QlikAdvice: Give context to your data

Hello everyone and welcome to QlikFreak. This will be our first post in a new category called QlikAdvice, where we’ll talk about dashboard design in a broader sense. Instead of focusing on technical stuff (we already cover that in our Just Qlik It posts), this section will contain functional tips that will help you present information in an efficient and elegant manner. These principles will be applied to Qlik apps (QlikView and Qlik Sense), but you’ll find out that most of them are useful in other domains as well, from web design to NPrinting Reports, or even PowerPoint presentations (or should I say Qlik Sense Stories?). Today’s topic is an old classic you should never forget: context.

QlikAdvice: Give context to the data to improve the decision-making process

When it comes to analyzing data, context is everything. If you present isolated figures, users will have a hard time trying to find out the real story behind them. As a Qlik developer, it’s easy to fall in the trap and start shooting random KPIs right away. For example, I could start my sales dashboard with something like this:

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OK, we sold 3.56 M in 2016, that’s cool. However, what does this tell me? Was it a good or a bad year for our sales reps? Well, it all comes down to a simple question: “compared to what?”. In order to evaluate their performance, it would be better to have some kind of reference. For instance, the budget:

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Great, now we know that even though we sold 3.56 M, our goal was a little bit higher.

When you’re building dashboards, it’s always a good idea to imagine what the user will want to see next. Probably, once she sees these two numbers, she’d ask about the percentage of completion or the amount that we missed. Of course, there are a lot of users who are really good at math and can calculate this mentally, but I’d say it’s better to take the initiative and make things easier for them:

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Better, right? (If you didn’t notice that the percentage is incorrect, maybe you’re one of those guys who are not very good at math, sorry).

By the way, did you see the horizontal listbox I used for the years? Preety cool, right? If you want to use this extension in your apps, just go to Agilos’ website and download it. Elegant, simple and effective. One of my favorite extensions for navigation purposes (though I must admit I’m suprised Qlik forgot to include this as a default option).

Well, back to the main topic, let me give you another example of how you can enrich your KPIs. Let’s say the gross margin of our company was 16.5% during the first quarter of 2015. Once again, the isolated number doesn’t tell us much, but we can go further by building a simple visualization to accompany it:

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As you can see, adding this chart can make the landscape look quite different. Now, it is easy to notice that even though the gross margin has substantially improved during the last year, our company still has some work to do in order to be competitive and surpass the industry standard.

The appropriate references may change depending on the KPI you are dealing with and the goals of the organization, but some common examples are:

  • Last year’s performance
  • Quota / Budget / Objective
  • Comparisons with the closest competitors / products / employees
  • Market share
  • Industry standards

Remember, the idea is to give users some extra chunks of data that can help them understand what’s going on. These elements can take many forms and go from a simple number to robust visualizations like Stephen Few’s bullet chart:

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Is that QlikView? Yes, it’s actually an extension built by Stefan Walther available in Qlik Branch.

As usual, my recommendation is to try different things. You can start with a basic ratio displayed in a good-looking gauge:

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Check David Foster’s blog if you want to know how to build that Minimalist Gauge (QlikView native object.)

Or go for a more robust visualization that includes reference lines and visual cues like this control chart:

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Even simple color tricks can help you in this regard. For example, try highlighting your selections so it becomes easier to see how certain elements stand against the rest of the population.

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Come on, even the filters can give you that extra something that guides you to important insights!

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My final advice? Well, just remember Master Yoda’s teachings:

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Aaaaaaand that’s pretty much it. I hope you liked today’s post. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, don’t hesitate to use the section below.

Oh, and before I forget, our friend Brian Booden decided to start a new blog called Make it Qlik. Be sure to check it out here.

Thanks for reading. Until next time! 😉


Sidenote: About being a Qlik Luminary

Some of you might already know, but I’ve been recently selected as a member of the Qlik Luminary Program (which is kind of… well, like The Avengers or the Justice League of Qlik). I’m very excited about it, especially because I share this honor with some of the most talented Qlik professionals in the entire world (let’s hope I don’t mess it up with a meme or something like that). And even though Lars called me and offered me a 30 min window in Qonnections 2017 so I could give a speech, I wanted to take a moment to thank you (the one who’s reading this message) for following me on Twitter, reading / sharing my posts and helping me whenever I ask something in QlikCommunity. I’m really proud to be a part of this ecosystem. *Starts crying*   *Crowd goes crazy*   *Mic drop*   *Standing ovation*   *Ligths go off*

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