Friday, September 11, 2009

A Heartwarming Story of Social Media, Family and QlikView

My son works as a sports researcher at a cable television network. His job seems mainly to be looking things up in online databases and, on broadcast days, watching several games simultaneously. It's nice work if you can get it.

In terms of technology, Microsoft Word and Excel meet most of his needs. But I did introduce him to QlikView several years back, and he learned enough to analyze statistics for his college basketball team. When QlikView introduced its free Personal Edition, he decided to use it at work to track a database of college recruiting prospects. Despite (or because of) his lack of technical background, and without any formal QlikView training, he created a very nice system to find prospects based on different characteristics and create ad hoc statistical summaries.

The centerpiece is a map that displays the number of recruits by state. Because this is QlikView, the map is automatically redrawn each time he makes a selection: so he can see recruits for a certain position, or going to a particular school, or whatever. This is the sort of thing that gets sports people excited. In fact, his colleagues were so pleased that there’s talk of using a version of the map on-air.

The only fly in this ointment was that neither he nor I could find a way to get the map to show the numbers for all the states simultaneously. We could get different sized bubbles reflecting the state counts, and we could see the actual figure for each state by hovering over it. Recognizing my own limits as a QlikView developer, I asked for help on the QlikView user forum and from friend on the QlikView consulting staff. The consultant didn't think it was possible, so we let the matter drop.

Fast-forward one month, to yesterday, when I received a notification that someone had responded to my forum query with a solution. It took a couple of tries, and some additional help from forum members, to get it to work on my son’s map. But you can imagine how pleased we were when we finally saw the map as originally envisioned.

This story illustrates quite a bit about QlikView. Building the original map was easy – my son was able to do it with little help, even though QlikView was doing some very sophisticated processing under the hood. (Specifically, on-the-fly data aggregation along user-defined calculated dimensions, without touching the underlying database). But getting the system to do exactly what he needed did take some special knowledge. (He had to use the number of students by state as his primary dimension, not the X/Y map coordinates.) The adjustment took just a few minutes, but only a QlikView expert would realize that’s how you do it.

To generalize a bit more broadly, then, QlikView really does enable non-technical users to do amazing things, and it really is as powerful as its advocates (myself included) like to claim. But users do need some training to be effective – something that advocates are sometimes reluctant to admit.

The story also illustrates the value of social media. QlikView’s forum is an amazing source of help for users of all skill levels. It works because QlikView has a community of highly engaged advocates who are both expert in the product and willing to help each other.

The forum provides several strategic benefits for QlikView: it helps users become successful (thus driving wider adoption); it lets users succeed even if they don’t receive proper training (which many will not, particularly among users of the free Personal Edition); it reduces the need for paid support staff; and it provides a window into common problems and requirements. It also reinforces the commitment of the engaged users themselves, by publicly rewarding their contributions. Although I’ve never discussed the forum with QlikView management, they obviously understand these benefits well enough to justify their continued investments in it.

This isn’t to say that social media would provide the same value to everyone. QlikView fits several specific conditions – enthusiastic expert users, problems that can be solved fairly easily, etc. – that won’t always apply. But as an example what social media can sometimes accomplish, QlikView is a great case study waiting to be written.

1 comment:

Bacon said...

You weren't the only one watching that thread. It helped me out as well. :)