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2020 analytics trends slowed by COVID-19 pandemic

The priorities of organizations have changed due to COVID-19, and with that Qlik's Dan Sommer says the evolution of expected BI trends has been temporarily delayed.

When 2020 started, the year's analytics trends were expected to be things like advancements in natural language processing and embedded business intelligence.

At that time, however, no one saw COVID-19 coming and the ways the pandemic would affect not only the physical health of millions but also global economies and the financial health of organizations worldwide. Analytics trends, therefore, have changed.

Instead of focusing largely on more augmented intelligence features, BI software vendors are mostly intent on helping customers stay afloat by becoming more agile, enabling them to make changes quickly in order to react and, in some cases, transform.

Digital transformation has become the dominant trend.

But COVID-19 won't last forever. And though there will likely be lasting changes resulting from the pandemic -- more remote work, for example -- those analytics trends that have temporarily stalled will likely again come into focus for analytics and business intelligence software vendors.

Qlik's Dan SommerDan Sommer

Dan Sommer, senior director and global market intelligence lead at Qlik, is a former analyst at Gartner and keeps a close eye on analytics trends. With Qlik's virtual user conference set for June 24 and June 25, Sommer, speaking from his home in Sweden, discussed how COVID-19 has changed the focus of BI vendors in the near term and what he sees happening once the immediate effects of the pandemic ease.

In addition, he talked about how Qlik, founded in 1993 and based in King of Prussia, Pa., is responding and positioning itself to remain active as BI evolves.

Before we discuss some of the current analytics trends, what can you tell me about where Qlik's focus lies over the next few months or so?

We want to increasingly embed [analytics] more into the moments and processes and workflows of organizations.
Dan SommerSenior director and global market intelligence lead, Qlik

Dan Sommer: We really want to define the third wave of BI. There was a first wave, a second wave and now there's a third wave. That's what we're shooting for. A big part of that is the notion of data as a pipeline where you are going to be able to identify the data very quickly from federated data sources. You should be able to move the data to the right place, you should be able to transform that data and make it ready for analytics, and then there's a catalog which connects the IT needs and information producers with the information consumers.

That's where data analytics picks up, which is Qlik's core business. We want to increasingly embed [analytics] more into the moments and processes and workflows of organizations. That's our notion of what a data pipeline looks like, and there are three legs we're standing on. Data movement, data capture and data integration in real time is the first, then the catalog piece is second and then analytics is third. We think we have some unique assets there.

What can you tell me about Qlik's roadmap?

Sommer: There will be a ton of new visualizations. We are working on partnering with the different cloud providers -- it continues to be important for us to have a multi-cloud story. We're optimizing Qlik's data model so that data can flow through earlier in the pipeline. There are a number of things coming from an insight generation, search and management piece around natural language processing. And of course we acquired a company called RoxAI in January, so there are going to be a number of different things that we'll talk about around alerting, which essentially means that the data comes to you, which we think is very important in this wider story that we're talking about.

As far as analytics trends, what do you think is the biggest thing happening in business intelligence right now?

Sommer: Obviously COVID-19 has changed a lot of things, and I call what it has forced the digital switch. What I mean by the digital switch is essentially that what's different this time compared to previous crises is that the companies that will be swept away are those that haven't put certain things in place or aren't prepared enough when it comes to digital transformation. There are big factories here in Sweden where I'm based and around the globe that are standing still -- they simply haven't got their internal operations in order to such an extent that they can operate efficiently. Also, they don't have business models in place that require less physical interaction, and therefore they're really struggling. It doesn't matter if they're well-capitalized and have huge customer base. That's what's different. If you look back 10 years ago, what we saw then was that the digital vendors were swept away -- people reverted back to safety, to the legacy vendors.

This time, companies need to be ready for the digital switch, and also be well-capitalized with recurring revenues and a strong balance sheet. They need to be agile and able to adapt to change. Those are the things that are the litmus test for what organizations need to be able to handle this crisis.

From a BI perspective, how is that manifesting itself?

Sommer: Some of the immediate effects that we're seeing is an increased usage of SaaS. In many cases, SaaS is a hygiene factor right now. People are doing that switch because they can't go into the office and they need to turn something on really quickly. That's something we've seen in the analytics space. That switch is accelerating, without a shadow of a doubt. It was previously linear growth, and now it's at a tipping point where adoption of SaaS is accelerating.

Globally, in places like Europe, you haven't previously seen so much of that, but we've really seen a big change where people are now shifting to SaaS.

We also think that enabling self-sufficiency is critical in this time. A user isn't going to be able to read an instruction manual and fix something -- the software just has to work. If you're in a virtual environment, it has to work, and it has to be really intuitive. I think that's another strong and immediate effect, and frankly, the demand for intuitive visualizations, shared data and storytelling is more important than ever. We all thought of visualizations as something that's nice to have, but just look at all the armchair epidemiologists right now and they're all discussing data. It's really driven home the point that high-quality visualizations and being able to tell stories with data is really important. I think it's been an eye-opener for a lot of people.

Staff and contractor reductions is another thing we're seeing. Agility trumps size, and right now we're seeing reduced operational expenditures. To be nimble and agile is extremely important with the time-to-value it can provide.

Looking a bit more broadly beyond COVID-19, what are some major analytics trends?

Sommer: If we start looking toward the end of this year and into 2021, we are going to see that cloud budgets will stay intact and even grow. Longer term I think we'll see more cloud organization efforts where customers may need larger, hybrid multi-cloud transitions, and that's going to be more of a transformational service. I think we'll see more of that. Right now with COVID-19 people just want to run their business, but longer term they're looking at moving big chunks of their estate and having data integration and analytics pipelines in the cloud will be really important.

I think we'll continue to see a change in collective intelligence and collaboration capabilities -- all of that which previously we huddled together in an office and discussed. We're just going to expect that now that's going to happen virtually, and the same goes for analytics software -- online learning systems, classroom-based training.

In a survey we did with IDC, improving operational efficiency is the number one success metric that the respondents in that survey had, and I don't think that's going to go away. We are now seeing a reengineering of processes, of organizations, and unfortunately some layoffs. In the wake of that we'll see more robotic process automation, process mining and analytics embedded more deeply into the moment in workflows. You can bake analytics into the moments and move from reactive to proactive. That's going to be even more important.

Finally, in the midterm, we're going to have to recalibrate that compass when it comes to things like increased surveillance and security. At the moment in society, we're allowing ourselves to be more monitored, more tracked, so I think it will be interesting in the technology space to see if that compass is recalibrated and we revert back with some of these integrity issues we have.

Earlier you mentioned the third wave of BI, a long-term analytics trend -- how do you define the third wave?

Sommer: The first wave was very much just putting a semantic layer on top of enterprise data warehouses. The second wave replaced static reporting. Then we had this notion of virtualization and Hadoop and big data.

What we're seeing right now is this notion of more and more federated data through more and more federated compute like graphical processing units and containerization and microservices, and increasingly edge computing. As we're going through these waves, we can capture more federated data and we catalog that data, and as we're doing that the analytics are changing from visual analytics to being embedded, being more mobile, being embedded into processes in the moments and workflows and increasingly delivered to you.

The notion of active intelligence is something you'll hear more about at QlikWorld where we're flipping the switch so that insights come to you, you can have a dialog with your data, and you can much more take action. As that's happening, we're unlocking a much bigger constituency that can reach analytics. It used to be IT pushing out reports to 25%, then you had the business analysts that build stuff, but if we can reach information workers as well and not just the people that build the applications, analytics is going to reach a much bigger constituency of users and provide this proactive intelligence.

How has Qlik positioned itself for the third wave of analytics?

Sommer: The third wave explains a lot of the acquisitions that we've made. If you look at Attunity with its real-time data streaming, data capture, data movement and data warehouse automation, that allows you to catalog data and analyze that data and increasingly embed it into the moment. That's the pipeline I spoke of. A lot of our acquisitions and thinking are around being a best-practice vendor in this third wave.

And of course AI is embedded throughout the whole chain, and importantly not just at the dashboard level. Because we have those other legs of the stool I mentioned earlier, we can embed AI earlier in the chain so you can get a bunch of insights before you build a dashboard. Those are some of the things we want to get to.

Editor's note: This Q&A has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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