Last week I accidentally published this post before going to bed and woke up the next morning with a nice surprise that people had visited the post when it was still supposed to be a draft. I apologize for this leak and plan to catch those brain cells responsible for wasting your time.
As a small business owner, I am a big fan of cloud software. At this point, I almost have more tabs pinned in my browser than I have shortcuts on my dock. For example, you can find my project management tool (Jira), my knowledge management tool (Confluence), my file management tool (Dropbox), and my team communication tool (Slack) pinned at the top of my browser. As such, I’m excited to see Qlik Sense Cloud approaching the critical moment when it will be a veritable competitor of Qlik Sense on-premise.
Over the past two years, I’ve kept an eye on Qlik Sense Cloud. Qlik employee Michael Tarallo sums up these years and what the future may hold in his blog post Keep Your Head in the Clouds. Well-known Qlik enthusiasts Stephen Redmond (Low down On Qlik Cloud 2.0) and Steve Dark (Qlik Sense Cloud New Features, Qlik Sense Cloud Plus Is Here) have also shared the milestones it has reached in their blogs.
According to Michael’s post, Qlik Sense Cloud has almost 100,000 users in 170 countries, but I think it would be fair to ask him how many of those users use Qlik Sense Cloud on regular basis. It may be true that they are active users, but if I were to make a bet, I would wager that many of them acted as I had over the past two years. They created an account, played around for an hour, and only returned when there was an announcement to see what was new. Even though 100,000 users may not be an accurate measure of Qlik Sense Cloud usage, the measure does speak for the initial interest many have had in what it offers. It also represents an opportunity for Qlik to convert them into paying customers once Qlik Sense Cloud adds more features and matures.
Released in December 2016, Qlik Sense Cloud Business is Qlik’s first serious attempt to provide a cloud service for businesses. In all fairness, there are a few kinks that need to be worked out and a few features that need to be added before I would consider it ready for most users. However, my overall opinion is that it’s a great start, and as an early adopter, it finally convinced me to use it internally in my company.
Putting on my Small Business Owner Hat
My company has implemented complex Qlik projects across multiple countries, but internally we’ve kept it simple. We are the stereotypical consultants that invest all our time improving our customers’ processes and dedicate very little to our own internal processes. Our current strategy is to outsource the support of any software or hardware we use internally. Cloud services like Microsoft 365 for e-mail, Dropbox for file sharing, and Amazon Web Services for hosting our ERP system has helped us to do just that.
We’ve also been reluctant to invest overhead time into supporting any sort of centralized Qlik environment and opted for a federated environment. Of course, this is just a fancy way to say that 5 people on my team share source files on Dropbox and that each is responsible for having a working, up-to-date version of QlikView or Qlik Sense Desktop in their laptop to analyze the data. Needless to say, we’ve been waiting for the opportunity to migrate to a cloud solution and benefit from a centralized Qlik environment without having to dedicate time to support it.
I was excited when Qlik announced Qlik Sense Cloud Basic in 2015 and Qlik Sense Cloud Plus in 2016. On one hand, it was awesome to see how Qlik had successfully transplanted the same user experience of Qlik Sense Desktop into the cloud. However, it was at the same time disappointing because it was pretty much just that – Qlik Sense Desktop in the cloud. Overall, these two offerings lacked the level of integration, collaboration, and administration that you find in any team-based business cloud software.
In my opinion, these offerings were minimal viable products, and their real purpose was to test the market (remember those almost 100,000 users in 170 countries that have at least taken a peek), the technology, and in the case of Qlik Sense Cloud Plus, the purchasing process.
Side Note I'm disappointed to see how little single objects are shared through blogs and social media. A simple screen sheet still seems to be the preferred method when sharing charts. This is probably because a screenshot is both easier to create and can contain more than one object. Sharing a single Qlik Sense object also doesn't add much to the user experience when the visualization is a simple bar, line or pie chart.
However, neither of these packages offers anything better than my company’s current imperfect situation. Even as a Qlik enthusiast anxious to give Qlik Sense Cloud a try, my business comes first, and I’m not going to waste a consultant’s billable time on an initiative to implement a solution with no real benefit. Also, if I happen to make a leap of faith, there needs to be clear indications where Qlik Sense Cloud is headed. I believe we finally got that from Qlik Sense Cloud Business.
Qlik Sense Cloud Business
I consider Qlik Sense Cloud a real solution for my company ever since Qlik Sense Cloud Business (QSCB) was released in December 2016. The difference between this package and the previous Qlik Sense Cloud offerings is that this package at last introduces the collaboration, integration, and administration the others were missing.
The ability to collaborate and create analysis as a team in a centralized, controlled location is the principal reason why QSCB was better than my previous federated solution. I can give any one on my team permission to enter my workspace and we can work together asynchronously on the same app. This is all my team realistically needs. A feature like Google Docs where you can work simultaneously with someone on the same file might be nice to have, but that’s why software like Join.Me exists.
This is the only must-have requirement that QSCB does not fulfill, but even so I decided to use it based on Qlik’s plans. As of the date of this post, the only data connector that QSCB offers to an external source is the Salesforce data connector. If your team happens to solely use Salesforce then I am truly jealous. My team needs to connect to Atlassian Cloud and a SQL database on an Amazon server.
According to Qlik’s plans, a REST API connector which will help me connect to Atlassian Cloud is due to come out soon. I’ll have to wait longer for an ODBC connector to the database on the Amazon server, but if Qlik comes out with a connector to Dropbox then I can schedule a task to automatically export text files from SQL to a Dropbox folder.
In the meantime, it does make me cringe to know that my current situation involves somebody manually uploading QVD files to the cloud. I’m currently working on finding a solution to automate the process with the help of Selenium WebDriver. However, even if I am able to automate the process, I don’t like the idea of having to maintain an additional tool to do so.
Little by little, I believe the available list of data connectors will grow. I also believe that whatever Qlik can do to add as many data connectors as quickly as possible will have the greatest effect on how fast Qlik Sense Cloud itself grows.
At first security appears to be limited in QSCB. You have only one workspace and are limited to granting a person access to work on all or none of the files in that workspace. The same applies to streams where users are only allowed to view the apps. The difference with streams is that you can create three and assign different people to each. You can also determine which apps to publish to each stream.
It wasn’t until later when Dmitri Ryssev from Qlik called me to talk about my experience with QSCB that I understood that it’s not so much the security that is limited; but rather, my budget. Even though the button you push to purchase QSCB says “Upgrade”, what you are really doing is mounting a workspace and 3 streams for a certain number of users (1-50) to your Qlik Sense Cloud account. If you like, you can continue to mount additional workspaces and streams for different teams and departments to the same Qlik Sense Cloud account.
While this does give you the opportunity to define security in more detail, paying two subscriptions for the same user to be in two workspaces may cause some consternation. The same principle applies to users that have access to various streams that are attached to different workspaces. It is unclear at this point whether this will always be the only way to scale up, or if more detailed security options will be added to individual workspaces.
In the case of my company, we’ve created an initial team of the 3 most important individuals who need to analyze the business’s data. We three can work openly in the same workspace without a problem. At some point this group will grow to include 2 more who will only have permission to view the apps. As such, what QSCB offers fulfills my business’s basic security requirements.
As far as data administration is concerned, the automatic data reload works great, but the feature is only pertinent to those who can connect directly to their app’s data source. As of the date of this post, the only businesses that can take advantage of this feature are those that extract data from Salesforce. Aside from that point, the current automatic data reload that can be triggered at a certain time on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis is all my company really needs. Again, it would be nice to have a more complex scheduler, but it is not necessary at this point.
Like apps, users are granted access to either all or none of the data files in a workspace. At this point, it is not possible to define security at a more granular level. Nor is it possible to create folders in a workspace. It reminds me of how I developed QlikView before I adopted a tiered-QVD approach. I survived then and I’ll survive now with only one folder to store my data files.
After the analysis of QSCB’s features, I decided to migrate my company’s internal data analysis there. Many companies that have well-established, on-premise business intelligence (BI) deployments will still find it lacking many of their must-have requirements. On the condition that the list of data connectors continues to grow, and based on my experience helping companies deploy their first centralized BI deployment, I believe QSCB offers what most businesses need to get started.
Tips to Get Started
Before I finish, I want to share the parts of the QSCB registration process that I found confusing. Michael Tarallo has made a series of videos to help you register for Qlik Sense Cloud, but frankly, the user interface (UI) should speak for itself during the registration process for a cloud service. If the registration process isn’t self-explanatory then it’s bound to lose customers.
The first problem with the UI involves the “Upgrade” button in the top right-hand corner of the screen. My first thought was that Qlik Sense Cloud Basic, Qlik Sense Cloud Plus, and Qlik Sense Cloud Business were a sequential series of upgrades. When I upgraded from Qlik Sense Cloud to Qlik Sense Cloud Plus it was clear because a “Plus” banner was added to my profile picture. When I upgraded from Qlik Sense Cloud Plus to Qlik Sense Cloud Business, I got no reassurance that I had successfully done so. There is a visual cue that you have purchased Qlik Sense Cloud Business, but it is so subtle that I missed it and ended up purchasing the service five times before I noticed it. Luckily Qlik gives you a 14-day free trial of the service and it was easy to cancel my purchases without being charged or having to call anyone.
As I had mentioned previously, it also turns out that Qlik Sense Cloud Business is not actually an upgrade from Qlik Sense Cloud Plus. They are separate services on the same account. It is also not obvious that you can mount multiple workspaces to the same account.
The following modification is an idea I’ll leave out there.
I was also taken aback during the purchasing process by the forceful introduction to Digital River’s role in making my transaction happen. I trust Qlik, but red flags go off in my head when I’m taken to a different domain during the purchasing process. I don’t remember ever having had a similar experience with any other cloud service sending me to a third-party e-commerce site. The process would have been more comforting if Digital River’s role would have been kept to the backend.
After a rough start, 3 months have passed without any technical or operational issue. Everything concerned with administering the account is quite easy and intuitive. You can watch the videos to capture a few tips and tricks, but the interface is simple enough to learn as you wander around clicking buttons and left-clicking objects.
Along with the investments in the technology that surround QSCB, Qlik also appears to be investing more in marketing the service. Shorting after starting my subscription, Dmitri Ryssev from Qlik’s Cloud Success team reached out to me to hear about my experience. Along with receiving valuable customer feedback, these one-on-one’s will no doubt find opportunities for Qlik to sell more subscriptions and contribute to its success.
In my opinion, this is clear indication of Qlik’s commitment to providing its flagship product as a cloud service. Qlik has surely had its number of side initiatives that didn’t amount to much. Qlik Sense Cloud Business is Qlik’s way of telling us that it does not consider this initiative to be one of them.
One More Thing…
Speaking of Qlik initiatives that never amounted to much, Qlik Sense Cloud might just breath fresh air into the disappointment that has been Qlik Market. Qlik Market was created several years ago with hopes of becoming some sort of app store, but never became much more than yellow pages for third-party Qlik solutions. It might now be the perfect medium through which Qlik Sense Cloud users add connectors, extensions and apps to their account. I’m cautiously optimistic it still might become the Apple-like app store I had hoped to would be.