December 26, 2012

Using Dynamic Updates in QlikView 11

Dynamic Updates is another one feature that makes difference between QlikView and other popular BI tools even bigger (see also "Really, is QlikView a BI tool?"). If you haven't heard about it -- it allows adding new or modifying existing data right in the in-memory data model of a QlikView application without re-running loading script. While this feature can be used (to some extent) for real-time updates, in my opinion the main benefit from it lies in a different area -- it enables creating closed-loop workflow with operational applications. It means that not only can you take data from operational applications (e.g. Salesforce or SAP), but return some user-generated output from QlikView into these applications as part of a single workflow. For example, in one of my applications a user can get a list of pending orders from logistic system, create batches from these orders based on some filters and selections in QlikView and then return these batches for delivery into the logistic application.

Dynamic Updates can be performed in two ways -- using VB macros (starting from version 10) and using Actions (starting from version 11). Using actions is a more preferable way (as VB macros are losing more and more favor with QlikTech). Unfortunately, documentation about Dynamic Update Actions is very scarce and there are lots of limitations and side effects, so I tried to collect here some practical hints and tips how it can be used:

Actions utilize SQL-like syntax (however very very limited). E.g.:

INSERT INTO * ('Batch ID', 'Order ID') VALUES (1, 'ABC123');

UPDATE Batches SET WrongBatch = 1 WHERE "Order ID" = null();


These commands look like SQL but here similarities end. Some of limitations:
  • You can use equal sign (=) in WHERE clause. You cannot use greater (>) or less (<) signs or not equal (<>)
  • You can combine conditions using AND or OR in WHERE clause. You cannot use NOT
  • Check for nulls is done differently than in ANSI SQL (see example above)
  • Notice different syntax for field names with spaces
I had problems with inserting dynamically several values by one command despite it's possible with hardcoded command. So I ended up dynamically generating several commands separated by semicolon using dollar-sign extensions. E.g.:

$(=concat(DISTINCT 'INSERT INTO * (OrderID) VALUES ($(vNewBatch),'&[Order ID]&')', ';'))

On QlikCommunity there is excellent demo application made by Matthias Dix that shows basic Dynamic Update commands and their equivalent using VB macros (full thread here).

You should also keep in mind that there are some significant side effects from using Dynamic Updates which often lead to unpredictable behavior. This article explains very well these side effects and how to deal with some of them. I struggled with failed variable assignments (Set Variable action) in the same action batch with Dynamic Update, unexpected freezes, and that any Dynamic Update command for some reason triggers all OnSelect actions. Finally I came to this workaround:

  • Put all variable assignments (Set Variable action) before Dynamic Update command otherwise new values of these variable won't be visible in expressions.
  • Use some dummy command right after Dynamic Update to fight freezes, e.g. Set Variable for dummy (i.e. not used) variable, or even better ...
  • ... use Selection -> Back action right after Dynamic Update command to compensate triggering all OnSelect events (won't have effect on VB Macros tied to OnSelect).


Keep in mind that for server-hosted applications all changes made by Dynamic Update apply immediately for all users that are working with the applications. It means that you need to make sure that actions of different users working simultaneously won't interfere. It can be achieved, for instance, by adding user name for each record created by Dynamic Update and then using set analysis expressions to limit records to only those which are required for the user. But in any case, extra care should be taken to manage correctly all possible concurrency cases.

December 15, 2012

QViewer rebranded, got paid version

A few significant changes happened to QViewer -- viewer for QVD files which I wrote a few months ago and still continue developing.

First of all, QViewer has been re-branded as EasyQlik QViewer and got its own web-site (which however doesn't differ much from the old one).

Second major change is that QViewer has now two versions -- free and full. Free version is limited to 10'000 rows which is still quite enough to do some data profiling. Full version is paid (license key can be purchased for $45) and unlimited. License is personal (i.e. limited to a person, not organization) and has no limitation by number of installations -- you can use QViewer on as much computers as you need. In 8 months the demo version was download almost 1'000 times so it gives me the hope that someone found it as much as useful as I do :) However, further development of QViewer in terms of features, usability and functionality will directly depend on number of licenses purchased as this will show if QViewer is really useful tool or not.

Third change is that finally I got rid of troublesome ClickOnce installer which caused lots of problems with installation and even more with uninstallation. Now QViewer comes with standard neat NSIS-based installer and actually is a portable application. It means that you don't necessarily need to run installer if you want to move QViewer to a different machine. Once it has been installed, you can simply copy qviewer.exe to other machine or add it to your portable apps collection on USB-stick. However, running installer has advantage of automated association with .qvd file extension, which can be problematic otherwise. And as previously, QViewer requires installed .NET v4.0 or above -- keep this in mind when using QViewer in portable mode.

Future development plans include adding sort functionality for listboxes and metadata tables, and design of custom data grid. The latter should significantly decrease load times as the current implementation uses standard DataGridView which is so slow that only initializing it actually takes major part of total load time.

And of course, if you have feature suggestions -- don't hesitate to give me a shout by email or in comments here.

How to look inside resident tables at any point of loading script

What do you usually do when you need to look inside a resident table somewhere in the middle of loading script? I guess you store it as QVD, then load this QVD in a separate temporary QlikView application, then create table box or something else to browse the table.

Here is small trick how you can make your life easier using QViewer:

Insert in the beginning of the loading script this short snippet:

LET vPathToQviewer = 'C:\User\Dmitry\AppData\Local\EasyQlik\QViewer\';
STORE $(T) into [$(vPathToQviewer)temp_qvd.qvd] (qvd);
EXECUTE "$(vPathToQviewer)qviewer.exe" "$(vPathToQviewer)temp_qvd.qvd";

And then simply insert calls to this function in any place of the loading script where you need to inspect table in its current state. For instance:

CALL Inspect('Orders');

When execution of the loading script will come to this line it will open QViewer showing the table. Script will continue running as soon as you close QViewer.

This is convenient technique that allows inspecting resident tables after every transformation like joins, concatenate loads, etc. You can have as many inspection points as you need during a single run.

A few more tips:

You may receive Security Alert from QlikView because of EXECUTE statement as depicted below. Just press Override Security button. Or you can change security settings in the bottom of the Script Editor window.

You can put this snipped into some file (e.g. debug.qvs) and then include this file when you need to do debugging of some application. Also you might want to save inspected tables under their own names in some temporary folder -- just modify the snippet accordingly or add a new similar function, e.g. InspectSave.

Any more ideas?


+Donald Hutchins made a good point -- he offered to store temporary QVD file not in QViewer's folder but in the working folder of the appliction which loading script is being executed. I think it makes a lot of sense because of less problems with access rights and better fit for parallel use. Here is his variant with my minor changes:

    STORE $(T) into [$(QvWorkPath)\~$(T).qvd] (qvd);
    EXECUTE "C:\.......\QViewer.exe" "$(QvWorkPath)\~$(T).qvd";
    EXECUTE cmd /c del "$(QvWorkPath)\~$(T).qvd";


+Matthew Fryer proposes one more variant of the Inspect sub in his blog QlikView Addict.


You can use EasyMorph for exactly the same purpose -- inspecting resident tables. Pros: with EasyMorph you can do more than just viewing a QVD -- you can filter, aggregate, calculate new columns, join other tables, etc. Also the free EasyMorph doesn't have the limit of 100K rows as the free QViewer does. Cons: EasyMorph opens QVD slower than QViewer as it needs to convert them to its internal format. Also it's less memory efficient when it comes to large QVDs.

The only difference in script would be additional /load key:

    STORE $(T) into [$(QvWorkPath)\~$(T).qvd] (qvd);
    EXECUTE "C:\.......\morph.exe" /load "$(QvWorkPath)\~$(T).qvd";
    EXECUTE cmd /c del "$(QvWorkPath)\~$(T).qvd";

November 12, 2012

Impressions from Tableau in comparison with QlikView

I had the chance to get to Tableau Customer Conference in early November 2012 and thanks to exceptionally good organization of the event I was able to greatly enhance my picture of Tableau (which I first reviewed 2 years ago) and get answers to some questions.

Below are my impressions from Tableau (which I haven't used in real projects yet) in comparison with QlikView -- tool I've been working with since 2009.

First thing I'd like to tell -- starting from version 8 Tableau can honestly be considered a truly mature product -- a big difference with what I saw two years ago. It's a smartly designed, feature-full and powerful analytic tool which is especially good for ad hoc query and analysis (Q&A). Prior to Tableau I considered BusinessObjects WebIntelligence to be the best Q&A tool on the market. However, in my picture of BI world this honorable title now belongs to Tableau.

Here is what I liked (not in order of importance):

State-of-art data visualization makes Tableau outstanding in the crowd of BI suites. Tableau people talk about "being creative with data" and it's easy to believe in this while looking at clean and elegant Tableau dashboards. By the way, in French tableau has two meanings -- painting and table. Artwork and data. Excellent match of brand and product concept.

Drag-n-drop authoring as cornerstone of analysis and design processes. That's what WebIntelligence was good at, but Tableau makes it even better, simpler and easier. Sadly QlikView has almost nothing to offer here -- fields still have to be picked from a cluttered properties dialogs and dashboards have rather static layout.

In Tableau there are (at least) two special types of dimensions: time and location. I like the idea of special dimensions in general because indeed some dimensions should be treated differently for more efficient analysis and Tableau demonstrates this very well. For instance location dimensions can easily be used for maps and spatial analysis. Time dimensions should be treated differently as well because almost in all cases information is relevant only in specific time context.

Maps is one of the strongest features in Tableau. Usually maps is a real pain for BI developers because support for maps usually is rather poor in BI platforms. Some of them provide mapping functionality via integration with 3rd party GIS platforms like ESRI or MapInfo. But level of integration is never good enough, not to forget additional licensing costs. Some (e.g. QlikView) imitate mapping by offering maps simply as a colorful background for scatter charts, without important capability of highlighting regions or providing additional visual layers. Tableau has done a good work here and offers excellent mapping functionality which includes regularly updated maps and complimentary information (e.g. population or income) licensed from 3rd parties (without any additional costs for customers).

Groups and Sets. Ability to dynamically group dimensions is not something unseen before in BI suites (e.g. in Cognos). However, creating naming sets on the fly, applying set algebra operations (introduced in Tableau 8) to them like addition, intersection, subtraction and calculating aggregates against sets is a very useful and practical feature, for some reason underestimated and neglected by major BI vendors. I can recall only BusinessObjects Set Analysis which was quite clumsy last time when I saw it a few years ago.

QlikView has not much to offer here. While it is possible to save different selections into bookmarks it's not possible to apply set algebra to them. Comparison of aggregates of two ad hoc sets is possible but requires knowing rather complex set analysis expression syntax which is a non-trivial task for even advanced business users. How many of them are capable to quickly write something like this?

sum({Set1<Year=$::Year, Month=$::Month>} [Amount]) - sum({Set2<Year=$::Year, Month=$::Month>} [Amount])

Despite developers of a QlikView application can implement comparison of sets in a dashboard, it's not available out of the box. Dynamic grouping (of dimensions) is not possible in QlikView at all -- grouping requires creating additional data structures and reloading the application.

Now let's talk about some disadvantages of Tableau.

Performance. Working with QlikView it's easy to forget what performance optimization is. Surely, there are some tricks how to improve performance for very large datasets (hundreds of millions of records) but this question rarely appears in daily agenda of a QlikView developer. Having subsecond response time on 20 millions of records even on a laptop is not something unusual. However, I suspect that question of performance optimization will rise much more often for Tableau applications which heavily rely on relational databases. And that's not so trivial task as it may seem.

SQL query optimization is not a trivial task itself and may include special indexing strategy, joins optimization strategy and use of various hints and tricks -- task that requires experienced database professionals and is simply impossible for a business user (who has a lot of other things to do besides query optimization).

However that wouldn't be so dramatic if that was the only thing to do. Tableau enhances source data with its own data (e.g. calculated fields, dynamic groups, sets, latitude and longitude for locations) and also makes in-memory cross-source joins. Therefore query optimization requires good understanding of how Tableau performs these operations under the hood, how it interacts with database and what are implications of different settings. This makes task of performance optimization even less trivial.

I've got impression that performance is not something that Tableau is ready to boast about. Calculation in-memory engine is much weaker and far not so sophisticated as QlikView's one. Not significant but interesting detail -- two demo databases in standard Tableau desktop installation have only 4'248 and 8'399 records respectively.

One more reason for concern is that both Tableau Desktop and Tableau Server exist only in 32-bit version. We were told that 64-bit version is being actively developed however as of now the only version available for customers is 32-bit.

Having in mind these concerns about performance I'm not sure that ability to directly work with very large datasets really becomes an advantage on practice. Yes, theoretically it's better to be able to query 10TB of data than not to be. But would it have any practical use if this could require a few hours of waiting time?

Advanced authoring. Contrary to QlikView, Tableau makes bet not on syntax and scripting but on various settings and actions performed via user interface. While it is good for fast start and early learning curve, as complexity of dashboards increases it eventually leads to necessity of knowing various hacks, tricks and workarounds. For instance making objects (charts, tables, text labels) appear or disappear depending on some parameter (variable) is a straight forward task in QlikView but is actually a hack in Tableau. And that's not good, because in case of QlikView there is albeit complex but logical and well documented syntax but in case of Tableau you will need to learn these hacks and tricks from someone else. Because sometimes it's near to impossible to understand logic behind them without help of more experienced developer. So finally experience of a user becomes largely defined by amount of various collected hints and trick.

Use of screen estate. It's hard to compete with QlikView in efficiency of screen estate use. QlikView offers various gadgets, in-line minicharts, easy management of object visibility which allows making dashboards very information rich. While it's a usual thing for a QlikView dashboard to have 10 listboxes, having 10 quick filters (analogue of listbox) on Tableau dashboard will most probably make it completely cluttered and barely usable. Also such thing as in-line minicharts simply doesn't exist in Tableau.

Need for an ETL. As any other BI tool that heavily relies on database engine Tableau needs cleansed and transformed data. In general this also is true for QlikView. However since loading script in QlikView is capable to perform light ETL and data cleansing therefore in many cases this is sufficient enough.

Lack of collaboration activities --  while I'm not quite excited about the way data annotation is done in QlikView (here is my point of view on data annotation) however it's present at least in this form and instant application sharing is simply awesome feature  Tableau definitely needs something that would allow users discuss and share their findings.


Tableau is an excellent Q&A tool which is very well designed and suited for non-technical users. It is powerful, easy to use, highly visual and aesthetically pleasant. Good evidence that Tableau is a good fit for business users was audience of TCC2012 -- there were a lot of women and at the same time there were not many Indian developers which is not a typical case for a BI event.

However, promise of Tableau's execs and sales that "IT is not required with Tableau" is much less true than it might seem because involvement of IT personnel could be higher than expected as more complex dashboards become required.

QlikView applications usually require IT developers to create them, however the developers get much more flexible and powerful toolkit that allows them to create very information rich dashboards with fixed layout.

As vendor, Tableau is clearly on rise and the company seems healthy. Their product is developing rapidly, which unfortunately is not the case with QlikView -- I'm getting impression that QlikTech chronically under-invest in R&D and put too much on sales and marketing. There are lots of things in QlikView which wait to be modernized and improved very long time. However, its main killer feature -- ultra-fast in-memory engine -- is still unbeatable.

UPDATE (7/31/2015)
Since the time when this post was published Tableau has got a 64-bit version and greatly improved performance. Also, the data manipulation part now is less critical for Tableau with the help of  EasyMorph ( -- an easy-to-use visual data transformation tool for non-technical users created by the author of this blog.

Qlik in turn released QlikSense 2.0 which now is the company's flagship product. It has drag-n-drop dashbord authoring, redesigned security system and even faster in-memory engine. But the most interesting part of it is its highly customizable layout plug-in architecture that makes possible to insert literally any visualization into a dashboard.

November 9, 2012

Notes from Tableau Customer Conference 2012

I've been quite surprised with Tableau Customer Conference 2012. Briefly speaking -- that was the best vendor BI event I've ever been to (and I've been to quite a few). It's not because it was very well organized and there were several very interesting invited key speakers -- that's not what we're expecting from a BI conference. But because it was very practical and very specific. These guys had hundreds (literally!) of laptops in classes and tens of hands-on experience sessions dedicated to various subjects, like "What's new in version 8", "Geomapping", "Embedding", "Advanced calculations", "Performance tuning", "Administration" etc. which seemed to be more like short training courses rather than yet another boring presentations. Besides that there were at least 20 or something case studies and presentation from real customers from various industries. And to make it even more practical they brought there 700 Tableau employees ready to answer questions from customers and partners. Even if right person wasn't nearby -- it was relatively easy to find him/her with the help of organizers, despite any ranks and titles. I had no need to have meeting with CEO of the company, but I'm sure it could have been arranged if requested.

Well done, Tableau team!

PS. I'm preparing Tableau vs QlikView review and will be publishing it soon.

July 23, 2012

Why I think real-time analytics is a nonsense

Honestly, I don't understand what real-time analytics is. Vast majority of articles about it say that real-time analytics is basically the same as usual BI with its reports and dashboards, simply updated in real-time and that's why it's so cool. Is it?

I do understand what real-time data visualization is. I just don't see anything related to analysis or business intelligence here. Operational dashboards reflecting actual values every second or so surely are a useful tool. For operational people that act by prescribed algorithm -- sort of "on red light stop, on green light go". But how can analysis be real-time?

I used to think that analysis is an expert interpretation of data which ties numbers with influencing factors and reveals root-cause dependencies. Goal of analysis is to improve knowledge and understanding of business processes and create competitive advantage. Therefore analysis is a thoughtful process performed by human and it can barely fit into fixed time frame of several seconds (or even minutes). I believe that analysis is ad hoc by nature and presumes some data exploration, proofs for hypotheses and answers for questions. But in real-time data visualization there is no place for ad hoc analysis. Logic of the real-time is different -- either stop or go. Delay in action may cause damage, so no time for thinking -- act by prescribed instructions.

I remember the course of real-time operational systems in my university. Real-time application must produce a result in defined time frame. Result delivered one second later equals to failure and malfunction. That's the main rule of real-time systems. How can human analysis fit here?

So I think it's a nonsense.

Let's say real-time data visualization instead -- that's more correct. And let's not confuse it with Business Intelligence. This is a different story.

PS. For those who think name doesn't matter -- I'm sure you don't want to get apples when asked for oranges. Names exist for a reason.

June 22, 2012

Is Big Data a big hype or not?

Don't tell me you haven't heard anything about Big Data. You definitely did -- it's a so trendy term today. Are we facing one more hype or not? I always thought that data is worth something only when someone knows how to extract value from it. So if you know how to do it then the more data you have -- the more value you get. And vice verse -- if you don't know how to extract value from small amounts of data, having 10 times more data won't help much. No magic here.

I personally know only 2 widely popular disciplines about extracting knowledge from data -- Data Mining (for nerds) and Business Intelligence (for more or less normal people). Let's check if their popularity correlates with popularity of Big Data. Google Trends will help us (headings are clickable):

Here everything is obvious -- popularity skyrockets. In start-ups' world people call this "hockey stick growth". Well, actually we didn't have to look into Google Trends to find it out -- internet is full of talks about Big Data nowadays.

What about Data Mining?

Hmmm... not that hilarious. Obviously it doesn't correlate with Big Data. Okay, these are nerds, they perhaps don't talk much to each other and to other people. What about Business Intelligence?

Like it or not, but popularity of Business Intelligence according to the most popular search engine steadily goes down. Does it correlate with Big Data? No.

So, is Big Data just one more hype invented by sales people or not? Am I missing something?

June 20, 2012

QViewer: What's next

Two weeks ago I made initial version of QViewer (my standalone QVD file viewer) available for public download. Since that time it was downloaded more than 300 times. As I myself am a practicing QlikView developer I tried to build a tool which I would use in my daily work. Therefore, a few more features were added. E.g.
  • Partial load (for dealing with large files)
  • Search
  • Pre-calculated statistical data (various counts for each field and each unique value)
  • Query tool for calculating simple aggregates (counts, sum, avg)
They make QViewer not simply a file viewer, but actually a data profiling tool which should help find data anomalies (unexpected nulls, text instead of numbers, duplicate rows, etc.) faster. I tried to automate some frequent analysis operations which usually require some time & effort when using regular QlikView. For instance, besides viewing QVD row-level data, with QViewer you can do a little bit faster the following:
  • Search a field for nulls
  • Filter values by type (text/number)
  • Count unique values
  • Count occurrences of each unique value
  • See immediately type of value (numeric/text/null)
These operations are pretty basic and make no problem for regular QlikView developer, but they take time because of their frequency. If QViewer can save you 15 minutes a day, it saves you 65 hours of working time a year (or more than 8 full working days). Multiply this number by your hourly rate and see the benefit in cash equivalence :)

Digging QVD format was an interesting exercise -- since it's a native QlikView format it gives some understanding how QlikView works under the hood, from what it started and how it has evolved into what we know today. I now understand better technical challenges with which QlikTech's developers faced and I have to admit that they've done excellent job resolving them. Exceptional QlikView's performance, which we know, is result of smart optimization and hard work. Also it looks like there was a portion of luck as some QlikView's key features were not designed as those from the beginning, but were result of evolution.

What's next for QViewer? As of today, I've implemented all essential features which I planned to make it useful for daily work. It will be remaining free until end of this year. Before end of this year a paid version to be introduced along with free limited version.

There still are some things to do, mainly because QViewer still doesn't perform as I want it to on large files due to limitations of standard .NET control (specifically DataGridView). I'm thinking about writing own custom control to replace it but this task may be very time-consuming. It would also be interesting to implement partial load with WHERE condition, as well as make Query a bit more advanced and, for instance, make it support conditions like where field is null.

I would appreciate to hear your ideas -- how to make QViewer better for your daily work. Please, leave your comments here. Thanks.

June 12, 2012

QlikTech acquired ETL-vendor Expressor: first impressions

Today QlikTech announced that they acquire Expressor -- an ETL-tool producer which introduced extension for connecting to QlikView files a few months ago. What does it mean and how does it work?

First, I'd like to congratulate QlikTech with extremely smart move -- acquiring a decent ETL tool was a long-anticipated step and finally it happened. Expressor itself is nothing extraordinary -- there're probably a dozen of similar tools on the market, but the point is not in Expressor itself -- QlikView long time was missing more visual, reusable and semantic way of performing ETL. Script-based ETL was one of major complaints of new users.

This acquisition also positions QlikView one level higher and closer to large enterprise market, however not very significantly -- big companies already possess enterprise ETL platforms like Informatica, Ab Initio, IBM Information Server (aka DataStage) so they would better prefer to have integration of QlikView with these tools rather than having one more. But at least they feel more comfortable dealing with "normal" visual ETL than writing loading scripts in proprietary language.

Now, let's talk about Expressor and how it works with QlikView.

Expressor is rather typical ETL tool with classic approach -- graph-like representation of ETL procedures where nodes are operators and links are data flows, drag-n-drop field mappings, etc. However, I liked 2 things about Expressor:

  • It looks like it compiles ETL jobs into binary code, which is very good from performance standpoint (this is similar to major ETL platforms mentioned above)
  • It's scripting language (Datascript) is an extension from Lua -- very popular and well-documented open-source scripting language, which is better than proprietary languages
Currently QlikView files are not "native" data sources for Expressor -- instead there is an "QlikView Extension" which adds Read QlikView and Write QlikView operators.However, we can expect that this will change soon.

The extension allows the following:
  • Extract field metadata (names, types) from QVW, QVD and QVX files, which can be used for mappings
  • Read data from QVX files
  • Write data into QVX files

As you see, neither QVW nor QVD are not currently supported as data source. They can only be used for extracting metadata. When I tried to load a QVD in Expressor it failed with error message "Qvd header was found instead of Qvx header". That leaves an open question --  will QlikTech add support for QVD files which are so popular among QlikView developers because of fast loading or they will stick to QVX only which have reputation of slow one?

Also current level of error-logging is not developer-friendly now. If something fails one should examine poorly readable extension logs. Hope this will change as QlikView migrate into Expressor's standard data sources list.

And the final remark -- Expressor Studio will be renamed to QlikView Expressor Desktop and will be available for free, including support for QlikView data sources. Free QlikView Personal Edition + free Expressor Desktop -- not bad combination for departments and small businesses, right?

June 4, 2012

Explainum QViewer - viewer for QVD files

I've developed a viewer for QlikView's QVD files -- Explainum QViewer. Associate it with .qvd file extension and view QVD files in one click.

It can be downloaded here for free.

Screenshot (click to enlarge)

The tool has been rebranded as EasyQlik QViewer.

May 25, 2012

Feature suggestions for QlikView (posted on QlikCommunity)

I've posted 3 feature suggestions for QlikView. Please upvote and/or reshare those you liked. Most upvoted features may be implemented in next releases.

Loading script console - execution of loading script commands without full/partial reload

Save and close expression dialog by Ctrl+Enter (or any other hot key) - apply changes and close expression edit dialog by a keybord shortcut

Custom events for UI and global event dispatcher - follow up for my previous blog post "Really, is QlikView a BI tool?"

May 20, 2012

True Business Intelligence

Three years ago, in 2009, I designed a software concept which I called "True Business Intelligence" (I know, it sounds pretentiously :) ). At that time I was working for IBM, so I sent it to IBM Cognos R&D and even got some interest, which however quickly lost momentum.

Later, when I became a free-lance BI developer, I shared this concept with QlikTech R&D but got no answer at all, so I decided to forget about it.

3 years later, nowadays, it looks like the concept is still viable. Here it is:

Make it full screen for better viewing.

Can someone give me $5mln to make it live? :)

PS. Big Corporate Performance Management vendors like Cognos, BusinessObjects or SAS are closer to such kind of knowledge management than pure dataviz companies like QlikTech or Tableau (yet, QlikTech recently introduced annotations in QV11). May be it's a matter of maturity.

PPS. The concept inspired me to create Explainum -- a web service of commentable and embeddable web-charts. However, idea of annotations inside charts hasn't sparked much interest in general public and now Explainum is mainly used for embedding Google Analytics stats (like that one in the footer of this blog).

May 13, 2012

How to write reusable and expandable expressions in QlikView

One of the good practices in QlikView development is using reusable expressions. The most common case is when a repeating expression is replaced with dollar-sign expansion through the application. E.g.


where eAmount is defined like, for instance

LET eAmount = 'sum(Amount)';

If you don't use reusable expressions in QlikView you definitely should start doing it because of 2 reasons:
  1. Improved maintainability -- you don't have to edit all occurrences of an expression in an application, but only once
  2. Better readability -- you have much better readability of your expressions because their (sometimes complex) logic is actually replaced with its brief explanation.

While this a generally good practice there are a couple of tricks to get even more value from it.

May 4, 2012

Really, is QlikView a BI tool?

The more I work with QlikView the more I question myself -- really, is QlikView a BI tool? We all know that QlikTech markets QlikView as a BI tool, or, more precisely, the BI tool :). We know that Gartner, Forrester and many other analysts consider it as business intelligence application/platform and it looks like nobody questioned this fact (or did somebody?). But what if we look at it from a different angle.

Difference between QlikView and other BI tools is so vast that it makes any head-to-head comparison barely reasonable. In terms of classic BI, QlikView is rather limited -- no decent ad hoc Q&A, static reporting leaves a lot to be desired and drill-down is nothing but a joke here. BI with poor drill-down? You must be kidding me.

Let's look from the other side -- traditional BI suites usually offer rigid and often counter-intuitive UI which requires week of training just to get started. They inherit all curses of SQL, can't boast with more or less powerful expression syntax, comparable with Excel (which is crucial for anything that calls itself "analytic"), and actually are nothing more than just a visual front-end for databases. Okay, with some trendy smart caching added recently.

Not that the difference wasn't obvious earlier -- the same year when Gartner praised QlikView, they  coined term "Data discovery" as the market niche for QlikView and some other tools. While it's not the best term in general (didn't traditional BI tools do a data discovery, at the end of the day?), due to intention to fit QlikView into existing BI landscape, I suppose one important point has been missed -- QlikView's superior user interface customization capabilities, which actually make it a "Lego for analytical applications". Let's elaborate on this a bit more.

Every application designer (we're not talking about BI, but about software applications in general) knows that user interface is event-driven and the events are of 2 types: user-generated and application-generated. This is a known fact which eventually led to appearance of Model-View-Controller (MVC) application development pattern, where Views reflect Models and Controllers process events that make changes to Models and then Views. Lots of application are built using this pattern, especially web-applications (we're all going there, right?).

Traditional BI platforms don't fit into MVC concept. They offer developers models and views, but they don't offer controllers -- that's why they are just a fancy overpriced DB viewers. QlikView does. Poorly, but does. And that's the core difference between them -- with QlikView you build event-driven applications.

Poorly, because it looks like QlikTech people don't realize this consciously (otherwise they would make UI events as accessible objects and overall UI event management much more centralized, e.g. introduce global event dispatchers). But what they do fits MVC approach quite well, even if they never thought about it this way. Object extensions and recently introduced document extensions reinforce need for MVC-based design even more, because extensions actually are controllers (sometimes with own views).

Therefore, in my opinion, QlikView belongs to a separate class of analytical applications. I have no idea how to call them correctly (definitely not "AA Lego") but that's for sure not "Business Intelligence" as we know it. May be QlikView is only one representative of this class, may be not, I don't know. But that doesn't matter -- I'm sure that sooner or later there will be other players, and maybe someone will do it better than QlikView (it might be not that hard).

Do you know any other analytical application development tool/platform/suite that fits this class? I would appreciate to hear your comments on that.

Read also Busting 5 myths about QlikView.

UPDATE (2012-May-6):

As this blog caused a lot of confusion for my fellow colleagues and criticism, I suppose I need to bring some clarity into it:

  1. I've updated pictures -- now they visually show difference between traditional BI architecture and QlikView's one. This difference is the ground for the claim that QlikView is a different animal.
  2. QlikView does utilize MVC-pattern. For instance, there are triggers that can cause various actions, including calls of Visual Basic macros. However, I would love to see, for instance, centralized event dispatching and custom events, unified across QV's native and non-native UI objects.
  3. My belief is that more conscious following to MVC-pattern would eventually lead to analytical applications that look more like industry-specific and tailor-made, than customized out-of-the-box, which would give more value to customers. Kudos to Roman for mentioning SAS, which is famous for its industry-specific analytical applications. By the way: 1) SAS usually isn't considered as BI, 2) SAS collects more money than any BI vendor which may be an evidence of higher added value provided.
  4. I like QlikView :) In my opinion BI industry is stagnating, so being "not BI" is actually a compliment here.
My apologies, if something in this blog sounded offensive.


I've posted on QlikCommunity an Idea "Custom events for UI and global event dispatcher". Feel free to upvote it if you like it.

February 13, 2012

How to draw circles and ellipses in QlikView

That's simple -- create new text object and set up its layout properties as below and voila!