Data analysis and reporting have become much more sophisticated over the last five years. Team roles such as data scientists and Web analysts have gone from being rarely used contractors to a standard part of every Web team, and a common target of recruiters. These days it’s hard to find a conference that doesn’t somehow promote its connection to “Big Data.” In addition, the advancement of tools for analysts in this space has been amazing.
A few of the data analysis tools on the market have become so powerful that we are seeing folks in non-data roles, such as marketing and sales professionals, utilizing data analysis tools to gain insights. Previously in this column we’ve looked at several different data visualization tools such as Klipfolio, BIME, and Leftronic. Today we are going to dive a bit deeper and focus on a relatively new tool from a longtime player in the data analysis space that not only excels in data reporting but also empowers non-technical users to combine and manipulate large datasets. This decentralization of the data analysis function plays a critical part in making organizations more intelligently nimble and minimizes dependencies between internal roles.
Qlik is one of the more established organizations in the data manipulation and reporting space. They are one of the few that can claim to have been around long before the “Big Data” craze began. In September of this year, the team over at Qlik launched a new application simply called Qlik Sense. While Qlik is usually brought up in discussions regarding large enterprise business intelligence along with competing products at organizations such as IBM, SAP, and MicroStrategy, the new version of their product seems to open analysis doors for mere mortal Web analysts such as myself. This new tool brings a friendlier UI, more powerful data-gathering functions, and enhanced visualization tools to the market. We got a chance to play around with the tool and immediately noticed some key differentiators.
1. Web Server or Local Versions:
While many data visualization tools are focusing strictly on hosted OR local tools, Qlik is providing both. This makes a big difference for large organizations where external data storage does not meet security requirements and setting up internal servers can be a challenge.
2. Local Storage:
Qlik Sense allows users to upload data sets to local storage for manipulation. This is in contrast to other platforms, which typically pull straight from the data source via an API, which does not allow for joining of the data before reporting. The tools for uploading data are straightforward enough that people with moderate technical skills are able to utilize these features.
3. Chart Types:
Visualizing data with different chart/graph types in Qlik Sense is incredibly easily. You can either start by selecting from a library of graph types and then associate data points or you can go the opposite route and start with a data point and start graphing it. The inline tools for pulling data dimensions and measures are very easy to use. You can interact directly with chart visualizations to dig into information visually. In many cases fishing for critical data points can be done with the drag and drop of data points.
4. Data Stories:
Qlik Sense has a function that helps analysts create “stories” of data. I believe that while the concept of storied data is becoming more common with data analysts, there is no other tool out there that provides data aggregation, data visualization, and the creation of stories. Usually, analysts create the data story in an external tool such as PowerPoint or Keynote. Qlik is bringing these steps together.
This is such a simple benefit that so few providers utilize. I often find that when I am learning a new data visualization tool that I want to see examples of how other customers fully utilize the tool so that I can see how experts create data visualizations. Showing examples is a fantastic way of helping people learn how to customize reporting. While many providers seem to hide example case studies in an effort to force visitors to reach out to sales reps, Qlik just puts them on their website – you can check them out here.
6. Community Support:
I honestly get excited when I see a product organization that has good community support. For tactical problems, I often find better solutions in user forums more quickly than I do through traditional support channels. When I see a large number of product users making a large number of contributions to a community support section on a website, I know that I am going to be able to learn the tool more quickly and solve problems easily. Qlik is doing a great job of bringing in users and moderating online conversations about the products and features. Every provider in this space should be cultivating a large community of contributors like this.
7. Support Documentation and Videos:
Most of the new providers of data tools are working fast to create new interfaces and features in their products without spending much time creating documentation to help customers learn how to use the products. Qlik provides new and existing users with support resources both in traditional documentation and in use case videos. I found the videos (posted to YouTube) were great at walking through some of the more complex feature sets.
8. Drill Down:
With Qlik Sense it is not about data presentation, it’s about learning. While other tools allow users to drill down based on a pre-defined query path, Qlik Sense allows users to ask an unlimited number of questions, freely exploring the data to meet their needs. Therefore, users can follow their hunches, drilling down to the level of detail they need, then seamlessly change their path and explore another aspect of the data.
Qlik has, over the last decade, cultivated a substantial library of connectors (i.e., with Salesforce), application extensions, and add-ons (i.e., template dashboards) built by partners, consultants, and in some cases customers.
10. Responsive Design:
“Responsive” is a bit of an overused buzzword these days. But I must say, looking at how the graphs and dashboards all seem to look great on my iPhone, my iPad, and my desk monitor without me having to think about the different display sizes is very impressive.
I’m excited about the power that Qlik brings and even more excited about the industry direction that Qlik Sense represents. The element that I appreciated the most is that with this most recent addition, while many data visualization organizations are focusing on providing tools for users with PHDs in mathematics at NASA, Qlik seems to be attempting to make complex data analysis and visualization tools more usable to moderately technical folks. I hope that they continue this trend to help bring complex data analysis to the masses the way Excel brought simple data analysis to the masses in the ’80s.
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