For the past few years the analytics market has been rapidly diverging into two camps: that of traditional BI and that of ‘data discovery.’ Where BI and traditional reporting has centred around the presenting of data reports by IT departments, the underlying philosophy behind ‘data discovery’ is that anyone in a business should be able to explore data themselves in a dynamic, visual way, and easily understand and query the results.
Industry analyst Gartner now measures all these companies as a distinct market that makes up 48% of the overall BI and analytics sector. But as those in business increasingly demand the same kind of empowerment they experience as consumers in most aspects of technology, the two approaches are beginning to merge again – all of the top vendors for BI are now including visualisation tools and easy to use interactive elements as key components of their new products.
Gartner’s latest ‘Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms’ released in February suggested that if there was a single theme for the BI and analytics market in 2012, it would be that of ‘data discovery’ becoming a mainstream architecture. In the last year we’ve seen mega vendors such as Microsoft, Oracle, SAS and SAP competing against the growing maturity of smaller players, once regarded as niche, that first defined the market.
One such vendor is Swedish company QlikTech, which has been in Gartner’s BI and analytics platforms ‘leaders quadrant’ for the past three years, and was among the first to start reimagining report-centric BI as data discovery under its own brand name of ‘business discovery.’
Five years ago it became a disruptive force in the market by leveraging its ‘business discovery’ ethos with the speed and agility that comes with being able to run these processes in-memory, eliminating the limitations of data retrieval from disk storage.
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Since then users of analytics tools have become used to a world where relevant results can be queried in detail and returned within seconds – something that can only be achieved through in-memory technology. In-memory analytics made it possible to view data more flexibly, rather than at a pre-defined high level view.
With this, other BI vendors, realising the necessity of in-memory processing to support and enhance the fluidity of their data discovery tools, have rushed to catch up, and adoption has become widespread.
But QlikTech has been maturing in this market for some time and has continued to innovate. Uniquely in the BI space, it has built on its in-memory model to offer an ‘associative’ search engine, giving customers a wider interrogation of related and filtered out query results.
And it is still nipping at the heels of the bigger vendors such as SAP and Microsoft – it grew its revenue by more than 21% in financial year 2012 to $388.5 million, moving up Gartner’s Quadrant on the ‘completeness of vision’ axis and overtaking both Microsoft and Tableau on ‘ability to execute.’
James Richardson is senior director of global product marketing at QlikTech and ex-Gartner analyst working on BI Magic Quadrant reporting for a number of years. Now that everyone from Intel to SAS has undergone the shift of their BI deployments from disk to RAM, he believes that that QlikTech is about to reinvent BI again.
‘You could argue that for the last twenty or thirty years IT has been mostly about optimising processes though installing things like ERP systems,’ says Richardson. ‘We’ve really driven that level of efficiency and operational effectiveness across most of our product line. Once you’ve done that how do you differentiate yourself? The battleground now is – how good is your organisation at getting return from information assets? That’s why making it as natural as possible is important.’
Now that in-memory analytics products have become broadly available, QlikTech is aiming to innovate again with the launch of QlikView’s second iteration, QlikView.Next. Although still underpinned by its ‘business discovery’ principles, the company claims the product will take users one step closer to a truly intuitive exploration of data with another trademarked concept it calls ‘natural analytics.’
The model is based around supposedly leveraging people’s innate capabilities to process information and make decisions.
‘The more closely a BI system mirrors the reality of how we think about data, the more people want to use it, the more familiar they get with it, the more they explore it, and fundamentally you get better ROI,’ explains Richardson.
The company touts the associative search and comparison capabilities at its core as the cornerstones of its ‘natural analytics’ model. There is no doubt that associative search, like the kind introduced by Google to its search engine in September, marks a significant step towards data interrogation closer to how the human brain naturally processes and associates information in context. But it is still too difficult to assess how much of a quantum leap QlikView.Next’s ‘natural analytics’ will be from ‘business discovery.’
‘QlikTech natural analytics is about user-driven BI that allows people to explore the data very naturally, but we’ve always been about that,’ admits Richardson.
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The real difference with the platform might be the inclusion of live collaborative environments and visual tools such as interactive apps.
It also promises to be mobile-first, building the full range of its features in html5 and opening up all its APIs for use by mobile developers – valuable additions to the QlikTech armory, but not necessarily game-changing innovations next to mature offerings from companies like Tibco Spotfire that have made social features a focus of their brands for a number of years.
However, QlikView.Next has been completely rearchitected, suggesting that it could be significantly different from its predecesors. The platform – which is going beta release before the end of 2013 and is expected to be generally available at some point next year – will therefor require a complete migration, but QlikTech assures its customers that they will not be forced to migrate from QlikView 11, the current release, which will be supported for another three years.