“Can I download the data to a spreadsheet?”

The single question that reveals the failure of traditional reporting & analytics over the last 30 years

At Qlik, we have a saying that an angel loses its wings every time data is exported to a spreadsheet. Don’t be responsible for an angel losing its wings.

No matter what system was being implemented, no matter how complete the Request For Proposal (RFP) was, no matter how good the intentions of the project management team were, this one question reveals the failure of traditional query based reporting & analytics.

Unfortunately, this question came about because we all know that the reporting solution traditionally delivered by transaction systems have a common flaw. This flaw is described in a recent whitepaper as “The Ask/Wait/Answer Cycle”, below is a depiction of this natural bottleneck born from the first generation of Business Intelligence:

Source: “3rd Generation BI: Unlocking all the possibility in your data

Is it not obvious why this method fails? Because the inflexibility of these systems presumes that a report writer could anticipate all of the questions that the business would have. The hard truth is that the question is different every day. There is absolutely zero chance that a report writer will be able to anticipate all of the variations of slicing and dicing that is necessary to properly run a business!

Faced with this realization, we just make sure that the question “Can I download the data to a spreadsheet?” is checked yes on the RFP and come back to the system when it is implemented to get the data we need (as an afterthought).

Generation 1’s answer to “The Ask/Wait/Answer Cycle”?

The biggest issue with the aforementioned cycle is the “Wait” part. Getting answers fast meant downloading the data to a spreadsheet and solving the more complex business problems on our desktop. Here is a reporting process flow chart that I created in the mid 1990’s that demonstrates the steps in turning data into insights:

Yes, we eliminated “The Ask/Wait/Answer Cycle” bottleneck by downloading the data, combining it with other data sources and streamlining the effort with some nifty macros and pivot tables (on the desktop).

Do you recognize this? If not, look deeper because this process is ubiquitous. We have all worked around the failure of traditional query based reporting with spreadsheets that provided the flexibility and speed that we required…despite the warnings of every technology vendor since 1980-something.

Enter the Qlik platform

The days of manual spreadsheet processes born out of the need to work around technology bottlenecks are numbered. The Qlik platform can be aggressively used to eliminate all of the workarounds and manual processes that organizations have been forced to build. In fact, as a customer, I implemented what I called the “Sunset Policy”.

With three Qlik applications rolled into production, we identified more than 60 processes, tools and technologies that could and should have been replaced/retired/“sunsetted”. These included:

  • SSRS reports
  • Business Objects reports
  • Crystal Reports
  • SQL Queries
  • Excel Spreadsheets
  • Access Databases

So, the question “Can I download the data to a spreadsheet?” needs to be properly challenged and replaced with “Can I rationalize 20 processes, tools and technologies when delivering reporting & analytics solutions to the business?”.

This is all possible because of the Qlik Associative Model which handles data like no other technology in the marketplace. Here is a short video that provides insight into this key differentiator:

In his latest post, @PaulVanSiclen challenges the traditional notions of dealing with #data

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