RESEARCH & RESOURCES

Qlik Embraces Platform-as-a-Product in New, Updated Offerings

Qlik recently fleshed out its Qlik Sense platform with a new cloud service and a new developer-oriented analytic platform, plus a new version 2.0 release of Qlik Sense.

Qlik Inc. recently fleshed out its Qlik Sense platform with a new cloud service and a new developer-oriented analytic platform -- dubbed, appropriately enough, the Qlik Analytic Platform -- along with a slew of services slated to support these offerings. Qlik announced something else, too: a new, version 2.0 release of Qlik Sense Enterprise, due this month. After all, what would a platform fleshing-out be without a major refresh of the platform itself?

Qlik first shipped Sense last summer, pitching it as much more than yet-another-business-intelligence discovery tool. That's because Sense has all of the trappings of a visual self-service discovery tool -- viz., data visualization technology, guided self-service features, built-in data access features -- with a twist, according to Josh Good, director of product marketing with Qlik.

"We are the only vendor who's offering a full platform for visual analytics. We can do everything from straight-up reporting to guided analytics to self-service discovery," Good says, noting that "in that [self-service discovery] paradigm, visualization is just the first part of what you do. Our competitors talk about data data data, [but] we think people, social, is no less important to the equation. We talk a lot about collaboration, and one of our goals with the whole platform is to be able to optimize BI to harness the collective human intelligence across the organization."

It's one thing for Qlik to claim that Sense offers a "full platform for visual analytics" vis-à-vis Tableau, Tibco Spotfire, and other discovery-oriented vendors. It's quite another for it to make this claim about vendors (such as SAP BusinessObjects, IBM Cognos, MicroStrategy Inc., or SAS Institute Inc.) that also claim to address a "full" range of needs, from traditional (or "straight-up," in Good's language) reporting to guided analytics to visual discovery. What is the basis for his claim?

Good says that Qlik built Sense from scratch to address both traditional and non-traditional use cases -- from conventional, pixel-perfect BI reporting to data discovery, data mash-up, and data visualization applications. He describes competitive products -- especially those marketed by established vendors -- as something like Franken-platforms: offerings that have been cobbled together by dint of merger and/or acquisition, retrofitting, and new-product development.

The material point, Good maintains, is that Qlik Sense isn't in any sense a one-trick pony. Instead, he argues, it's one of several components in what might be dubbed a Thoroughly Modern Decision Support Platform. Qlik's Sense product, for example, can be used as either a standalone- or workgroup-oriented front-end tool -- ala Tableau and Spotfire -- or paired with the new Qlik Analytics Platform (QAP for short) to power an enterprise BI and analytic practice. New in Qlik Sense 2.0 is a "smart data load' visual data profiling capability. "That's going to look at data [prior to integration] and profile it as to just how you want to bring that data together. That's the beginning of [Qlik] getting much, much more intelligent about how we join multiple data sources together," Good promises.

A New Platform Play?

QAP gives Qlik developers a service-aware foundation, complete with support for REST-ful, SQL, and other APIs; Qlik Sense can be used independently of QAP, and vice versa. To put it differently: QAP is the foundation -- i.e., a platform, with a built-in engine, APIs, and developer tools -- that underpins Qlik Sense. Qlik's release of QAP as a discrete product exposes this foundation -- and QIX, the in-memory columnar indexing engine that's built into Qlik Sense -- to third-party apps.

Qlik plans to market QAP to developers or enterprises who want either to roll their own front-end apps or to expose QIX-driven analytics in the context of custom-built or third-party apps.

These apps need not use (or otherwise rely on) Qlik Sense in any way, Good explains.

"The [Qlik Analytics] Platform is really, really important in Qlik Sense. We have open and standard APIs, [so] you can take Qlik Sense and using the Qlik Analytics Platform ... you can take these visualizations or the visualizations you've built and embed those into any sort of Web page or site you like," he points out. "If you think about that, that means you can build Web apps using all of the power of Qlik and all of the power of the Web ... as fast as you can build a relatively intelligent Web page. You can have the benefit of Qlik in there, of the QIX engine," Good says.

Donald Farmer, vice president of innovation and design, says Qlik is "embracing 'the platform as a product' in its own right" with QAP. For example, Farmer notes, QAP provides API-level access to QIX. "This enables developers to use the engine to build their own analytic applications over our engine," he comments, noting that some customers are already prototyping apps. "Also, the APIs for back-end management would enable developers to create their own management tools, too."

There's also Qlik's Sense Cloud offering, which (in its initial incarnation) permits a user to publish Sense Desktop visualizations and mash-ups to the cloud, where they can be shared with up to five users -- free of charge. Later this year, Good says, users will be able to create and share analyses in Cloud Sense; Qlik also plans to begin offering service levels, probably this year, too. Qlik's platform aspirations extend to the cloud as well. Consider Qlik Chart, which Good says "gives you the ability to easily embed a Qlik Sense visualization to be shared publicly through a website or blog post." Qlik Chart will be available in beta this quarter, with availability slated for later this year. "It gives you an interactive Qlik Sense visualization that you can put into something you've written so that users will be able to see the information you're talking about ... [and] to interact with it as well," he explains.

Then there's Qlik Data Market, which is based on technology Qlik acquired late last year. Data Market is exactly what it sounds like: a data-as-a-service marketplace. Customers would use it in conjunction with Qlik's on-premises or cloud offerings in order to quickly import (approved) public or subscription data into their analyses. "If I'm looking at my sales, I can bring in population information, and I can go down to all [available] levels of granularity as well: from ZIP code levels by income and by age bracket as well. Weather information is a classic example. If you go above 77 degrees Fahrenheit, ice cream sales plummet for grocery stores. When you bring in that data and look at it, people don't want to buy ice cream because they think it will melt before they go home," says Good.

Qlik already has a "platform," so to speak, in QlikView, its bread-and-butter BI offering.

Does this make QAP the anointed successor to QlikView? No. QAP isn't replacing QlikView, says Farmer, who notes that Qlik plans to release a new version 12.0 release of QlikView later this year. It's an apples-to-oranges-type comparison, he argues: QAP is a developer-friendly platform -- comprising an engine, APIs, and developer amenities -- while QlikView is an app that comprises an engine, UI front-end, back-end server, and tools.

"[QAP] basically opens up the full power of the QIX engine to a bigger, broader audience who maybe wouldn't be interested in buying the full Qlik Sense," Good concludes.

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