Getty Images

Qlik analytics suite helps cities combat climate change

The longtime BI and data integration vendor's tools enable C40 Cities, a climate leadership consortium of nearly 100 cities, to operationalize critical environmental data.

With data critical to combating climate change, Qlik is providing C40 Cities with the analytics tools the organization needs to access and operationalize environmental information.

Founded in London in 2005 and now based in New York City, C40 Cities is an association of 96 cities around the world that are fighting the climate crisis by banding together to prevent the world's average temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above the planet's average temperature before the Industrial Revolution.

Should Earth's average temperature rise above that threshold, scientific literature suggests there would be severe effects on the planet's ecosystems.

The organization includes cities on six of the seven continents such as Beijing, London, Mexico City, New York, Paris, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo. To carry out its goals, C40 Cities supports cities with a climate action and implementation program, advocates for legislation to fight climate change, provides financing for environmental initiatives and helps educate the public about climate change.

Data is critical to inform nearly all of C40 Cities' initiatives.

"C40 is all about coming up with best practices and making sure that cities share them," said Angel Monjarás, Qlik platform manager at C40 Cities and a professor at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México in Mexico City. "An important part of the C40 membership is not only that a city is taking action against the climate crisis, but it has to lead other peer cities. One of the ways they do that is to share."

That sharing and publicizing data is what shows how Earth's climate is changing. It's what highlights which initiatives are having an impact. It's what predicts what could happen if global temperatures continue to rise.

Since 2018, C40 Cities has used Qlik's analytics tools to inform decisions. Based in King of Prussia, Pa., Qlik is a longtime analytics vendor that in recent years added a full-featured data integration platform and is now in the process of creating an ecosystem for customers to develop generative AI models and applications with trusted data as a foundation.

But before 2018, C40 Cities didn't use Qlik for its analytics needs. And before 2018, it wasn't as successful as it is now at harnessing and operationalizing its data to battle the climate crisis.

The problem

One of C40 Cities' goals was to create a knowledge hub for its member cities.

The organization collects copious amounts of information from its member cities, but needed a simple way to expose the information it collects from one city to its other 95 members. A knowledge hub would provide members with an easily accessible centralized location where they could explore data such as air quality, best practices, related news articles and other assistive information.

To build that knowledge hub, C40 Cities needed to collect and integrate data from disparate sources to create data sets that city officials could explore and analyze to help communities make climate policy decisions.

However, using its existing systems in 2018, C40 Cities was unable to integrate its data to make it usable. At the time, C40 Cities was using Tableau as its primary analytics platform along with a few others, and the combination of those platforms was unable to handle the volume and complexity of C40 Cities' data, according to Monjarás.

"The problem was getting the data ready to be analyzed," he said. "Data comes from all over the place in a lot of different formats."

Much of the data that C40 Cities collects is volunteered by its member cities, Monjarás continued. But each city has its own data operations.

Data that might be similar, such as the high temperature on a given day, could be collected with different systems in different cities. And once collected, the metadata could be different in one city versus another, with each city using its own terms to define the data. To make use of that data -- even something as seemingly simple as the high temperature on a given day -- C40 Cities needs to standardize it.

"It's not always easy to handle or to normalize for everyone's use," Monjarás said. "There was a lot of processing involved to prepare it for analysis."

The solution

When looking to potentially change analytics platforms to make integrating data from so many sources easier, C40 Cities' decision came down to remaining with Tableau or switching to Qlik, according to Monjarás. He joined C40 Cities in 2022, but is familiar with the organization's analytics operations before his arrival.

Tableau was founded in 2003, and by the next decade had become one of the pioneers of self-service analytics by providing data visualizations that enabled users to see data in a different -- and more accessible -- way than a traditional report.

Qlik, founded in 1993, responded by developing Qlik Sense in 2014, which similarly provided users with data visualizations that enabled them to see their data in charts and graphs that aid analysis beyond verbal descriptions of data. QlikView was the vendor's first BI platform and had remained its primary set of analytics tools until the launch of Qlik Sense.

"Qlik Sense gave us a direct comparison," Monjarás said. "Qlik Sense was much more visual than QlikView."

What ultimately swayed C40 Cities to switch to Qlik Sense was the support it received from Qlik, he continued -- the relationship it was able to establish with the vendor.

"The whole team at Qlik, together, was able to provide us with a solution," Monjarás said.

Success came quickly, according to Monjarás. The knowledge hub that C40 Cities struggled to build using Tableau was up and running within a year, providing member cities with a centralized location to share information and collaborate on different ways to go about battling the climate crisis.

Success, however, was not without struggles, he continued. Largely, that had to do with C40 Cities' inexperience with the platform. A small number of employees were the first to learn Qlik, but those in charge of the transition from Tableau to Qlik didn't have engineering experience, which made for a difficult start.

And if there's one lingering issue for C40 Cities as it expands its use of Qlik, it's that new employees are often unfamiliar with the platform, according to Monjarás. Qlik, despite its lengthy history, is not as widely used as platforms such as Microsoft Power BI and Tableau. It's also not as widely taught in data science and analytics programs as some other platforms. As a result, when C40 Cities hires new employees, it often must train them on how to use Qlik.

Despite not having technical experts in charge at the time of its transition from Tableau to Qlik, C40 Cities was able to build its knowledge hub and create analytics applications. Now, with Monjarás in charge, C40 is quickly expanding its use of analytics with Qlik as an integral part of its data operations. The vendor's tools provide data integration and analytics, while C40 Cities uses a customized Salesforce instance to generate data and PostgreSQL for its data warehouse.

In addition, the organization stores files in Google Drive. One of its next projects is to standardize that data and add it to its data warehouse, according to Monjarás.

"That's where Qlik's integration capabilities are going to be really key," he said.


Once it had overcome any initial struggles and built the knowledge hub, C40 Cities had a centralized location where member cities could view data, see what other cities were doing to combat climate change and collaborate to come up with ideas for programs that help keep Earth's temperature from rising.

"That was quick and easy, and it's easy to maintain," Monjarás said.

One example of a best practice that member cities might find in the knowledge hub is one city's success managing landfills, according to Monjarás.

Landfills emit methane, which is particularly harmful to the environment. Even small amounts can affect the climate as well as human health, according to the Climate and Clean Air Coalition. Some cities have come up with ways to measure the methane emissions of landfills, find hotspots for emissions and transform them.

"Other cities can now copy that methodology," Monjarás said.

Once the knowledge hub was created, C40 Cities expanded its use of Qlik to develop analytics applications for internal use such as compliance reviews for each city, he continued.

Member cities must adhere to five leadership standards to remain part of C40 Cities, and each year the organization conducts two reviews of each city to make sure it stays in compliance with those standards. Initially, that reporting was done with Qlik Sense. Now, however, C40 Cities has fully migrated its data operations to the cloud, and for the past year has used Qlik Cloud Reporting for compliance reviews.

We still get lots of disparate data, new data formats and new ways of measuring [climate change] -- Qlik handles that. As our needs evolve, Qlik evolves.
Angel MonjarásQlik platform manager, C40 Cities

But what keeps C40 Cities with Qlik isn't just the vendor's analytics platform and how it's evolved over the past six years, Monjarás said.

In the years since C40 Cities first started using Qlik, the vendor has not only developed cloud-based tools, but also built up a data integration platform to complement its analytics suite. And Qlik is now creating an environment for generative AI development based on a foundation of data quality.

C40 now uses Qlik to ingest and integrate data, according to Monjarás.

"We still get lots of disparate data, new data formats and new ways of measuring [climate change] -- Qlik handles that," he said. "As our needs evolve, Qlik evolves."

But beyond technological advancement, just as the relationship was what first attracted C40 Cities to Qlik, the organization's relationship with the analytics vendor is what keeps it from exploring other options as analytics technology continues to evolve, according to Monjarás.

"Most important is the level of partnership we have," he said. "Whenever we run into a problem or can't decide how to handle something, Qlik is there to help. We also like the [environmental, social and governance] commitment of Qlik."

Future plans

With Qlik expanding its offerings beyond analytics, C40 Cities is planning to take advantage of some of Qlik's new capabilities, according to Monjarás.

Qlik slowly built up its data integration capabilities, beginning with the 2018 acquisition of Podium Data and purchase of Attunity the following year. Its 2023 acquisition of Talend was the finishing touch.

On June 4, during Qlik Connect, the vendor's annual user conference, Qlik unveiled Qlik Talend Cloud in preview. When generally available this summer, it will be the vendor's primary platform for data integration and serve as the foundation for providing the trusted data needed to build AI models and applications.

C40 Cities has so far held off on adding AI models and applications -- including generative AI -- to its traditional analytics applications, according to Monjarás. Because C40 Cities collects data that needs to be kept private and is subject to strict regulatory compliance, the organization has taken a cautious approach to generative AI given some of the security and accuracy problems that have plagued the emerging technology.

To date, C40 Cities has used some of Qlik's AI tools such as Insight Advisor that enables natural language queries of structured data. However, after Qlik's introduction of Qlik Talend Cloud and a tool called Qlik Answers that enables natural language querying and analysis of unstructured data with built-in data lineage and governance capabilities, generative AI development is something C40 Cities can begin to explore.

Qlik Talend Cloud addresses data quality, which -- as with many organizations, regardless of what tools they use for data management and analytics -- is often a problem.

"Right now, we are looking very hard at the new Talend functionality," Monjarás said. "Our data quality is still a problem. It takes a lot to solve. We're hoping that [Qlik Talend Cloud] will help us be faster."

Regarding potentially developing generative AI models and applications on top of data, one possible application for C40 Cities is predicting whether cities are likely to remain compliant with certain regulations, according to Monjarás. Another is examining whether political situations will allow certain cities to remain part of the organization.

And then there's gaining access to unstructured data such as text, images and audio files that have historically been difficult to operationalize.

"After we saw what Qlik presented, the possibilities are more open now," Monjarás said. "A very real thing we saw is the ability to analyze unstructured data. There is a lot of knowledge there. Now, it's going to be a lot easier to do right."

Eric Avidon is a senior news writer for TechTarget Editorial and a journalist with more than 25 years of experience. He covers analytics and data management.

Dig Deeper on Business intelligence technology

Data Management
Content Management