase Exclusive Interview: Self-service BI Empowering Businesses Today with James Richardson, QlikTech

May 6, 2013 No Comments

In the below interview, James Richardson from QlikTech discusses the value of self-service BI and outlines ways in which an effective Business Discovery platform can enable users to explore live data and solve business problems in new and creative ways.

  • Q. How have you seen BI and data management change over the last 10 years with the evolution of Big Data, Mobile, and Cloud Computing?

A. This is a big question!  Mobile is having the most immediate impact on BI and analytics, by delivering analysis to new user populations that may have previously been not using BI due to the nature of their role, perhaps they’re on the factory floor or doing hospital rounds, or out meeting customers.  In this way the sheer ubiquity of smart mobile devices is helping to drive the adoption of BI far beyond the penetration in organizations that’s common today.  This is happening now – almost all organizations are planning some form of mobile BI deployment.  Dashboards and mobile devices are a compelling combination.

However, mobile and cloud are really just new deployment options – one at the front end, one at the back.  Big Data is different.  Once you strip away all the hype, it’s still an inarguable fact that Big Data represents a step change in our ability to get value and return from different types of information than that we’ve handled before with BI&DM.  These richer, varied types of information have the benefit of providing great context, going far beyond the narrow, quantitative only view of data that’s predominated for decades.  This change is compelling BI teams to broaden their horizons. However, the challenge is how you deliver access to relevant parts of that data in a form that generates news insights, i.e., at the intersection of Big Data and analytics.  That’s why QlikTech is investing in technologies like Direct Discovery which cover the ‘last mile’ of the Big Data value chain.  Big Data is only as useful as the analysis that gets done on it and the discoveries that get made as a result.

  • Q. What advice can you offer to businesses trying to juggle the increased speed, volume, and variety of data that Big Data brings to the table?

A. Don’t juggle, play.  For most firms Big Data is an emerging discipline, little understood by business users and relatively new to IT – it’s hard to know which of velocity, variety and volume is going to lead to the most value.  Requirements are not clear and business cases nascent.  As such I’ve found that the best approach right now is to experiment and learn through trials (or play, if you like).  Run workshops with your business colleagues (your BI competency center is an ideal venue, if you have one) to jointly consider what new data sources and types of analysis could be valuable.  Once you’ve found a need, spin up a prototype (often using Hadoop) for data and connect an agile BI or Business Discovery platform to prove out the value.

  • Q. What do you see as the ultimate business value of a true enterprise caliber agile BI solution?

A. The ultimate business value aspiration of BI has always been to make better decisions based on shared data.  However until the rise of Business Discovery tools this value was rarely delivered by traditional BI tools.  Why?  Because top-down BI tools are too inflexible and slow to change and they’re focused on reporting rather than analysis. A business discovery platform, driven by users and managed by IT, can deliver on this aspiration by simplifying decision making for everyone.

  • Q. Taking into account the geospatial nature of business today, how important is it for organizations to have the ability to analyze data in “real time” from anywhere and at any time of day?

A. Genuine real time analysis, i.e., sub-second monitoring of data or events in flow, can be hugely valuable for some very specific use cases, say in financial trading environments or manufacturing production environments.   However, the vast majority of analytic value can be met with less frequent updates (and at lower cost).  Analyzing geospatial data, say logistics information on the location, speed and routing of trucks, on a minute by minute basis is fine grained enough.  This type of need points to the need for IT professionals to have sound, practical skills in data integration in their teams.

  • Q. Do you see QlikTech as supporting the consumerization of BI? And if so, can you give us a few examples?

A. Yes, QlikTech disrupted the BI market through its consumerization of BI, which has been part of its approach since its inception.  QlikView displays the three characteristics of consumerized techs: it’s friendly and intuitive, no manual required for users; it’s fast to respond to queries due to its pioneering use of in-memory processing; finally, it’s user-driven approach to BI means it’s able to deliver greater relevance, because analysts are helping themselves rather than relying on a core BI team to pre-model things for them in advance.

  • Q. What advice can you offer to organizations implementing self-service BI tools and trying to juggle the data management challenges that arise between business users and IT?

A. Self service BI doesn’t mean anarchy, but it does mean that a more mature approach is required. If there are data management challenges then it shows that there’s a usually disconnection between IT and users, and in all likelihood a lack of governance in place around how self-service BI is used appropriately.  My advice is to have a defined and shared process for the certification of BI content creation.  Usually this is in the form of three levels with a matching folder structure: most controlled is published content or reports that have gone through a rigorous validation process can be disseminated as official data; next is shared information created by end users and is worth sharing but hasn’t been validated; finally, and least controlled is personal information that has been created by end users with little to no oversight, where users are empowered to integrate different data sources and make their own calculations.  This type of structure means that users can be creative within a framework that keeps system of record BI and data just that.

  • Q. Can you please tell us a bit about QlikTech’s Business Discovery Platform and how clients such as Flybe are successfully utilizing this platform to improve business performance and overall ROI?

A. QlikView is the leading Business Discovery platform. It enables users to explore live data, make discoveries, and uncover insights they can use to solve business problems in new ways. With it, business users can see hidden trends through data visualization and make discoveries.  In addition, its deployment model means that analytic problems can be scoped and the solution implemented more quickly than with semantic model driven BI products.  A good example is Flybe, Europe’s largest regional airline, which has deployed QlikView for revenue management, improved business analysis, and fleet performance.

Quinton Davies, Business Intelligence Manager for Flybe comments: “We were looking for a customized data visualization tool that was scalable and intuitive that would deliver quick-to-market BI initiatives. With our support partner, Aviation Analytics, we were very quickly up and running after only three days’ training enabling us to deliver our system ‘go live’ within six weeks. With our partner’s assistance, we can now deliver and continue producing first rate BI views across the whole Flybe organization. The usual barriers of resource and timescales have been considerably reduced and QlikView empowers us with a real self-service environment that allows rapid turnaround of Year-on-Year analysis, metric comparisons and ‘what if’ scenarios from initial business discussions to the prototyping and production of BI applications.

  • Q. What key changes do you expect to see in Big Data and BI over the next 5 years, and what solutions will QlikTech be offering to accommodate this evolution?

A. We’re expecting to see a shift to where more and more organizations realize that what they do with their information is the key to competitive advantage.  That means that they’ll mature their information management practices, increase investment in Big Data as it becomes mainstream and, critically, realize that analytics is something they need to support more and more of.  In BI specifically we’re expecting that organizations will begin to reassess their BI portfolios and shift the emphasis from reporting to discovery, with some even going so far as to replace their incumbent BI standard as too slow and inflexible to meet the needs of modern business and BI consumerization.  QlikTech’s vision for ‘’ is to create a next generation platform to enable and prompt that shift, and so enable organizations to get the most from their data assets.

James Richardson is a Senior Director of Product Marketing at QlikTech.  Prior to this role James spent six years as a Gartner analyst covering business intelligence and analytics. During his tenure, James was the lead author of the Magic Quadrant for BI Platforms report, and chaired and keynoted Gartner’s European BI summit. Before Gartner, James spent 13 year at Hyperion in product marketing and market intelligence roles.


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