From The QVDesign Crystal Ball: What’s .next for Qlikview?
In 2001 as a student I wrote a White Paper for Nokia as part of a ‘future thinking for mobile’ competition where I outlined the inclusion of GPS functionality in mobile devices, them accessing & caching map information based on GPS data, location based advertising and other related services and judging by my iPhone I was pretty much spot on so it’s time to do the same for Qlikview!
Anyone who works with or is interested in Qlikview should by now have heard a little about Qlikview.next – if you haven’t you’d better catch up because your world is about to change markedly, mostly for the better but potentially for the worse.
There have been blog posts a plenty via the Community: http://community.qlikview.com/blogs/theqlikviewblog/2012/10/24/enabling-the-new-enterprise-with-qlikviewnext-in-the-age-of-empowerment, various commentary pieces from other blogs: http://www.quickintelligence.co.uk/whatever-next/ and lots of presentations from the perpetually in motion around the globe Donald Farmer at Business Discovery World Tour Events but nothing really tangible has been revealed. Therefore I’m going to mix a little hypothesis, assumption, knowledge and snippets of information together to try and look at not only what Qlikview.next is shaping up to be but perhaps more importantly what impact it’s likely to have on each and every member of the Qlikview family.
The outline of what Qliktech are trying to achieve with Qlikview.next has been covered in a recent White Paper that can be downloaded here: http://www.qlikview.com/us/explore/resources/whitepapers/the-qlikview-next-product-scenarios It’s an interesting document that pulls back the covers to reveal a little information but firm specifics remain elusive, it strikes me as being a more ‘high-level aims’ kind of document. I won’t go though each of the 5 themes as there’s plenty about each of them out there already so I’ll focus on a few key areas and the potential impact of all this change.
First of all let’s get rid of the marketing fluff; for me there aren’t 5 key themes for Qlikview.next, the areas that are going to have the biggest impact are: it’s mobile, it’s open and it’s simple.
1. It’s Mobile
Firstly in my experience when people talk about ‘mobile’ they aren’t talking about ‘mobile’ at all, they’re in fact talking about ‘Always Accessible’ – it’s only ‘mobile’ by the virtue of the fact that humans are by our very nature; mobile; we commute, we visit the factory floor, we sit at a desk in office A one day and B the next. If I’m going to have access to my dashboard at all times then it has to be mobile; having a dashboard available shouldn’t make me more mobile it simply means I can get more out of my time whilst I am mobile.
So let’s start again…
1. It’s Always Accessible
Qlikview.next is being developed as a touch (read ‘mobile / Always Accessable’) UI first and a desktop ‘point & click’ one second. Just have a think about that for a moment. A product that has I’d estimate way under 10% of it’s consumption and less than 1% of it’s creation carried out via a touch interface currently is making it’s next product primarily to suit these small percentages – it’s either madness or incredibly prescient. I certainly don’t think of it as madness; touch interfaces will continue to grow both through new hardware such as Microsoft’s Surface or through software designed for touch from the ground up such as Qlikview.next itself becoming more accepted and appropriately designed. However there’s a massive danger; do you develop a UI for touch and as a result lessen the appeal or ability of the desktop UI? I know Qliktech are saying that it will be a great interface on both but, well, they would say that. It’s akin to the situation makers of amphibious cars face; both a car and a boat share elements just as interfaces do; they need an engine, they’re controlled by a driver, they get you from A to B but you’ll never see an amphibious car out performing a car on the road and a boat on the water – it can’t happen, there has to be compromise. It’s a simple law; the more multi-purpose you get the less able you are to meet the specific needs of a particular niche; you get conflicts of requirements that lead to compromises in one or all areas. Now I firmly believe that Qliktech will get closer to a hybrid that performs well as both a touch and desktop UI than any amphibious car achieves its goal but I worry unless it’s perfect someone has to loose out somewhere.
I’ve heard it said that Qlikview.next will be the exact same UI across both areas and be great at both – I can tell you now that that’s not possible so I take it that there will be the same underlying menu and functionality options but they’ll be presented and interacted with in different ways dependant on the hardware. That sounds obvious I know but to date I’ve never seen it implemented on a 1 for 1 level ie: where you can do everything easily via touch that you can via a desktop – or vice versa. In every example I can think of where there’s a desktop and a touch version of a business app the touch one always gets dumbed down to a certain extent to make way for the casualness of touch. I have plenty of apps on my iPad that are replicated elsewhere that I prefer to use via a touch interface; a quick browse for a house on Rightmove or searching eBay for example but those are all casual ‘lean-back’ tasks not the ‘lean forward’ that analysis can demand. It seems Qliktech are trying to change this – which is great if they can pull it off; their UI designers will have to be the best in the world if they’re going to manage it.
I know 2 years from now things will be very different but I know from my Qlikview usage currently if I’m sat at a desk with a both a PC and a tablet in front of me it will always be the desktop I turn to for dashboard analysis and yes touch will be more prevalent in 2, 5 or 10yrs time but people will still be sat behind desks…and we won’t have decent amphibious cars either!. How very Luddite of me. I feel that for the foreseeable future mobile is simply something that’s to be used when ‘desktop’ isn’t available; yes it will allow more Data Discovery at the top of a telegraph pole or down a mine but come on; what about the millions of people who from here to retirement will likely be stuck behind a desk.
A simple test; how many work tasks can you currently do on a tablet? Baring access issues you can probably do most – great. Now think how many you’d prefer to do on a tablet over a desktop when the desktop is there and booted up ready to go; I’m sure there are some; updating your calendar for instance but for me in nearly all cases I’d choose the desktop – I’m typing this post on a 15in MacBook Pro and I have an iPad less than 2ft away sitting unused. It’s a case that mobile / touch is great but only when it’s either a) casual and suited to touch or b) a desktop isn’t convenient. Don’t get me wrong; some elements of Qlikview consumption are casual and suited to touch; viewing the Global Games App for example but from my experience most usage of Qlikview in the business world goes deeper than that away from a dashboard and closer to reporting and analysis which is far from casual. Of course as touch interface design improves we’ll see more and more complex apps that become better consumed via touch than desktop but in the case of complex analysis it can’t change the data and so I feel its complete adoption will remain constrained.
As long as the ‘lean-forward’ non-casual consumption, creation and administration of Qlikview isn’t adversely impacted by this focus on touch then it’s all good but a part of me worries Qlikview.next is going to jump too far ahead of the ‘touch adoption curve’ and devalue itself in the name of ‘consumerization’ and simplicity.
Key Point: Qlikview.next will be entirely different at every touch point, be it developing, managing or consuming and everything will be angled towards being ‘Always Accessible’ be it to access a dashboard, amend a dashboard chart or administer the Qlikview environment.
A piece of loosely related future prediction: perhaps not the next iteration but certainly within 3yrs the iMac may well look something like this: http://perceptivepixel.brandgreenhouse.com/products/active-stylus and have a totally reworked OS to support it – when something like that happens touch will really have come of age and a touch focused version of Qlikview will make total sense…until then who knows.
2. It’s Open
Until relatively recently Qlikview has always been a fairly closed walled off product – yes it can connect to a good number of data-platforms but in terms of functionality or data going the other way it’s been limited. I know it’s possible to embed charts in Sharepoint and we can create extensions to bring in new chart types but I firmly believe that as of Qlikview.next what’s available currently will appear to be miniscule. We’re already seeing with 3rd party products like QVSource that new connectors to weird and wonderful datasources are being created almost daily and I think that will become much more core in Qlikview.next – probably through some sort of IP deal between Qliktech and Industrial Codebox. How’s all this connectivity achieved; through API’s, and it’s through API’s that Qlikview itself will open up and let other products and solutions access its core functionality. Apparently the very basest levels of API’s that Qlikview itself uses to function will be open to developers, again it’s time for another ‘just think about that’ moment. Should it be fully realized Qlikview.next will be able to connect to virtually any datasource (not just platforms like SQL or Oracle but ‘sources’ such as GoogleAnalytics, weather feeds, Twitter etc) that exposes an API and conversely all of Qlikview will be exposable via it’s own API’s – that’s monumental and quite what impact it will have I’m un-sure but it will be huge. Just think if you’re able to bring in feeds of lower level but still relevant data – a stock price feed, weather data, twitter streams – quickly, freely and easily; it opens a whole world of new types of analysis; is there a correlation between my sales of Product A and cloudy weather – who knows, but you will know when the barriers to finding out all but disappear and then you’ll be able to act accordingly.
In much the same way we’ll see more and more usage of Extension Objects in Qlikview.next. It was noticeable at this week’s Business Discovery World Tour event how many more extensions there were on show and this will only continue in the future and I expect Qlikview.next to enable their creation and usage even more. Extensions won’t merely be small objects based around one visualization, I think it will be even greater than that; for example application level integration with R – not just in an individual Extension Object but available for use across any object via traditional expressions; expressions from R seamlessly sitting alongside native Qlikview ones – to me that’s truly open and truly awesome.
I think the impact of this will be 2 fold. Firstly Qlikview apps will begin to diverge; they’ll have more bespoke elements, tailored visualizations, altered peripheral functionality etc all designed to better meet the needs of the deployment in question. The second impact will be on developers of Qlikview: as we’re seeing with Extensions a developer increasingly needs to be multi-skilled not only in Qlikview but in Java, HTML C# etc in order to get the most out of the product and as more possibilities are opened up so the range of skills demanded will increase (The actual role of the core ‘Qlikview Developer’ will drastically shrink but I’ll get to that in section 3.).
Key Point: Qlikview.next will be open, open to data from all sources and platforms and open in terms of letting its data and functionality be used by other products and platforms.
3. It’s Simple
‘It’s Simple’ refers entirely to how Qlikview is used and appears, the product won’t be simple in the background but it will appear simple to the user. This is all very ‘Apple’ in that very complex things are done in the background to make things appear simple and intuitive to the user.
Right now I can tell you Qlikview.next will look very similar to the below:
“Wow! Where did you get that exclusive!?”- simple: logic, experience, research and Tableau. Qliktech will deny it to the hilt but without doubt the biggest driver in the way Qlikview.next will look and be interacted with is Tableau, it won’t be identical; we’ll still have association and they won’t but the look and feel will be very close. How do I know this? Let me explain; Data Visualisation – what every Qlikview developer does and every dashboard presents – is a science, there’s a right way backed up by extensive research, logic and proof and a wrong way backed up by 3D charts, bad colour choices and users getting the wrong impressions of their data. Yes people will disagree as to whether an axis line should be this weight grey or that one or what the optimum distance between bar chart columns is but these are tiny differences of opinion; Tableau does visualization (largely) demonstrably right straight out of the box; they’ve invested heavily in academic research to get there ($200m more in the next few years), ergo; for any other vendor to do it ‘right’ they have to occupy the same space and present information in the same way with the same look – it’s not open for debate. Think of it this way: when flying machines were first being designed in the late 19th and early 20th Century there were a myriad of sizes, shapes and solutions (as with dashboard visuals now) but look at aircraft today and the vast majority follow the same design principals, not because it arbitrarily looks prettier but because it’s right; it’s safer, faster, cheaper, more efficient etc. We’re going to see the same thing in Data Visualization; a coalescence around what is inarguably right and it’s Tableau who have started this march in earnest ahead of everyone else and it’s up to everyone else to follow and follow they must.
I once read a great line about using Tableau; “Don’t mess with the charts as someone who knows far more about data visualization than you has spent a lot of time thinking about what’s right and what’s wrong.”. For those that don’t know Tableau prides itself on it being easy for an end user to create their own dashboards (I feel this is also a weakness when it comes to enterprise level data), users can easily point it at a datasource, load the data, select the fields they want and Tableau will choose the most appropriate chart and create it automatically to be ‘right’. Qlikview.next will also do this through its ‘Suggestive UI’; if you select zipcode data it will know you’re likely to want a map, you want dates and sales information it will suggest a line chart and both will be correctly formatted by default once created. Others are following this route; Excel 2013 will contain the same ‘Chart Suggestion’ ethos. This is a (mostly) good way to go as to be quite frank most dashboard developers are creating the visualization equivalents of flying contraptions from the last century; they’re clueless, so it’s right that the visualization software you use guides you down the right path.
Why do I say this is ‘mostly’ good – simply put if the software and the end user (sorry Donald) can create a ‘right’ dashboard quickly, intuitively and easily then why on earth would they need a Qlikview Developer to the same extent? Undoubtedly once Qlikview.next is established we’re going to see fewer pure Qlikview Developer roles out there, yes there’ll still be people needed to set the environment up and get things rolling but the dedicated Qlikview dashboard developer may well become a rare beast indeed. This has the potential to greatly affect the Qlikview market; Qliktech Partners will see less ongoing need for their core Qlikview services and many developers will no longer be required – for the customer this is great; better dashboards with less outlay and time, but for the likes of me who consult on Qlikview dashboard creation it’s undoubtedly bad; we must therefore prepare to adapt.
A personal must have for Qlikview.next loosely in the ‘Simple’ theme is a public Qlikview cloud: it needs to be possible that anyone can download / access online a public version of Qlikview for free, load data in (perhaps from limited sources or volumes), create an app and then publish it to the Qlikview cloud for free to embed in a website or share via a blog. This would send low-level Qlikview usage through the roof and get the associative data way of thinking out there and really show people that Data Discovery is the way to go – products like Tableau get the visualization right just like any other product is capable of but Qlikview.next will have that ‘right-ness’ and the special ingredient of association which others can’t copy. Without a freely accessible cloud Qlikview risks becoming a business only backwater as SaaS upstarts take all the attention & glory.
1) Qlikview.next will look a lot like Tableau; it has to. Tableau does visualization the right way, to not be like it is to be wrong – it’s as simple as that. It’s like saying “I’m going to design a new car and give it 17 wheels, 1½ engines and a joystick instead of a steering wheel” – it might work but it’s not ‘right’ and can be proven to be so.
2) With Qlikview.next there will be a lessened demand for traditional Qlikview development as the actual consumers of the information will be the ones who create more of the dashboards they use themselves with the guiding hand of the software.
There are lots of other areas where Qlikview.next will differ from previous iterations as well as other dashboard and visualization solutions that have gone before; the enhanced collaboration (which I remain to be convinced about), thin clients for all, revised Access Point, offline iPad usage (available now), new charts, server based development and many more things all of which will impact the way we all create Qlikview apps. However for me the 3 high level changes outlined above are the ones that are likely to have the biggest impact both in improving the Qlikview experience and also reshaping the Qlikview ecosystem.
So when is all this change likely to appear? Donald Farmer specifically mentioned ‘entering Beta in the New Year’ at this weeks conference but personally I think it will be a little after that when the wider world gets a first glimpse of Qlikview.next; I’d estimate end of Q1 2013. After that I’d expect a relatively long Beta cycle simply due to the fact that we’re looking at such sweeping changes to the product so I’d be surprised to see the first major full Qlikview.next release before Q4 next year – there may well be more than one.
There’s one final point and it’s not a good one. I’ve head from Qliktech many times in the past things like ‘we’ve got this great new feature’ and it turns out to be something totally illogically implemented or we’ve had Service Releases rescinded due to sloppy testing, so I’m skeptical as to how they’ll cope with the wholesale changes we’re looking at with Qlikview.next. I’m hopeful that many of the challenges can be overcome; they’ve hired lots of new employees specifically for Qlikview.next in the fields that count but the aims for what Qlikview.next will be; all things to all people on all devices, is such a radical and far reaching idea that it will be impossible for there not to be problems along the way.
So I await the reveal of Qlikview.next eagerly, hopefully and with a slight sense of trepidation; it’s undoubtedly going to shake up the current state of play in the Qlikview ecosystem and some people will win and some will loose so you’d better pay attention and make sure you come down on the winning side.
Key Point: Business Intelligence and data visualization is going through the natural transition that all relatively new industries go through; everyone is heading towards a central homogenous point as ‘evolution’ removes the weaker players & solutions and the ‘right’ way comes to the fore. The end point for BI & data visualization is a little past where Tableau is now and it’s where I hope Qlikview.next will jump close to, if it doesn’t it will lay itself open to fresh challengers in the market who see this inalienable truth and act upon it.
Everything is going to change – it has to.
All the best,