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Wayne Eckerson

Welcome to Wayne's World, my blog that illuminates the latest thinking about how to deliver insights from business data and celebrates out-of-the-box thinkers and doers in the business intelligence (BI), performance management and data warehousing (DW) fields. Tune in here if you want to keep abreast of the latest trends, techniques, and technologies in this dynamic industry.

About the author >

Wayne has been a thought leader in the business intelligence field since the early 1990s. He has conducted numerous research studies and is a noted speaker, blogger, and consultant. He is the author of two widely read books: Performance Dashboards: Measuring, Monitoring, and Managing Your Business (2005, 2010) and The Secrets of Analytical Leaders: Insights from Information Insiders (2012).

Wayne is currently director of BI Leadership Research, an education and research service run by TechTarget that provides objective, vendor neutral content to business intelligence (BI) professionals worldwide. Wayne’s consulting company, BI Leader Consulting, provides strategic planning, architectural reviews, internal workshops, and long-term mentoring to both user and vendor organizations. For many years, Wayne served as director of education and research at The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI) where he oversaw the company’s content and training programs and chaired its BI Executive Summit. He can be reached by email at weckerson@techtarget.com.

May 2012 Archives

My blog last week, "QlikTech Goes Enterprise" created quite a stir from all quarters, much to my surprise. I presented an even-handed portrait of QlikTech, and I stand by everything I wrote. However, I'd like to elaborate on some issues that came under scrutiny from readers.

First, I never claimed QlikView (QlikTech's product) is an enterprise BI product. Today, QlikView is an extremely successful departmental BI tool. The problem with all good departmental BI products is that customers push them upstream into enterprise deployments. And that's exactly what's happening with QlikView, for better or worse. The same thing happened with today's vanguard of enterprise BI players--namely, MicroStrategy, SAP BusinessObjects, and IBM Cognos--all of which started out as desktop BI products in the 1990s.

The fact that a small, but increasing number of QlikView customers is purchasing and deploying thousands or, in some cases, tens of thousands of seats doesn't mean that QlikView is a bonafide enterprise BI product. At least yet. QlikView customers and partners are currently doing somersaults to work around product limitations that I mentioned last week. I have no doubt that QlikTech will address these deficiencies in the near future. So enterprise BI players need to stay alert lest QlikView ambush them from behind. The bigger question is whether QlikView will lose some of its appeal--or more specifically, it's ease of use, performance, agility, and affordability--in making the transition from a departmental to enterprise BI product.

The BI Triumvirate
Many people last week commented on my notion of a BI triumvirate consisting of MicroStrategy for reporting, QlikView for interactive dashboarding, and Tableau for visual discovery.

First, I view these capabilities as distinct and separate categories of BI, each of which addresses different information requirements and groups of users. (In truth, there are two additional BI categories--OLAP cubes and data mining--but these are smaller niches.)

Second, the vendors I referenced are examples only. I could have substituted any number of vendors in that list. For example, Oracle BI Enterprise Edition is an enterprise dashboard tool and IBM Cognos recently released a visual discovery tool, called Insight. However, I chose the three I did because I view them as leaders in their respective categories.

But just because I reference a vendor in one category doesn't exclude it from other categories. For example, MicroStrategy also provides exceptionally good dashboards, and last year, it unveiled a Tableau-like product called Visual Insight. So, if you are a MicroStrategy customer, your triumvirate could easily be: Microstrategy Report Services for reporting, MicroStrategy Report Services for dashboarding, and MicroStrategy Visual Insight for visual discovery. (And to boot, you can also use MicroStrategy OLAP Services for OLAP cubes and MicroStrategy Data Mining Services for data mining.) Obviously, one of the benefits of going with a BI platform vendor like MicroStrategy is that you get all the BI functionality you need in a single, integrated environment.

Interactive Dashboards

The real question is whether MicroStrategy and other comparable products are best of breed in each category. In terms of dashboards, MicroStrategy and QlikView both offer significant value but in different ways. MicroStrategy dashboards are pixel-perfect reports that run against a cached cube or data warehouse and are viewed through either a HTML/AJAX, Flash, or native mobile interface, while QlikView dashboards run against a server-based in-memory database and viewed via a Web/AJAX or desktop interface. Filters in QlikView expose relationships (or lack thereof) among all elements displayed on a dashboard screen, while filters in MicroStrategy constrain views of data to support drill down and drill across navigation. Obviously, these are different interfaces and architectures powered by different database structures. Broadly generalizing, QlikView dashboards are more horizontally interactive (via its associative model of data), while MicroStrategy dashboards are more vertically interactive (via its dimensional data structure.) The best product is in the eyes of the beholder.

Visual Discovery

In terms of visual discovery, MicroStrategy Visual Insight is a first-generation product that currently lacks many of the features in Tableau. For instance, today MicroStrategy Visual Insight only accesses one data source at a time and displays one visualization per page. Customers also need to purchase and implement the entire MicroStrategy stack (version 9.2) to use Visual Insight. Thus, it's not a downloadable product like Tableau, which you can install and start using within minutes. To compensate, MicroStrategy now offers a free cloud-based version of Visual Insight, called Cloud Personal, that lets users upload and manipulate Excel spreadsheets without having to install any software. Touche!

MicroStrategy plans to release a new version of Visual Insight later this year that will move the 1.0 product closer to the current version of Tableau. Of course, Tableau isn't sitting still, either. It's working on a new version slated for a fall delivery and continues to raise the bar for what's possible in a visual discovery environment.

Dashboard Development Environments

Although Tableau is a market-leading visual discovery tool, it can do other things as well. I've run into many customers that use Tableau as a development environment for building departmental dashboards. As such, Tableau often butts heads with QlikView for these types of accounts. In the past year, Tableau has added many features, including an in-memory database, server-side data storage, and data blending of multiple sources that transform it from just a very good desktop analyst tool to a departmental dashboard development environment that competes with QlikView.

Summary

Clearly, vendors watch each other carefully and mirror each other's moves. If one succeeds in the marketplace, then others quickly adopt similar functionality to staunch real or potential losses in market- and mindshare. As a result, BI innovations spread quickly across vendors and products. The key is to understand whether new functionality is more a marketing makeover than a bonafide product extension.

At some point, all customers face an "all-in-one" or "best-of-breed" decision. Enterprise BI customers have to decide whether to go with an upstart that offers market-leading innovations or wait for their BI vendor to catch up. Conversely, departmental BI customers need to decide whether to jump ship for an integrated BI platform or wait for their pet BI vendor to embrace enterprise-scale computing.

This is when it pays to know your vendor. If you have confidence in its direction and ability to execute, then it might be wise to stay put. Otherwise, it's probably time shake the dice and look at alternatives.


Posted May 17, 2012 11:07 AM
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I was fortunate to attend QlikTech's annual Partner conference in Miami Beach in April, and I discovered a few things about the fast-growing in-memory visualization vendor.

Historically, QlikTech has sold QlikView to departmental business leaders and then used a "land and expand" strategy to spread its reach within an organization and grow revenues. This strategy catapulted the company to a successful 2010 initial public offering and 40+% annual growth.
With $320 million in annual revenues, QlikTech now is determined to eclipse the $1 billion revenue mark. To do this, it's pushing hard and fast into the enterprise BI market, which has been the province of industry BI heavy weights, such as SAP, Oracle, IBM, and MicroStrategy.

Enterprise Deployments. The good news is that QlikTech's customers are leading the way into enterprise territory. QlikTech is increasingly signing six- and seven-figure deals to support tens of thousands of users. As a result, QlikTech is working hard to transform what started out as a desktop and departmental tool into a bonafide enterprise platform.

The company took its first enterprise steps in QlikView 10 when it moved security and administration from individual applications to a shared server environment. QlikView 11, released last fall, makes incremental improvements to performance, administration, team development, metadata management, clustering, and security capabilities. But QlikTech still has much work left to do. In particular, QlikView needs more granular clustering, a bonafide semantic layer, graphical data design and mapping tools, native change control and version management, an improved administrative console, and rationalized global licensing.

Courting IT. As part of its push into the enterprise, QLikTech is trying to make nice with information technology (IT) departments, which tend to view QlikView as an invasive species that threatens to undermine information consistency and their control over corporate data. The real truth is that QlikView is an IT professional's best friend if it sources data from the data warehouse. Thanks to its intuitive visual interface, QlikView can help liberate data locked in the data warehouse and offload development from besieged IT staffers. There are 1,500 QlikView partner companies that have the technical expertise and project management skills to implement QlikView and can serve as extensions to the IT department. It would behoove IT departments to embrace QlikView and its partners if they want to stay a step ahead of the QlikView tsunami.

Here are a few other insights I picked up from the Partners event:

Mobility. Last year, QlikTech did an about-face with its mobile strategy, converting from native applications for iOS to generic Web-based mobile applications. A Web-based approach to mobile applications aligns better with QlikView's in-memory architecture which requires keeping large volumes of data in memory. Since memory is limited on mobile devices, native applications effectively turn QlikView into static dashboard viewer, which cheapens its value. However, many QlikView users are upset with the new Web-based applications because they lack native iOS features that aren't yet baked into HTML5 and Web-based mobile applications can't be used in disconnected mode. It will be interesting to see what fixes QlikTech makes, if any, to its mobile applications.

QlikView versus Tableau. The two darlings of the BI space these days are QlikView and Tableau, which many people lump together as visual analysis tools. In reality, these two tools are quite different, serving different users and purposes. In fact, the tools are complementary, making a nice one-two combination in any BI toolkit.

QlikView is an application development platform that requires an IT team (or QlikView partners) to set up, build, and maintain the applications. Companies use QlikView to build small, purpose-built, interactive dashboards for casual users. Architecturally, the tool creates in-memory data marts to ensure fast performance. Dashboards query these in-memory data sets rather than source data directly. IT administrators generally update the data marts in batch at night, although the tool supports incremental updates in near real-time as well.

Tableau, on the other hand, is a visual exploration tool designed for power users. It's primarily a desktop tool that users can download, install, and start visualizing data in minutes. Tableau recently added an in-memory cache to improve performance when querying large databases, but in-memory processing is an adjunct to its architecture, not the core piece, unlike QlikView. Although Tableau can be used to build departmental dashboards, it is a better exploration tool than an application development platform.

Basically, companies should purchase QlikView to drive their interactive dashboards, Tableau to support visual exploration, and a standard BI tool, like MicroStrategy or IBM Cognos, to handle scheduled reporting. That's a nice, modern day BI tool triumvirate. This standardization strategy also lower total cost of ownership and puts pressure on standard BI tool vendors to lower prices.

Future. QlikTech announced nice collaboration and comparative analysis features in version 11, and I expect more enhancements in these areas going forward. I also expect QlikTech to fill in some holes in its product lineup. These include things like predictive analysis, support for unstructured data, location intelligence, graphical ETL tools, a visual semantic layer, better support for near-real time data delivery, and printing. Software partners provide some of these capabilities today, but QlikTech will need to acquire or build such capabilities if it's going to assume the mantle of a true enterprise BI vendor.


Posted May 3, 2012 9:30 AM
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