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Qlik keeps focus on real-time, actionable analytics

In an interview, Qlik CEO Mike Capone discusses the vendor's focus on active intelligence, which means delivering actionable insights to users in real time within their workflows.

The Qlik analytics platform is designed to enable what the vendor terms active intelligence.

First introduced as a guiding philosophy during QlikWorld 2020, Qlik's virtual user conference last year, active intelligence means delivering data and analytics to users in real time wherever they may be at a given moment so they can make data-driven decisions.

That could mean push notifications, embedded business intelligence, or just having relevant data accessible with just a click of a mouse or swipe of a finger.

To that end, Qlik, founded in 1993 and based in King of Prussia, Pa., has made a series of acquisitions in recent years to add the augmented intelligence and machine learning capabilities that fuel active intelligence, including the purchase of Blendr.io in October 2020 to improve its ability to integrate with SaaS and cloud data storage platforms.

In addition, over the past year, Qlik added analytics capabilities including a new data catalog and just recently a new mobile app that optimizes the Qlik Sense analytics platform for mobile devices.

With QlikWorld 2021 starting on May 10, Qlik CEO Mike Capone took time to talk about the vendor's commitment to active intelligence and how both its recent product developments and product roadmap enable users to use analytics to make data-driven decisions in real time.

In addition, Capone spoke about what it's been like to lead a company in unprecedented times during the pandemic and the major trends he sees shaping both the current analytics market and the market in the years to come.

Before we dive deep into the Qlik analytics platform, what has navigating the pandemic over the past 15 or so months been like for you as the CEO of a company?

Mike Capone, Qlik CEOMike Capone

Mike Capone: It's definitely tested all of my CEO skills. There's no doubt that this has been a once-in-a-lifetime event where there's no blueprint. But for Qlik it's been a defining moment. There was that initial [panic] in March and April when it felt like the world was ending and everyone was thinking, 'Oh, my God, are we still going to have a business?' Companies stopped spending money and everyone pulled back, and we were trying to figure out what we were going to do. Our decision was to just bear down, same as everyone else, and work from home and protect our employees.

But then a funny thing happened. Companies started to realize technology would be an incredibly important part of muscling through the pandemic. It started to manifest itself with all the work-from-home technologies like Zoom and Slack and others, but very quickly -- and fortunately for Qlik -- companies realized they needed data and analytics more than ever to survive. Everything they thought they knew from the past just wasn't true anymore -- you couldn't use past patterns to predict the future.

Can you share an example of how the past no longer could guide the present and analytics was needed to figure out what to do next?

Capone: There's a large retailer we do business with whose big market is back-to-school wear for teenage girls. Suddenly, teenage girls weren't going back to school -- they were sitting in front of Zoom -- so they weren't selling what they would normally sell. All their historical data and all their models were built on what back-to-school used to look like. They came to us and said, 'Oh my gosh, you need to help us. We need new data sources, we need new predictive models to figure out what teenage girls are going to wear sitting in front of their computers.' It was more sweatshirts, less fancy clothes.

We saw that same problem across our base of 50,000 customers, which actually led to a lot of success for us and has led to a great finish to last year and a great start to this year. The market has come our way. It's not all about taking something and putting it in a graph. It's really about figuring out how to make sense out of disparate sets of data to figure out what the new normal looks like.

This year's QlikWorld will be your second virtual user conference since the start of the pandemic, so as you prepare to address the Qlik analytics community what will be your message?

Capone: One of the things we'll talk about is that their own organizations need their skills more than ever. They have never been more important to their organizations than they are right now in terms of what they're delivering for their company.

Then it really pivots to talking about the need for real-time, in-the-moment decision-making based on analytics -- streaming data out of your operational systems into your analytics landscape. That data could be from Qlik, it could be from Snowflake, AWS, Azure, etc. But then taking the data and using the power of our engine to actually analyze it, and then more importantly, once you get that answer, pushing that answer to the point of decision-making to every single person in your organization in real time. That's really the theme of this year's connections.

Last year it was around this time that Qlik introduced the concept of active intelligence -- what's your definition of active intelligence?

What we really try to do is figure out what the right answer should be and then action it.
Mike CaponeCEO, Qlik

Capone: Data ages badly, so looking backward is never a good practice whether you're driving a car or whether you're making a business decision. What we really try to do is figure out what the right answer should be and then action it. Most executives will tell me that their analytics are good. The analytics tell them what to do. But then getting the organization to move on it is a whole different story. Now, with things like automated alerting, we can deliver push notifications out to people through our technology. With our integrations to [robotic process automation] types of platforms, with our [application programming interface] integrations, with our recent acquisition of Blendr.io, we can now take the output from our analytics and action it right away. In some cases that's with a human being involved, but in many cases it's without. Once you get competent, some of that stuff can happen automatically.

My favorite example is Aramark, the food supply company. They stream real time their point-of-sale information into our Qlik analytics platform, and they can see what's going on at lunch. If people aren't buying salads, they know to lower the price because salad isn't going to be any good the next day so they might as well lower the price and sell it now. That's what we're bringing to the world -- active intelligence.

Over the past year, what capabilities has Qlik added to its analytics platform to enable active intelligence?

Capone: The first one is definitely alerting, the ability to actually get notifications with actionable links in them to whatever medium you want. That might be a text message, it might be Slack, it might be Teams. But that ability, using Aramark as an example again, to watch their time and labor system and automatically text a manager that they have a bunch of employees who are about to get overtime and it's time to send some people home. It could be as simple as that.

A second one is we acquired Blendr.io, which is a low-code, cloud-secure integration platform that enables us to integrate with other cloud platforms and push transactions into operational systems.

The last one ... is that we launched our mobile app on top of our cloud platform. It's a native mobile application and you can have applications that are fully compatible with your desktop to do business the way most people do business today, which is on their mobile device.

What can you share about Qlik's roadmap for the next year or so?

Capone: We have two key areas of innovation. One continues to be on the augmented intelligence/machine learning front. We have a great product in our cognitive engine, so we have capabilities that interpret data and make suggestions. Taking that a level deeper and putting that in line with user discovery is going to be really important. You'll see us have some announcements around that. And we're always looking at acquisition opportunities. There are some interesting companies we have our eye on, so you may see us be [active]. We have a very strong balance sheet right now, generating a lot of cash we can put to use.

The second area is around data integration. One of the major pain points is still the 'T' in ETL [extract, transform, load]. We have a data integration platform, but when there's need for complex transformation, the tools are still a little heavy. We have customers who are running hundreds of thousands of lines of ETL code, and our mission is to help them modernize. The people who wrote that code are probably long retired at this point, so you'll see us do a deeper push into the data preparation and data collecting areas.

Given the focus on active intelligence, what is the target user for the Qlik analytics platform?

Capone: It's an overused term, but democratization is important. What we want to do is free the chief information officers and chief data officers to focus on the enablement of the business, which is getting the data catalogued, curated, cleansed and ready for use, but we want them out of the insights generation business. We never want to see someone put in a ticket to IT to run a report for them or build a dashboard, so active intelligence is really targeted at the business end users, everyone from the casual financial analyst who want to set up some alerts to see if things are fluctuating in a way that might need attention to the heavy-duty data scientist who's looking to get a curated data set into analysis-ready format that they can then use to train some algorithms.

You want to be able to do all that without having to ask for help.

Looking more broadly, what are some major trends you're now seeing in analytics?

Capone: One thing I'm seeing, for sure, is rebellion against cloud lock-in. What we're seeing -- and this is self-serving because we're completely cloud agnostic; we work with all the big cloud players -- is CIOs are very worried about the independence of their data. What they want to be sure of is that they don't want to be locked into any one platform. Today it could be Google Cloud, tomorrow it could be Azure.

The second thing is the concept of 'my data is my data.' There's a been a rebellion against vendors who want to lock up customers' data or charge them to get their data back -- it's like, 'Hey, that's my data.' I find myself increasingly in those conversations, but in a friendly way because we tell customers to put their data wherever they want. That's playing really well for us right now.

If you look to the future, what do you think will be major trends in the next few years?

Capone: The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation. We got done in one year what probably would have taken five in normal times. When I look forward two or three years, I think executives will absolutely need to have a pedigree in data and analytics in order to be successful. I don't think you'll see CEOs who aren't digital savvy coming out of the ranks. You're already seeing it now with executives coming out of technology companies and going into consumer product companies or electronic companies, and that's because digital and technology is going to drive the trends. You're going to see data-driven enterprises, enterprises that use data for every decision inside their organization, whether it's to actually make the decision or inform the decision. And that feels pretty good to me.

Editor's note: This Q&A was edited for clarity and conciseness.

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