Qlik's CrunchBot acquisition adds AI chatbot to analytics

Qlik's acquisition of CrunchBot, an AI chatbot, aims to help users of its BI software get data easier and underscores a growing enterprise trend: conversational analytics.

Qlik's CrunchBot acquisition this week signaled a trend toward conversational analytics technology that's designed to help users unearth data insights faster and more easily.

The BI and data visualization vendor, which acquired the CrunchBot AI chatbot and an AI engineering and analytics development services team from Crunch Data Inc. on Jan. 22, appears to be moving in the same direction as top competitor Tableau to take advantage of the growing focus on conversational analytics.

"We are early in this trend, but I believe conversational analytics will be a critical and standard way users consume and interact with analytics content in the next two to five years," said Gartner analyst Rita Sallam.

An investment in conversational analytics

Sallam said Qlik is an early entrant among analytics and BI platform vendors seeking to provide users with the ability to, in effect, use conversational text and speech to surface and manipulate data. The Qlik acquisition is a positive move for the vendor in an area that Gartner research has found to be an important evolution in the analytics and BI market, she said.

Qlik had partnered with Crunch Data for the past four years. Qlik executives said the CrunchBot acquisition is an extension of the vendor's existing augmented analytics strategy and a way to channel the Qlik platform's cognitive framework into insights driven by natural language.

"We've been investing heavily in conversational analytics for some time on our platform," Drew Clarke, senior vice president of Qlik's strategy management office, said after the acquisition.

Gartner predicted, by 2021, conversational analytics and natural language processing will swell the ranks of enterprise end users working with analytics and BI tools from 35% of employees to more than 50% of employees, and that percentage of employees will expand to include new classes of users, particularly in front offices.

Qlik Sense with the CrunchBot chatbot in use
CrunchBot integrates with Qlik Sense (pictured here) and collaboration tools to deliver contextual insights via chat.

Benefits of the CrunchBot acquisition

The CrunchBot acquisition gives Qlik a technology that enables users to type questions in conversational language through the company's own Qlik Sense UI or with other popular collaboration tools, such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, Skype and Salesforce Chat, and receive data insights directly within those applications. Along with answers, the bot will deliver additional context, like auto-generated charts, interpretations, key drivers, period-over-period calculations and predictions for measures.

What we really like about the chatbot platform is that it helps make [analytics] accessible for millennials all the way up to boomers.
Drew Clarkesenior vice president of Qlik's strategy management office

CrunchBot also enables users to verbalize questions with integrations to voice services, like Amazon Alexa.

Qlik said the goal of the acquisition is to help the vendor boost data literacy and enable business users -- especially ones who are not as technologically savvy as data professionals -- to make data-driven decisions faster and more efficiently by delivering analytics conversationally.

"What we really like about the chatbot platform is that it helps make [analytics] accessible for millennials all the way up to boomers who are using their phones to engage and ask questions," Clarke said.

Qlik Sense has enabled developers to use APIs to create conversation-driven bots, and it makes data available via a Google-like search within the application, but Qlik's CrunchBot acquisition marks a significant step forward in the platform's conversational analytics capabilities, said Charney Hoffmann, a Crunch Data co-founder.

"We felt very strongly that the chatbot not just be limited to answering a question," Hoffmann said. "The chatbot answers the question and then always provides some kind of follow up that continues the conversation. The chatbot actually engages and does a lot of analysis with machine learning algorithms that users would have to do manually."

Roberto Sigona, Qlik's chief customer officer, said, "When someone asks a question, [the chatbot] provides the best answer possible to that question, while suggesting the question you really should have asked."

As for the Crunch Data team, a mix of offshore developers and U.S.-based AI professionals who now work for Qlik, Sallam said AI skills are critical in today's analytics ecosystem.

"Augmented analytics or machine-learning- and AI-created analytics content, along with conversational analytics, is becoming increasingly important to how analytics content is created and consumed," Sallam said. "Having the skills to make this happen is important."

CrunchBot acquisition timeline

CrunchBot is currently available to customers from Qlik as the CrunchBot Trusted Extension Developer Solution.

The technology will be available and licensed as a value-added feature to the Qlik Sense platform in the second quarter of 2019, Qlik said. The new CrunchBot-enabled product will be called the Qlik Insight Bot and will work alongside Qlik's existing Insight Advisor capability, which suggests analytics and insights based on a user's search criteria.

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