Sean Farrington is the managing director, UK and Ireland, and regional vice president for Northern Europe for QlikTech, a business intelligence (BI) vendor with its origins in Sweden. Before QlikTech, he was regional vice president and general manager, UK, Ireland and South Africa for SAP BusinessObjects. He spent 14 years serving as a commissioned officer in the British Army.
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In an interview with SearchDataManagement.co.UK, he puts forward his company’s view of the business intelligence market, with business user-driven mobile BI to the fore. What follows is an edited version of that conversation.
Did BI have a good recession?
Sean Farrington: What the recession did was turn time to value into a real imperative. It forced businesses to take a long, hard look at the investments they were making to determine what value they were getting. Inevitably, there was a requirement for cost cutting -- or margin management, if we are speaking euphemistically -- and our ability to deliver business user-driven business intelligence resonated with business and IT. Traditional business intelligence is good up to a point and in certain scenarios. But it can also lead to high levels of frustration. That comes with the promise of BI -- actionable information -- not being realised if systems are deployed inappropriately. They provide a window of possibility but fail to deliver on that. We enable users to answer the immediate question but go on to discover other aspects of their business that are genuinely actionable. Gartner has recognised this by dividing the market into traditional, report-centric BI and more user-driven. They see us as the poster child of that, describing what we do as data discovery. It’s about removing the frustration point for business users.
How bad is traditional BI?
Farrington: I wouldn’t say “bad”! But it is inappropriate in scenarios that require higher degrees of agility. What we call “business discovery” is more appropriate, in our view. The keys to that are our associative search capability -- because it builds pathways through the data that are more akin to the way businesspeople problem solve -- and the fact that our technology is in-memory. It needs to be in-memory to make the most of the associative search capability. And we’ve had that since our founding in 1993. Some of our competitors are using in-memory as a crutch because they have hit a performance issue.
The other element is mobile. There is now the infrastructure and device capability to make mobile genuinely viable as a business tool. As a managing director, I like to get out with my people. Even a laptop is clunky in that context. Tablets you can pull out. It’s on. I can give it to you. You can interact with it. It is all so much more tactile.
Isn’t this just an article of faith? We have had laptops for many years. What’s the huge difference with tablets?
Farrington: It lies in the personalisation of the experience. You can make a more emotional connection with a tablet. Take De Hypotheekshop in the Netherlands. They attribute a 30% uplift in their customers signing up to being able to give them an interactive experience. They’ve used QlikView to model mortgage profiles. Because it is on the iPad, they can hand it over to the customer, who can play with the parameters. The customer trusts that more. That is an indicator that this is a genuinely new direction, not a trend or a fad.
So, you see a reality to what is often called the consumerisation of corporate IT?
Farrington: I’m seeing a real “bring your own” trend. Fifteen years ago, if I wanted to experience great software I’d come to work. Now, I get it at home. Business needs to catch up with that.
One of the essentials of strategic management is that you never have enough information. The very art of strategy is about making judgments based on insufficient information. You’ll know that better than I from your military experience. Isn’t that an inhibitor for a BI company like yours?
Farrington: I understand that, but when a general is pulling together plans he wants intelligence. He wants to know what assets he has and what assets the enemy has. The level of battle readiness of each and every soldier is probably too much detail. But each platoon commander needs to know the battle readiness of his troops. The general needs to be able to drill down to the level that he can trust, and then needs to come back up and move sideways and drill down again. So, linking back to QlikView, you can delegate using the same technology. You get down to the level of detail that you need, and then build trust that the people working for you have the information that they need so that the strategy can be executed. It’s a data quality issue: The enemy is over there and is behind those three strategic points -- that’s enough for a top leader.
How do you see the market you are in?
Farrington: You can be defined by business intelligence, but our associative search capability can take us elsewhere. We have a “design once, deliver anywhere” philosophy that means that our mobile strategy, for instance, is inherent in our core offering. Continuity of experience, from laptop to desktop to tablet is very important. Why? Because we crave context. Anything that diminishes that, diminishes the capacity to make fast decisions.
To what extent do you see the BI market as technology-driven as opposed to demand-side-market driven?
Farrington: There is so much data coming into organisations now that there is a strong demand [for analysis]. Companies are seeking to make the best of their data as an asset. And the sustainability of new technologies -- new devices like tablets -- is not to do with the technology as such. It’s more about being able to address the obsessive nature of humans. For example, having an app that positions you at the right exit on the Tube takes you to the next level -- as opposed to just having a Tube map app.
What are you doing for customers in the UK that makes them more agile?
Farrington: Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge is a good example. There, optimizing medical pathways -- reducing bed occupancy per patient, making the hospital more efficient -- is crucial. It’s about increasing capacity without building more hospitals and employing more doctors. If you have that approach in your culture, then you can provide the technology to provide it. Walk into a ward there and you will see an electronic scorecard. You can then make comparisons and make efficiencies, [levelling up between doctors in terms of best practice].
Other than health care, what are the main industries you serve in Europe?
Farrington: Financial services, life sciences and pharmaceutical are big for us across Europe. Police too -- in Israel, Sweden and Wales. For example, Gwent police illustrate our “land and expand” approach. They were looking at being able to understand performance capabilities of individual officers initially, but that got them on to skill sets and what they call “cops on dots,” where you map the appropriate skill set on to an incident.
How do you see the UK and other European markets compared with the US? Is it more midmarket than corporate?
Farrington: Our heartland is in the midmarket, but large enterprises have followed quickly. We get about 60% of our revenues from Europe, 30% plus from North America. That speaks back to our Swedish origins, and in the Nordic region. It’s an early-adopter region. Sweden in particular can do no wrong these days – from schools to crime novels!