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The Logic of (Qlik) Sense

Unlike QlikView, Qlik Sense is designed to cater to analysts, power users, and to other information consumers who want an interactive visual discovery experience.

At TDWI's recent World Conference in San Diego, Qlik Inc. had a surprise for attendees: a brand new, self-service, visual discovery offering -- called Qlik Sense -- which began shipping less than a week prior to the TDWI event. Sense is a departure of sorts for Qlik, which in the past was often conflated with "QlikView," the name of its flagship collaborative business intelligence (BI) product. Even though QlikView incorporates data visualization capabilities, it doesn't expose the kind of visual-interactive, self-service user experience first made popular by Tableau (and TIBCO Spotfire) and more recently productized by BI vendors such as SAS Institute Inc. (Visual Analytics) and MicroStrategy Corp. (Visual Insight), among others.

Instead, QlikView emphasized workgroup-style collaboration and, just as important, rapid BI and analytic application development. For this reason, QlikView is probably no less esteemed as a platform for quickly building and productizing BI and analytic apps.

Qlik Sense changes this, says Donald Farmer, vice president of innovation and design with Qlik. "Traditionally, QlikView is much more of a [platform for] building 'guided' analytics, something I as a developer would build for you, a user, so that you would be guided through the analysis," Farmer explains, stressing that most customers also opt to build QlikView apps that -- like competitive offerings from Tableau, TIBCO Spotfire, and other vendors -- promote self-service exploration and discovery.

Qlik Sense, Farmer says, is designed to cater to a different kind of information consumer: analysts, power users, and anyone else who wants (or can make productive use out of) a more "fluid" exploratory experience. Unlike QlikView apps, which entail a development period of some length, Sense apps can also be deployed and used more casually, Farmer explains.

"Ideally, a lot of people will be building Sense apps over [Microsoft] Excel, so there's not a lot of IT involvement at that point, generally. Overall, [with Sense] we're finding that there isn't this huge requirement in terms of IT involvement, either on the administrative side or on the development side. From that point of view, Sense is a genuinely self-service app. If there is IT involvement, it tends to be more [for] developers than for administrators."

Even though Sense can be used as a click-down-to-the-data-and-start-exploring visual discovery tool, its design model nonetheless partakes of QlikView's development-friendly philosophy. For example, developers can exploit APIs to embed Sense into other apps and to connect Sense with third-party data sources and/or applications. At launch, Sense shipped with a .NET SDK, among other software development amenities.

"It's still very developer-focused. You can build extensibility into Sense, and every API is open. You can plug in your own [existing] visualizations, write your own visualizations [in Sense itself], extend and embed [Sense], and also write new extensions for Sense using the SDK," Farmer explains. "Sense is also very, very mobile. It's [designed] for the person who expects to have … a responsive mobile experience. You can design [a Sense app] so that it automatically scales [a visualization] based on the form factor of the device. You can scale your visualizations up on a large screen LCD or shrink them so that they'll run on an iPhone or Android."

QlikView currently offers Sense apps for both iOS and Android.

There's more to it than just scaling, Farmer insists. "We don't just scale them, we don't just rearrange them, we actually reinterpret the data depending on which device you're on in order to give you the best possible visualization. If I have a scatterplot with 10,000 points on it, I'll show you different [device-appropriate] levels of detail even though [at a macro level] the scatterplot is the same. It all depends on what's appropriate for the [specific] display resolution."

Other Sense amenities include a "global smart search" facility that aims to present a Google-like search experience, says Farmer. Unlike search offerings from DataRPM Inc., IBM Corp., Information Builders Inc., Neutrino Concepts Ltd., and Oracle Corp. (Endeca), global smart search isn't a natural language processing (NLP) search technology. Instead, it uses Qlik's associative indexing engine to resolve relationships in search terms. This -- the underpinning of Qlik's indexing engine -- is just one of several Qlik technologies shared between Sense and QlikView.

"On the back end, it's actually [using] the same [underpinnings] as QlikView, so existing Qlik users can use the same data infrastructure that they already have," Farmer says. "New [Sense] users have the choice of using QlikView-style scripting [for integrating data sources] or Sense's drag-and-drop interface, but in the background they're both using the same scalable data engine."

Qlik Sense is new and shiny. QlikView is established, entrenched, but not-so-new-and-shiny. Which begs the question: Does the advent of Sense augur a phased deemphasis in ongoing QlikView development and enhancement? Farmer offers a pragmatic, but unequivocal, response.

"We have two products, QlikView and Qlik Sense. QlikView will continue, and there will be a QlikView 12, at least. Right now, most of our investment is in Qlik Sense, but the old market isn't going away [and] people will continue to purchase QlikView," he notes. "We'll be keeping that product alive and continuing to invest in it as long as the demand is there for it. We have no doubt that most new users will look at Qlik Sense. People can also have both."

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