As QlikTech reports a 25% year-on-year growth in revenue, Joe Curtis finds out why CEO Lars Bjork thinks understanding big data is the answer to financial success.
As companies strive for the competitive edge in their markets, they are increasingly turning to big data analysts like QlikTech to help them get ahead.
For many firms today, the challenge in big data has been finding signal in the noise, and judging by the jump in QlikTech’s stock from $22.83 per share in August 2012 to $32.66 this August, the business intelligence brand seems to know it, too.
Its product, QlikView, aims to help companies make sense of vast swathes of seemingly never-ending information, enabling them to make more informed decisions about their business.
The software, used by companies including Paddy Power, Eurotunnel and 162 NHS Trusts, works by identifying associations between data to find correlations, working from a pool of information aggregated from multiple sources including mobile devices, Excel spreadsheets, SQL databases, CRM and more.
Bjork believes big data can help businesses make anything from big policy shifts to tweaks to current strategies to get ahead in their markets, if only they can utilise it properly.
He says: "Businesses are drowning in data these days. It’s overwhelming. They’re surprised at the amount of data they’re confronted with and some just try and stay happily unaware of it all. Hopefully, we make them happily aware.
"It’s pretty clear that in the western world, in a lot of industries the next era of competition is going to be how you can mine and understand your own data."
Eurotunnel used QlikView to interpret feedback about its services from 41,190 web mentions in the last year alone, while Paddy Power used the software to change its approach to data entirely.
The betting firm used to manage data, rather than analyse it, a policy which proved problematic because real-time information was critical for Paddy Power to respond to the changing nature of gambling odds.
It now uses QlikView to identify deviations from the norm in order to react quickly, allowing the firm to manage risks and stay on top of developments because all its data is in real-time.
Bjork says: "Big data can tell you anything. We sell transparency: it all comes down to making smarter decision on data. The public sector is getting less and less funding, and often there is little to tell private sector businesses apart, and so you have to find ways of being more efficient.
"The use of data is very flexible: Paddy Power uses it just to see if someone is trying to game them, the NHS uses it to be more productive and efficient. In both cases they’re finding the answers they need in the data."
But historically part of the big data problem has been that companies distrust it – even avoid it – because of their lack of understanding, software often being geared towards the IT department rather than CEOs and managers.
"We’re taking a differenty approach to this," says Bjork. "The question we asked ourselves was how can we make it super intuitive and easy to use and actually work the way people probably expect it to work?
"You need to impose structure on your data otherwise you can’t analyse it. By putting managers and regular employees in the driving seat, making it easy to use, we do that, and that puts them in control of the data environment."
He adds that while the product is more consumer friendly as more people embrace the day to day use of technology, those same consumers aren’t so keen on welcoming use of the cloud.
"Today most demand is for on-premise," he explains. "There’s a perception it’s more secure than cloud."
Not only that, he adds, but cloud is too slow for large organisations to rely on for real-time data.
"This system that we’re going to put a large chunk of your business data on has a lot of latency. Companies don’t want that. If you get latency up and people’s perceptions up and more and more of the systems of records where we pull our data is in the cloud is a natural move."
So, not too much to ask then. Companies considering a hybrid solution should know that such an approach would not solve the problems, says Bjork.
"You still need to pull all your data together in one application," he warns. "We’re data source agnostic, we don’t care where it comes from. But it still needs to be in one central place when you come to analyse it."
QlikTech is planning to release a new and improved version of its software in the fourth quarter of the year, to promote the software for use on tablets and other mobile devices.
"It’s got be as intuitive as we can make it so we lower the hurdle for anyone to use it. There’s new technology that enables it to be even easier to use," Bjork says.
"And the other thing we want to explore is mobile. What if you wanted to start from your tablet? Even build applications through the tablet?"
He added that the new product should feature improved security, saying: "What’s okay today will eventually not be okay tomorrow."