A few weeks ago I was honored to get a personal walk-through of brand new Qlik Sense Desktop. Qlik’s Donald Farmer, Vice President of Innovation and Design, and Elif Tutuk, Product Manager, were kind enough to give me a fantastic demonstration and answer my many detailed questions. The moment a download link was made available to me, I simply couldn’t help myself and instantly played with it. Here is a quick review along with a few of my notes gathered during my initial hands-on exploration.
Free Personal Data Discovery
Qlik Sense Desktop is the next generation offering of free QlikView v11 Personal Edition. It is the first of the long awaited Qlik.vNext releases. The Qlik Sense Server solution is being targeted for release in September. A mysterious new Qlik Sense Cloud (https://qliksensecloud.com) offering was also revealed within the Qlik Sense Desktop release. Check out the little cloud icon at the top right of Qlik Sense Desktop screen and the funny product management leak that was posted on Qlik Community in June 2014.
For as rough as I have been on Qlik in the past, I feel it is only fair to give extra credit to the engineering teams over there that completely revisited and redesigned their user experience. The marketing folks are also appropriately targeting Qlik Sense for the business user. Basically by these actions, they are confessing that Qlik v11 was really for a BI/IT developer user despite the former Business Discovery marketing, positioning and messaging. Qlik Sense is a far nicer offering than previous versions. The development experience – just as they are positioning it – is intuitive and natural. I also noticed exceptionally fast, sleek rendering of visualizations and screens. It is obvious to me that they have done a lot of performance work. The fresh, modern user interface is fully responsive and automatically scales to changing sizes for a build once, deploy anywhere BI strategy. Although I was not able to figure out how elements get prioritized in the mobile scale down displays, I liked the concept and even use that same design technique on my own company website.
A few notable features that I appreciated included the way Qlik Sense presents search and associated green, white and light grey “hints” provoking thought into other questions to ask. I loved the range selections, lasso filtering, bookmarks that allow you to saved filter selections and smart scrolling charts with larger data sets. If data does not fit into a chart area in Qlik Sense Desktop, a scrollable chart with situational context is shown. In a world of big data, this capability to quickly skim entire context and zoom into areas of interest is truly excellent.
Best in Class Storytelling
I was really impressed with Qlik’s specific implementation of storytelling. I feel that Qlik Sense has the best storytelling that I have seen out of all the other vendors today and urge you to watch their Storytelling video.
They have done a great job with storytelling combining interactive visualization presentation and exploratory analysis in a PowerPoint-like experience that the Mr. Underwood’s of the world can actually use! When I first saw it, I immediately thought of what Power View started to deliver back in SQL Server 2012 days when there was slides and export to PowerPoint. Qlik’s storytelling approach allows you to take static snapshots or embed live visualizations into slides. You can enhance them with annotations and various charting effects like highlight the highest value, lowest value and so on to emphasize key insights. Although there are not many charting effects in Qlik Sense today, I do see where they are going with it. WOW, what an innovative and super cool feature! I also liked that you could add pointers, commentary and other elements to your story just like you can in PowerPoint. The only dings that I gave them here were on a lack of printing and no ability to export Qlik Sense stories to real PowerPoint files. You KNOW people will be asking for it!
Exposing Governed Data Discovery Hype
Although Qlik and just about every other self-service BI vendor this year is touting to be the answer to governed data discovery, Qlik’s approach to using a shared semantic layer via QVDs, master items in Qlik apps, Qlik Server, Governance Dashboards and the Expressor offering does at least partially deliver on that notion. Qlik Expressor has data impact and lineage features that I have not seen out-of-the-box per se in any of the other dominant players in this space. Although these points are out of scope in a Qlik Sense review, since Qlik does make that pitch I merely included my two cents on it.
(Fun fact: Since Gartner’s 2014 BI Magic Quadrant cited a market void in governance, you now hear all the data discovery and BI vendor’s claiming to be the ultimate answer to governed data discovery and self-service BI. Here are the specific quotes that jump started the governed data discovery buzz.
“The race is on to fill the gap in governed data discovery. Gartner’s inquiries and survey data suggest that, increasingly, companies would like to expand use and even standardize on data discovery platforms for their larger enterprise BI deployments but find that in many cases these platforms lack the necessary enterprise features in relation to governance, administration and scalability.”
If you are talking to a data discovery vendor, don’t buy into the governed data discovery marketing and messaging hype. Ask them to show you HOW they solve this pain. I have an older blog that shows how a few groups deal with self-service BI governance as best as they can today. No one does a good job with it…they just don’t. It is a serious issue with deploying these kinds of tools enterprise-wide since you can end up with a real mess if they are not rolled out and managed properly. )
Loading and Modeling Data
Qlik Sense can load data from a text or Excel file by simply dragging and dropping the file onto their new quick load editor. You can alternatively load data from the data load editor script view. Supported data sources include ODBC, OLEDB, Folders and Web Files. Web file connections provide a way to select data from pages located on the internet. For other data source types and hard core developers, Qlik provides a custom connector SDK.
I did not see any direct connect capability per se in Qlik Sense Desktop meaning loaded data needs to fit into available memory. Obviously that feature omission does introduce limits on how much data you can explore. I know Qlik had direct connectivity in past releases. The in-memory only restriction may only be for the free Qlik Sense desktop version. I am unsure right now but this is an area that I will be further evaluating in the future.
Loaded data and data models can be viewed in the data model viewer by source table view or internal table view. That type of functionality becomes a need to have when you start joining multiple sources together in dashboard views – a common requirement. I did not see how or where to define join types but also confess to not testing those yet. There are two sections in Qlik Sense Online help that cover data modeling, joins and how the logical in-memory tables get associated.
Visualization and Dashboards
Like many other data discovery tools, once data is loaded you can begin creating visualizations and adding filters. I noted that I could not hook up filters to specifically target visualizations like I can in other solutions – all filters appeared to be global. The dashboard development process was easier than ever before and where I noticed the most improvements. I liked the capability to add reference lines to charts and choose colors. There does seem to be less control of colors than there was in the past. I appreciated the element placement guide experience even though the control freak in me could not overlap items or exactly place content. It was not a dreaded “BI boxy syndrome” layout that I shared loathing in my last blog but it also was not a completely free-form canvas that I crave. Instead of clunky wizards and a myriad of detailed property settings, Qlik Sense has reduced design clutter and used instinctive menus for changing settings.
Like a few other vendors, Qlik is using OpenStreetMap. I was able to take my Tampa Palms Real Estate use case and plot comparable home addresses since I had already geocoded the latitudes and longitudes. It was a little tricky – I needed to add a GeoMakePoint code snippet to my data load script. Fortunately there was a short Qlik Sense mapping video already available that covered this nuance. I saw options for layering, changing appearance, background and coloring to use a single color, color by dimension and color by measure. In my test, I was not able to get address coloring by price range bin to work nor nicely size the circle indicators on the map. I also could not assign a blob or URL image to render within a table column like I could in v11. It sounds like those features may be functional in a future release.
Publishing and Sharing Apps
To share Qlik dashboard apps, you can eventually publish them to a Qlik Sense Server or the Cloud when those options are released. Today you can only share Qlik Sense apps with other Qlik Sense users. The sharing process is not elegant and entails copying all the source files to another computer. Keep in mind that there is NO security in this free version. All the load scripts and source data files are available to the recipient. Needless to say, there is room for improvement in the free Qlik app sharing process.
Since I know the following question is inevitable, let me proactively answer… Will Qlik Sense restrain Tableau? No, I don’t think I have seen enough in Qlik Sense yet to make me feel that it will slow down Tableau’s exponential growth. Tableau is the only vendor that has an addictive “Photoshop with your data” level of experience. I do feel the Qlik Sense experience is a bazillion times better than v11. Qlik should absolutely fare better in the market, win more individual users and ultimately win more sales deals in the upcoming year. Competitive pressures are indeed mounting between Qlik, Tableau, TIBCO Spotfire, SAP Lumira, Microsoft Power BI, Microstrategy, IBM, and the new players. The crowded data discovery market continues moving towards a state of perceived commoditization. It will become much more challenging for these vendors to differentiate and stand out. This is good news for customers since prices should continue to drop. I am already hearing Tableau prospects share lower Tableau Server cost quotes with me than I am used to hearing.
That wraps up my quick, high level, initial review of Qlik Sense Desktop. There is much more to it than I have shared with you in this article. If you would like a deeper dive into Qlik Sense Desktop, I recommend reviewing the Getting Started content, watching tutorial videos, skimming through the documentation, reading the FAQs and of course giving it a try with your own data. Pun intended, seeing is believing.