QlikTech Welcomes Competition with IBM Cognos Express
October 6, 2009 Alex Woodie
When IBM launched its in-memory multi-dimensional analysis Cognos Express product several weeks ago, it was paying a compliment of sorts to QlikTech, which has been tremendously successful selling its in-memory multi-dimensional BI product, QlikView, to small and mid size companies. But the folks at QlikTech do not sound tremendously worried that IBM is going to gobble up its share of the mid market any time soon, especially with the type of success that Hampton Hydraulics, an AS/400-based JD Edwards user, is having with QlikView.
In many ways, Hampton Hydraulics is a typical AS/400 shop. The mid size company, which manufacturer custom hydraulic cylinders for a variety of uses, runs a very lean business, both from an operational and an IT point of view. It relies on the JD Edwards World version A7.3 ERP package to keep five of its seven Iowa locations running smoothly. Like most AS/400 shops, it doesn’t employ a database administrator (DBA), and has no plans to.
Until recently, Hampton’s reporting setup consisted primarily of a series of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets (or a “spreadmart”), a PowerPoint-based dashboard cobbled together from Excel data, and some native JD Edwards reports, according to Michael Zeigler, the company’s director of IT.
The setup worked, but it wasn’t ideal, Zeigler says. “We weren’t hunting [for a BI product],” he says. “But we had an inkling that our existing spreadmart data collection process was poor and manual and cumbersome, and we really needed something different.”
So in the second half of 2006, Zeigler looked at several big-name business intelligence vendors. The list included Cognos (which has since been acquired by IBM), Business Objects (which has since been acquired by SAP), and Oracle (before its acquisition of Hyperion).
Zeigler also took a look at QlikTech, and brought a few Hampton employees to sit through a presentation, which went well. “We were just kind of blown away with the cleanliness and simplicity of the product,” Zeigler says. “I think my comment after that was, ‘We’ll never have another meeting again where somebody’s not driving QlikView, if we implement this product.’ I cold called Qliktech that we’d like to take a crack at implementing their product, and away we went.”
Sold on Simplicity
After just three days of formal QlikView training for five people, Zeigler and his staff at Hampton Hydraulics decided to tackle the biggest reporting application–the kludgey PowerPoint dashboard that’s manually updated from Excel spreadsheets–as the first QlikView project.
The management dashboard doesn’t include a lot of graphs or pretty pictures, but is more focused on giving Hampton’s upper-level management a clear view of a wide cross-section of performance metrics, including sales information, work orders, shipments, quality control, capacity figures, past due accounts, on-time delivers, and backlogged bookings, Zeigler says. The source of much of this data is JD Edwards, but some of it resides elsewhere.
Re-creating this dashboard in QlikView was surprisingly simple, despite the limited training Hampton received, says Zeigler, who has a networking background but describes himself as the lead QlikView developer at Hampton.
“If you know the data models and the kind of information you’re going after, it’s extremely simple to pull that information together in QlikView,” he says. “The front end is really almost self explanatory. I’m sure there’s functionality I’m not aware of. But we could sure do a lot without a lot of formal training.”
On a daily basis, 25 to 40 Hampton employees–from the plant-level managers and C-level executives down to accountants–are working in QlikView to do everything from preparing sales and accounting reports to helping with demand forecasts and production scheduling. Zeigler estimates, by giving non-technical users the capability to generate reports and navigate data by themselves, QlikView has saved the equivalent of one full-time employee.
But QlikView has also made Hampton more nimble, from an informational point of view. When the big economic slowdown hit a year ago, Hampton was able to use QlikView to consolidate customer work orders and keep it from taking big write downs on large chunks of inventory it bought as the result of customer forecasts that turned out to be too optimistic–something that would have been impossible using its previous manual data collection methods.
QlikView has been so successful at Hampton that it’s become the starting reference point–the “single version of the truth,” if you will–that companies typically rely on their ERP systems to provide.
“High level management is looking at QlickView, trusting QlikView, believing in QlickView, so you better not be running some sales report that isn’t consistent with the metric we’re using because you built it incorrectly,” Zeigler says. “All the JD Edwards reports go by the wayside pretty quickly when they see that it’s just going to be there [in QlikView], it’s always updated, it’s always consistent, and they don’t have to worry about the integrity of the data. We’re big proponents.”
Zeigler even goes so far as to say that Hampton’s senior management “loves” their QlikView. “You couldn’t pry it from their cold, dead hands,” he says. Charlton Heston would be proud.
Attracting Big Blue’s Attention
Hampton Hydraulics success is typical of QlikView customers, says Anthony Deighton, a senior vice president with QlikTech, which is enjoying its own success with QlikView. QlikTech is officially the fastest growing business intelligence software vendor, according to IDC, and has more than 11,400 customers in 94 countries–many of them small or medium size companies, such as Hampton.
“We have increased our profile significantly in the last two years,” Deighton says. “I think that’s part of why you see an organization like IBM making moves here, because they’re looking at us and saying ‘Huh, these guys are making money here, maybe we can do the same thing.'”
There are obvious similarities between QlikView and Cognos Express, which IBM launched a couple of weeks ago as its new BI product for small and medium size companies.
For starters, both products rely on in-memory architectures for multi-dimensional data analysis. This allows BI implementations to refresh data and cubes much faster than traditional disk-based OLAP products.
However, there are some differences between the products that Deighton expects to weigh in QlikView’s favor. Deighton points out that Cognos Express is essentially the same Applix TM1 software that Cognos has owned for years.
“I’m sure they’re not literally dusting off a product from four years ago. I expect they have done some R&D to improve it,” he says, pointing to IBM’s claims that it has simplified the software’s installation and implementation. “But ultimately what’s important is the actual product is the same thing they’ve had for some time. That’s the operative point.”
This leads Deighton to a key difference between QlikView and Cognos Express. Whereas QlikView is based on an associative database that provides multidimensional analysis capabilities, Cognos Express is rightly described as a full OLAP product, which creates and stores “cubes” of multi-dimensional data.
“While Applix uses an in-memory architecture, it is essentially a cube implementation in memory. And that is not necessarily very good,” Deighton says. “The reason it’s challenging is because when cubes get more and more data, and more and more dimensions, they get very large in size. While an in-memory cube is better than a disk-based cube, it’s still a cube. You have to predefine the decisions, you have to lock the data in there, and that’s something that we think that people shouldn’t have to do.”
Deighton also takes issue with IBM’s claims that QlikView lacks the “write back” capability that is essential to creating and managing budgets in the BI tool. “I would agree with that statement if we were talking about QlikView 7 but we have the capability in QlikView 9 to do write backs,” he says. “It’s not surprising to me, but I would say it’s out of date. One imagines, if they’re going to create characterizations of our software, they would have actually looked at our product and know what we do.”
At the end of the day, Deighton welcomes the competition from IBM, and the renewed focus it brings on developing mid-market BI software. “There tends to be a lower adoption of traditional BI technology in the mid market. It’s expensive and difficult to use,” he says. “The more we can get people to focus on this part of the industry, the better.”