PROPERLY DEPLOYED business intelligence applications offer invaluable information that helps companies serve customers better and optimize critical business processes. Unfortunately, many BI solutions require an infrastructure based on data marts, and analytic and reporting tools, which can be appropriate for large organizations but which bears prohibitive cost and complexity for most midsize companies.
Raleigh, N.C.-based QlikTech, a software company that has been quietly strengthening its BI solutions and expanding its market presence for a few years, proposes a different approach with QlikView 5 and QlikWeb 5, two products that work in tandem to create and deliver custom data analysis for midtier companies as stand-alone PC applications or browser-contained Java applets.
Unlike competitors' offerings, QlikTech applications provide the ability to analyze data at the source, directly accessing databases, spreadsheets, XML documents, or flat files to create comprehensive views of business processes, displayed with a variety of charts and reports. In addition, both QlikWeb and QlikView deliver lightning-fast, memory-resident data analysis, which makes creating and using those charts and reports pleasant and efficient.
QlikView is essentially a powerful tool for analyzing data and creating synthetic views for managers or other business users. Using this Windows-based, stand-alone PC application, a business analyst can create QlikView documents, containers for charts, and reports that focus on a specific business process, such as sales, supply, or inventory management.
QlikView is not a networked application; hence it lacks the tools to efficiently deliver documents to other users. Enter QlikWeb, a Web server application that installs on Microsoft IIS (Internet Information Server) and provides users access to QlikView documents from Java applets.
QlikView can easily access data from just about any database via OLE DB and ODBC. In addition, you can use spreadsheets, XML files, or text documents, or access data using FTP via a LAN or the Internet.
Using a powerful query language (and a SQL clone), QlikView automatically finds relationships between different data structures. For example, it understands that customer ID on a spreadsheet and an Oracle database belong to the same data domain.
QlikView has a straightforward approach to data analysis: You create a document for a specific analysis task, select the proper data feed, and dress that document with a variety of charts and online reports. Think of that document as a probe, centered on an ASQL script, that facilitates collecting data and discovering its relationships.
For our first document, we used Northwind, a sample database with customer names, order invoices, and product info. Connecting to our database and selecting the tables for our documents was straightforward. Next we populated our document with simple list tables containing key pointers to our database, such as country, customer, products sold, discount, and invoices.
List tables are rudimentary, one-column charts. However, they provide a good feel of QlikView's analytic power. In addition, QlikView offers the ability to create a range of sophisticated charts that include statistical indicators for functions such as automatically finding maximum, average, and minimum discounts on sales records, and charts with quick drill down from summary data to transaction details.
Back to our first document, we now had several charts on our screen showing our database's content. We selected Canada from the country list, and immediately the other tables changed accordingly, highlighting only products, customers, and sales for that nation. Next we selected Camembert from the product list, and in a blink of an eye, the other tables (except for Country) changed to indicate Canadian customers purchasing Camembert. With two mouse clicks, we had quickly found an answer to our question.
This ability to quickly isolate pertinent data with just a few mouse clicks is probably the most interesting aspect of QlikView: Those charts made our database tables simple to navigate from an easy-to-use and responsive GUI.
We added more content to our documents, including pie charts, bar charts, and interesting multidimensional tables, powerful tools to render data hierarchies, such as the breakdown of sales by nation, customer, and calendar year.
Creating additional charts was fast and at times even enjoyable, with one caveat: Creating a range of documents to monitor a business process from scratch can be time-consuming. Appropriately, QlikTech offers predefined templates for major areas, such as sales performance, financial, and purchasing analysis, which you can use as is or customize to specific requirements.
With that in mind, we saved our QlikView document and moved to install QlikWeb, the server and user-delivery application. Only minutes later, we moved to a different computer and pointed our browser to the QlikWeb URL on our server, and a list of available QlikView documents opened on our screen.
Our just-saved Northwind document opened and worked without a flaw. Although the QlikWeb client runs in a Java applet, the UI is remarkably consistent with QlikView. The only difference is that from the Web client, we could view and manipulate charts, but not modify them.
In addition, the Web client offers comparably fast response time after the usual delay for loading a Java Applet in the browser. However, QlikTech suggests that, unless the server has adequate memory installed, data volumes in the millions of rows will likely cause slower response times.
We have only positive remarks at the end of our first experience with QlikView and QlikWeb (though we do have a suggestion: maybe an easier name for both?). The BI solution from QlikTech is easy to install and use, has powerful analysis tools, and will affect your budget less than competing alternatives. Make a resolution to evaluate QlikView and QlikWeb for next year; it's worth your time and money.
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