NPrinting 17.2 Review – Three Steps Forward and One Step Back

For those who don’t already know, Qlik NPrinting is a content distribution tool for the Qlik Platform. It enables the distribution of static reports in various widely-used formats such as Word, PowerPoint and HTML.

A brief history

NPrinting 17 (NP17) is the result of the project code-named “Opera” – which was started before Qlik acquired Vizubi and finally came to fruition early in 2016. It’s fair to say the first two releases (17.0 and 17.1) weren’t quite ready for primetime, but 17.2 is a great step forward in reliability as well as functionality.

The NPrinting story so far…

  • 17.0 was the first release in the series – introducing web-based management of reports, schedules and related items. In version 16 and before this had all been done through a Windows application.
  • 17.1 introduced initial compatibility with Qlik Sense (QS). Previously it was a QlikView-only product and it became known as “Qlik NPrinting” not “QlikView NPrinting” at this point.
  • 17.2 was mostly a stability and performance release, but did also re-introduce the On-Demand functionality for QlikView (QV).

I’ve worked with NPrinting since 2012 (when it was Excel-only and being developed by Vizubi) and I have the honour of being the first ever certified NPrinting developer! I’ve been using 17.2 for the last couple of months and, combined with my experiences around earlier releases, here is my considered opinion.

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Alex being presented his NPrinting Developer Certificate by Vizubi’s Aran Nathanson,
now Qlik NPrinting Product Manager.

New architecture and delivery mechanisms

NPrinting 17 is a massive step forwards in terms of enterprise architecture – adding web-based management and report consumption, multi-user capabilities including permissions management. It keeps the familiar flexible structure of previous releases with Connections, Tasks, Reports, Filters and so on.

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The new NPrinting 17 web interface.

It adds two new distribution methods:

  1. NPrinting NewsStand – here users can see which reports they have access to and can subscribe to have them generated and/or sent to them on a schedule of their choosing.
  2. Qlik Sense Hub – you can push NPrinting reports into the Qlik Sense Hub so users have one place to go to consume all of their Qlik information. (Note: QlikView Publisher can do this now too – heading towards what Qlik are calling the “Unified Hub”.) The process for getting this up and running isn’t exactly slick, but once done, it’s a useful additional delivery mechanism.

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The Qlik Unified Hub – Qlik Sense, NPrinting & QlikView.

Additional compatibility

“Qlik Sense compatibility” is more true for this release than it was for 17.1 (where you’d often have reports fail if based on QS), but it still doesn’t come with all the functionality of the QlikView side of the tool.

The Select Objects dialog has improved with 17.2, now showing the IDs that you can (if no other way than via the dev hub single configurator) trace back to objects in the Qlik Sense app – which may be useful if you haven’t or can’t set a Name.

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One of the main limitations remains – that you don’t get to see previews of the Qlik Sense objects when you drop them into your template. Instead you just get a generic icon which can make designing your reports quite tricky.

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That said, when you do view a report, they look great. No issues with scaling here: since Qlik Sense has a fully responsive interface, the objects you embed flex as you resize them to fit your slide, document or web page…

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Example PowerPoint report with Qlik Sense objects embedded.

What’s missing?

As you can see from the three major releases this year, Qlik are actively developing NPrinting and I’m sure they have these ideas in mind, but here are some of the things I think should be on the roadmap:

  • Previewing of Qlik Sense objects in reports. As identified above, this is probably the most limiting factor right now.
  • Embedding reports into HTML emails. This was one of my favourite things in NPrinting 16 – embed the actual chart / KPI etc. in an email so the end user doesn’t even have to open an attachment! Unfortunately, whilst the help says this is possible, it’s not (yet).
  • Importing recipients from somewhere other than an Excel file. We have made extensive use of the ability to import from a QlikView object. There are workarounds to this but we’d love to see this re-introduced in NP17 for QV and QS.
  • Simplifying the process for adding reports to the Qlik Sense Hub and integration with the Qlik Sense QMC for user management and so on.

The conclusion

NPrinting has a special place in my heart and I have definitely skimmed over some of its amazing features that I’ve taken for granted over the last four years. So my advice is this:

  • If you’re a current NPrinting 16 user and you only have QlikView in your estate, then you might be better off sticking with NPrinting 16 for the time being. The main reason I can see to consider upgrading here would be if you need a multi-node environment to cope with the sheer volume of reports you distribute or to make use of the NewsStand feature.
  • If you’ve got a mixture of QlikView and Qlik Sense then I think that NP17 is worth a shot now it’s stabilised. Definitely check the features you need and trial it before making a decision on which version to use.
  • In a purely Qlik Sense environment, you’ve not got a choice – I’d just say be cautious about what you promise to deliver in tight timeframes as there is a learning curve as well as more improvements to come down the line. Again, trial it in your environment to see if it works for you.

For more information on NPrinting, please visit our product page where you can request a demo to find out how it can enhance your Qlik experience. We also have an NPrinting training session coming up on 23rd February 2017 – call us on 0330 363 9900.

Alex Walker
Service Delivery Manager

Migrating from QlikView to Qlik Sense: What To Consider

The number one topic for organisations still using QlikView should be the migration to Qlik Sense. In my opinion, guided analytics (QlikView) have become outdated. Self-service analytics (Qlik Sense) are what is relevant now: analytics that put data at the fingertips of the user. Gone are the days of waiting on the IT department to produce reports: rapid development, using intuitive user-friendly interfaces, is here.

Switching to a self-service analytics tool such as Qlik Sense removes the bottleneck from IT, empowers the user and, in turn, the business. Establishing greater insights by having the freedom to visualise data differently, whilst still in a governed environment, is now the reality. Why do it any other way?

In this blog I will focus on the five key elements for any migration plan, starting with the infrastructure:

Server

Like QlikView, Qlik Sense is an in-memory application, so you will need a dedicated server/s. The servers will likely need to be a similar specification to your existing QlikView solution. The absolute minimum specification will require a Windows server with a 1gb HHD, 8gb RAM and Multi-core x64 compatible processors. The full system requirements can be found here. Please note, this is not the universal recommended specification as it varies depending on the size of the user base, data volumes etc. Contact us to find out more.

Licences

Our team of Qlik experts can help you understand if and how you can transfer licences. It is important to note that there are differences between the QlikView and Qlik Sense licencing models. The Sense model comprises of two types of licence: user access passes and login access passes (access passes are commonly referred to as tokens). The former is intended for frequent users and the latter for infrequent users. (A frequent user is defined as someone who consumes 10+ hours per 28 day period.)

Redevelopment

Scripting in Qlik Sense is no different to QlikView, therefore all code is transferable. Having said that, it’s not just a copy & paste exercise: you will need to re-establish the data connections and replace the connection strings in the script with the new ‘lib’ statements. Alternatively, for a quick win, you could use a binary load.

The bulk of redevelopment comes in the front end where you will need to recreate the visualisations. You will be surprised how fast this is achieved, thanks to the simplicity of Qlik Sense and how quick it is to create dashboards with the improved drag & drop/ click & select capability. Having come from a QlikView background myself, initially I found the snap-to-grid system annoying. I soon realised, however, that it was a blessing in disguise! It was after redeveloping an application in Qlik Sense (which I’d previously built in QlikView), that I realised the change really was for the better.

Security

Security in Qlik Sense is a little different but also a lot more flexible. In Qlik Sense you have the Hub (this is Sense’s version of the QlikView Access Point.) This is also the highest level of security – is the user authorised to access your Sense solution and do they have a licence?

Within the Hub you will discover ‘streams’ which mimics selecting a ‘category’ in Qlik View (essentially a collection of applications.) You would typically create a stream for a particular group of users – a user should have access to one or more streams. You can also apply security on an app, field and row level. Section access is still available in Qlik Sense but it works somewhat differently.

User training

For users to accept change they need to be made at ease with it. How do we make a user comfortable with a new tool? We train them! At Ometis, we provide a range of training courses which can be tailored to suit anyone. This varies from an hour long introduction to analysing data in Qlik Sense through to a three day course designed to turn individuals into Qlik developers or system administrators. Our flexibility can match your needs and current skill set.

What’s Next?

Once you have a list of what needs to be done, we can move onto the how and when. Take a moment to think about how you would implement a migration plan. Do you ‘rip the band aid off’ and leave the office on Friday as a QlikView user to return Monday with Qlik Sense, or do you run the two tools in parallel and drip feed users onto Qlik Sense over a period of time? As long as the end result is the same – does it matter? I think it does. It’s not just changing from one BI tool to another, it’s doing so in a manner which is accepted by the majority of the stakeholders, seamless for business-as-usual operations and beneficial to all users.

In my next blog, I’ll be discussing four approaches to Qlik Sense migration and weighing up the pros and cons of each, so be sure to check back.

Chris Lofthouse,
Qlik Consultant

What’s all this about Artificial Intelligence in Data Analytics?

The introduction of Artificial Intelligence into business processes is upon us. This will ultimately make businesses more streamlined, efficient and profitable. If you’re not at least evaluating what AI can do for your business right now, then you’re falling behind the competition.

Before we go any further, let’s de-mystify the tech speak. ‘AI’ is Artificial Intelligence and ‘NLG’ stands for Natural Language Generation. In short, it’s technology that will evaluate your data and return a written report back to you.

We all like to make life easier where we can and one way we can do this is by automating things that are done on a regular basis. We set up direct debits on our monthly bills and rules on our emails to automatically file them or sometimes delete them, we set our heating to come on when it drops below a certain temperature. These small and incremental improvements make our home lives easier to manage and give us time to get on with other things.

Now take a second to think about how long you took to prepare for your last meeting; where you had to explain what was going on and present your findings from the data available to you. Wouldn’t it be great if you could automate that part of your business life too?

This is where Narratives for Qlik comes in. If you have already invested in Qlik Sense Enterprise, or are thinking about what data analytics systems will serve you right in the short, medium and long term, then you should certainly be looking at Narratives for Qlik. It can save you time, provide enhanced insights and present you and your end users with a written report in a language that is easy to understand.

NLG is just one of the use cases for Artificial Intelligence being introduced into a business. This is all to do with structuring well-formed sentences, taking into account grammatical structures and company terminology. This is done programmatically based upon the data that Narratives is presented with. As Narratives for Qlik seamlessly integrates with Qlik Sense Enterprise, it is logical that the written report it creates relates to a specific chart on a dashboard.

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When users make their selections through the intuitive Qlik Sense Interface, the data in a given chart is reduced, focussing in on just a subset of data that relates to the particular selection made. As this happens, Narratives for Qlik recalibrates all the sentences based upon the new data set that is provided.

This takes things a lot further than any business analyst could manage in a reasonable time frame. What you’ll get out of the box is a written report, created in seconds on any permutation you can think of on your data. Now that’s got to be worth considering…

The Benefits

Speed

Narratives for Qlik, set up on a good solid Qlik Sense Enterprise deployment, can create written reports in seconds. Not only that, it’s also a hundred different reports in one. Every filter on every field or every different combination could show up something different in the data.  Narratives for Qlik will present its written report on that selection as quick as you can make the selection. This gives people the time they need to action those insights rather than worry about writing a report on their findings.

Consistency

Although data can stay consistent, the analysis of that data can vary. A number of factors can permeate on a written report: from who is looking at it and their frame of mind on that day to various external factors. If your business is data-driven and reliant upon the correct analysis of the vast amount of data it has access to, then getting the incorrect interpretations could potentially cost your organisation thousands of pounds. Automated report writing narrows the margin of error that exists with human input.

Redistribution of resources

Allow the talent in your business to work on more complex tasks. Report writing is boring – it must be done for a business to understand what’s going on, but it’s often repetitive. To write a good report you need to find a subject matter expert, data scientist and solid writer all wrapped into one.  By automating this process, you release the talent in your organisation to start adding value in other areas.

Understanding your business

Having sat in a finance team in my former career, I’m reasonably comfortable looking at numbers, but if I had to provide information for other departments, I would often deliver the information in written form. Written reports are much easier to understand and things are often more nuanced than ‘profit is going up/down!’

Next Steps

If this has sparked your interest and you want to find out a little more about Narratives for Qlik or Qlik Sense Enterprise, then get in touch and we’ll arrange a demonstration for you. If you already have Qlik Sense, then we could show you exactly how this would work over your live data.

You can also join us for our introductory webinar at 3pm on Tuesday 29th November 2016 – where we’ll show you how Narratives for Qlik can be utilised to drive your business forward.

Andy Patrick,
Sales Manager

Our Wealth Management Roundtable Event: A Summary

On the 20th October, we hosted our Wealth Management Roundtable event. Hosted in Qlik’s UK offices, on the 32nd floor of the impressive Tower 42 in London – it was a spectacular setting. Ruffer LLP’s Operational Risk & Control Manager, Stewart Lancaster, was our special guest speaker and the event was attended by representatives from various Wealth Management firms interested in understanding how organisations like Ruffer solve some of their most complex data challenges.

Becoming a data-driven organisation

Our Sales Manager Andy Patrick, started proceedings with a presentation on the challenges and opportunities faced by businesses in their quest to become more data-driven and effective in making decisions. Another key element Andy discussed was how companies can be more self-service orientated when they have access to the right tools, such as Qlik Sense.

We know that a key concern of our clients is the pressures they face in trying to balance the need for data security while also allowing their business the “freedom” to explore data in a meaningful way. This was another theme explored.

A Client’s Perspective

Next, Stewart took us through Ruffer’s journey of transformation over the last 18 months. Ruffer started out with a largely ineffective business intelligence system which had been developed in an old version of Qlik View (version 8). The company were struggling to achieve any valuable insights in the areas required: Key Performance Indicators, Key Risk Indicators and Key Control Indicators.

Stewart then went on to cover some of the challenges faced in implementing a new solution. Many of these centred on the cultural challenges experienced: the shift from an over-dependence on IT and Microsoft Excel does not occur overnight. Stewart finished by explaining the roadmap for the solution, such as expanding Qlik to include N-Printing, in order to get to the next phase of adoption.

Throughout, Stewart was highly enthusiastic and praised the level of engagement and support he has received from Ometis in helping transform the vision into a reality.

The discussion

Following Stewart’s insights, we moved onto our Q&A. Some fantastic questions were asked by our guests on a range of topics. Some centred around the uses and capabilities of Qlik in various business aspects including market risk management. Others focused on best practice and how to effectively tackle business challenges.

Following a lively and interesting discussion, we agreed the below approach:

  • Choose a use case that is small but high value
  • Deliver a proof of concept
  • Get buy in from stakeholders
  • Expand to other use cases

The session concluded with a great demonstration of Qlik Sense’s capabilities, delivered by Andy. This showcased all the capabilities of the solution and touched on many of its benefits as well as exploring some specific use cases such as the Wealth Management dashboard and some specific Ometis use cases showing the use of Qlik Sense in real world scenarios.

We had a fantastic day and want to say a huge thank you to our guests who we know got a lot out of the event. Also a thank you to Qlik for allowing us the use of their brilliant office space. We’re already looking forward to the next one!

You can find more information on how we can help support Wealth Management organisations here.

Planning Your ETL in Qlik

Qlik has a powerful script engine which allows you to bring information in from a variety of sources. It’s included within Qlik and because you load all the data into memory, once saved it is effectively a portable business intelligence (BI) solution. Of course in the real world the file would remain on a server where all the decision makers can access the information held within.

Naturally, one would assume each dashboard would bring in the data needed from its sources and this can be the case. However, when you’re planning a larger scale strategic implementation this becomes less efficient.

Qlik has a simple yet effective option to allow you to develop these large suites of BI dashboards. As mentioned, Qlik stores the information into memory and also has the ability to export data tables in a special format which is already optimised in the standard Qlik file format (QVD). This optimisation reduces the data size without the need for compression. A Qlik dashboard file can now be seen as something different; it becomes a script which moves a set of data from one location to another and perhaps transforming it as well.

For large deployments we would recommend creating three layers (three Qlik dashboard files):

  1. Extract
  2. Transform
  3. Dashboard Load

The Extract layer would take information from the source systems and place it straight into a QVD file. Here, the latest information from the source system can be added to the data retrieved previously – also known as incremental loading. This method is far more efficient than taking the whole history each time you re-load. It’s important at the extract stage that no data is changed, combined or additional fields added. This way you can easily test that your saved data matches the source file.

The next step is Transformation.  Here we read the previously saved data and get it ready for consumption for a dashboard. As before we would do this incrementally for large tables that are added to over time. Transformation would include; joining tables together, adding flags and calculations.

Finally the Dashboard Loads the transformed data it requires. As the data is fully prepared in the transformation stage, it can be loaded as ‘optimised’ which means it happens very quickly.

When storing QVDs in the Extract and Transform layers it’s good practice to split large tables into manageable chunks. These tables typically contain your transactional data which grows over time (commonly referred to as FACT tables). These bite sized chucks depend on the data volume although we would typically recommend monthly files – this makes archiving data in the future easier. Also, if your dashboard only requires information from the last twelve months, you don’t need to load a QVD file which potentially could contain many years of data, which of course would slow down your process.

The benefits of this type of data load structure include:

  • Your source systems are only accessed once, reducing the demand on their resources
  • You can validate the accuracy of each stage of the process
  • QVD files are built up over time and are optimised
  • Several dashboards can re-use the same data which is both efficient and consistent

If you have any questions or you’d like more information on how Qlik business intelligence can help your organisation, please don’t hesitate to contact us on +44 (0)330 363 9900 today.

Thanks for reading!

Richard Pearce, Senior Consultant.