Qlik Sense is a visual analysis and data discovery product based on Qlik’s in-memory technology, which is particularly suitable for interactive, visual and set-oriented analysis and dashboard design. In general, it addresses a mixture of use cases from self-service data visualization to building guided analytical apps to embedded analytics. It covers analysis, reporting and dashboard creation in the BI space and is strongly focused on business analysts and more casual business users.
Qlik, originally founded in 1993 in Lund, Sweden, moved its headquarters to the United States in 2005 after raising funds from several venture capital firms. QlikView, the company’s virtually unknown product, was very aggressively marketed after the VC investment. This created enormous attention and traction, and in 2010 Qlik went public on NASDAQ. Qlik was acquired by the private equity company Thoma Bravo and got unlisted from the stock exchange in 2016.
Until the general availability of Qlik Sense in 2014, Qlik was a one-product company. Today, the vendor provides a portfolio of visual analytics offerings. With these, Qlik focuses on integrating different data sources and empowering data governance (data), supporting people with its platform (people) and supporting analysis using its associative model (ideas). This product review describes Qlik Sense.
Until the general availability of Qlik Sense in 2014, Qlik was a one-product software company. Today, the vendor pursues a platform approach which aims to empower data usage by obtaining the governance, providing a platform for people’s visual analytics needs and helping find new ideas by navigating the data using the associative model. Qlik’s products use a common ‘associative’ engine called QIX (Qlik Indexing Engine).
Qlik’s platform consists of several components including Qlik Sense Enterprise and Qlik Sense Cloud, as well as the Qlik Analytics Platform for developers, QlikView and Qlik NPrinting, acquired with Vizubi in 2015 for enhanced printing and page-based layout. Qlik DataMarket was introduced some time ago as a market providing external data for analyses such as weather or currency information. In 2017, Qlik acquired its Swedish partner Idevio to provide advanced features in the area of spatial analysis. This solution is being sold as Qlik GeoAnalytics.
The Qlik Sense product is positioned as a self-service data visualization solution providing immediate analysis results and the capabilities for business users to independently build appealing, interactive dashboards and quickly deploy analytical apps without extensive upfront efforts. Qlik Sense has also been supplied with enterprise features such as a central library for common metadata and a single portal for accessing and reusing data assets and apps generated. Qlik NPrinting is a report generation, distribution and scheduling application which can be used to create reports based on Qlik Sense or QlikView content. It enables organizations to create reports in a variety of popular formats including Office and pixel-perfect PDF files.
QlikView, the vendor’s first analytics product and the tool it became famous with, is a dashboard and analysis product based on in-memory technology to deliver exceptional performance for highly responsive analyses and interactive dashboards. It was the first tool marketed under the “data discovery” and “modern BI” terms to differentiate it from traditional BI suites. This effectively created a new market into which many other vendors have since followed. The solution was positioned as a self-service platform targeted at business users, enabling them to analyze data without having to consult an expert for a new report or dashboard. Based on the in-memory and ease-of-use heritage of QlikView, Qlik Sense is positioned as the strategic offering for new customers for most use cases.
Some of Qlik’s success is due to its non-technical marketing and sales strategy (“land & expand”). Its visual analytics products are clearly designed to appeal primarily to business users, who can achieve results without waiting for assistance from IT. Qlik consistently emphasizes ease of use, rapid deployment and high performance over more complex technical, architectural and administrative strengths that are the strongholds of traditional BI suites. In the hope that the product’s simple and user-friendly features will convince business users to upgrade and help spread the product around the company, Qlik offers some versions of its tools free of charge (Qlik Sense Desktop without restrictions, QlikView with some restrictions and Qlik Sense Cloud, which is free for up to 5 users).
Qlik addresses accounts of all different sizes: from desktop-based single user scenarios to enterprise standard deployments in large accounts. The vendor has an extensive partner channel with more than 1,700 partners, and it addresses mid-market accounts largely through these partners. Qlik has a web-based program for direct sales to small companies, and shares the large enterprise market with the large generalized consultancy companies.
Qlik Sense is a platform built on the associative, columnar, in-memory QIX engine. End users access the complete breadth of analytics functionality (including data discovery, visualization, dashboard and app creation, data preparation and collaboration on data storytelling) through a unified web or desktop client. Applications built are hosted on the Qlik Sense hub and can be organized by streams based on workgroup or function to apply security.
Two administration front ends are used to manage the server: Management Console and Deployment Console. The Management Console is designed to control and manage all server components such as the QIX engine, a scheduler for data loads, a repository for user and rights management and a repository for the storage of the Qlik Sense application (QVF) files. The Deployment Console supports the configuration and monitoring of the Qlik Sense environment. Qlik Sense can be deployed in a distributed and scalable architecture where several servers are used as nodes, each performing different tasks.
Data extraction, transformation and loading (ETL) processes are performed using a wizard (Visual Data Preparation) for data preparation tasks. Qlik offers algorithms based on machine learning to detect join candidates not only based on field names, data types and foreign key relations, but on the actual content of all fields. In the June 2017 release, Qlik reduced the necessity to write Qlik Script to prepare data for analytics. Many basic functions can now be used in a business user-friendly and visual environment, leaving only more complicated functions to be implemented via the script editor. Visual Data Preparation creates a script that can be enhanced by experts and existing preparation scripts can be used in the visual environment. The script editor is available for more complex transformation tasks, which usually need to be carried out by IT or trained power users.
The product adds most value when it comes to cluttered and diverse data, because Qlik Sense offers comprehensive suggestions for join candidates reducing the manual effort required to analyze relevant fields and increasing quality by circumventing typical pitfalls when joining data sets. Data is stored in a set of tables, which is compressed and loaded into memory. For data that should reside at the source, Qlik Sense offers a hybrid approach using a capability called Direct Discovery. Direct Discovery allows some data elements to not be loaded into the Qlik Sense data model, but still be available for query purposes. The data, an associative data model and visualizations are stored in QVF files in Qlik Sense. In addition, the product supports QVD and QVW files, the same formats as used by QlikView. To leverage QlikView data models, these files can be reused in Qlik Sense. In the case of QlikView application files (QVWs), only the data and data models are reusable, not the visualizations created in QlikView.
Compared to QlikView, Qlik Sense has the ability to create centralized libraries of reusable definitions, analytics and visualizations. However, these libraries are currently part of a QVF file and therefore only available in one Qlik Sense application, or they have to be reused in other applications – similar to QVW files from QlikView.
Recent improvements include “on demand app generation”, which enables users to access and perform associative analysis on big data sources. Qlik has also started to give customers more freedom when choosing deployment options. Cloud and on-premises applications can be mixed based on the distinct requirements in each use case. Qlik also aims to advance the use of machine learning and AI for user guidance to further support the user during all stages of analytics.
Qlik Sense offers a web client for enterprise use and a functionally equivalent desktop client for personal use. Both clients offer data preparation, creation of visualizations and applications, data discovery, analysis, collaboration and data storytelling. While data preparation in complicated cases requires scripting, Qlik Sense increasingly offers visual self-service data preparation with some data profiling features for business users to load data sets.
Analytical applications can be created by business users via a modern drag-and-drop interface. The main data display objects are interactive visualizations, including charts, graphs, maps and tables (including pivot tables). Qlik Sense offers a comprehensive selection of chart types. Graphical objects and data elements are dropped on the canvas and visualized as soon as data fields are assigned. In the June 2017 release, new visualizations like box plot, distribution plot and histogram were added to an already impressive list of graph types.
The solution automatically links all objects and sheets in context together, so that dashboards can provide a highly aggregated view of the data with the ability to jump to detailed analysis in the same application. These sheets share a common filter panel in Qlik Sense. External content can also be included in dashboards via widgets. The Bookmark function stores a data context and can contain user comments, thus adding to the collaboration and storytelling power of Qlik Sense.
The associative functionality provided by the QIX engine offers interactive exploration for users consuming applications (guided) and analyzing data sets (unguided). Users can make selections in any chart or object, and all charts in the app will update immediately to reflect the new context. Qlik Sense highlights the user’s selections and shows associated data in white as well as excluded (unrelated) data in gray. It also provides a strong smart search feature, which exposes data values, associations and thumbnails of objects that meet the criteria. In general, the whole tool is well optimized for an interactive user experience.
Besides its capabilities for creating visual analyses or applications, Qlik Sense provides dedicated features for data storytelling. Data stories resemble PowerPoint slides and can either be consumed independently or presented to information consumers during a presentation. They are created using multiple visualization objects or whole application pages. Visualizations and tables are pinned to a story with the option to preserve not only the applied filters, but also the complete state of the objects even if the underlying data changes. When compiling data stories, objects can be enhanced by highlighting relevant values and adding comments. Qlik Sense offers an integrated approach to data storytelling, meaning you can jump directly back into the live analytics application for further analysis. In addition, the developer can add comments, text or other graphical objects (e.g. a logo) to the slides. Stories can be exported to PowerPoint or PDF if needed.
Report creation and printing in Qlik Sense can be done centrally or by users on an ‘as needed’ basis using WYSIWYG principles. The solution is strongly oriented towards interactive data analysis and visualization. For users, objects sheets and stories can be exported to PDF and PowerPoint, and data can be exported to Excel. For centralized standard reporting and report books, Qlik NPrinting allows organizations to create and distribute Microsoft Office, pixel-perfect and web reports based on data and analytics from Qlik Sense. Reports can be distributed through email or to the Qlik Sense hub, with data specific to each recipient.
User & Use Cases
Qlik Sense was introduced in 2014 and attracted an impressive total of 61 responses in this year’s BI Survey. Even more surprisingly, survey responses indicate that a median of 150 users (and a mean of over 2000 users) use the solution within customer organizations.
These numbers are very high for such a young product and point to quick adoption of the software. Qlik has invested a lot of time in Qlik Sense’s support for QlikView data stores and in providing a single QIX engine and data storage for both solutions. This has undoubtedly greased the wheels of Qlik Sense’s rapid rise to prominence.
The product is mostly used for dashboard creation, basic data analysis and standard/enterprise reporting. The latter use case has risen from 58 percent last year to 64 percent this year. Recent versions of NPrinting, Qlik’s reporting solution, now support Qlik Sense as well as QlikView. This development is likely to drive the percentage of users using Qlik Sense for enterprise reporting even higher in the future.
Only 59 percent of respondents use Qlik Sense for ad hoc query, the original focus of the solution. Customers now seem to be using the software for a broader set of use cases.
Current vs. planned use
N = 61
5 products most often evaluated in competition with Qlik Sense
N = 59
Percentage of employees using Qlik Sense
N = 59
Number of users using Qlik Sense
N = 59
Tasks carried out with Qlik Sense by business users
N = 58
Company size (number of employees)
N = 60
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