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Qlik Connect 2024 - the crucial role of data and AI in retail and non-profit organizations

Alyx MacQueen Profile picture for user alex_lee June 7, 2024
Qlik customers from Henderson Group and Direct Relief disclose how Qlik has made a difference to governance, collaboration and adding value.

Qlik Connect 2024 © Qlik
(© Qlik)

The voice of the customer is the litmus test for how a vendor holds up against its statements from the stage. Customer use cases can sometimes be hard to chase down at events. Not so at Qlik Connect. These are just a couple of examples from the many conversations I had with customers.

Henderson Group are the owners of the SPAR, EUROSPAR, ViVO, ViVOXTRA and ViVO Essentials franchises in Northern Ireland and have been distributing food and grocery-related products to the convenience retail sector for over 120 years. I spoke to Business Intelligence and Data Analyst Emma McAlister, who has worked at Henderson Group for six years and started working with Qlik at the beginning of 2023, although the company had been using QlikView since 2006.

McAllister helped to launch the project of modernizing to Qlik Sense self-service, which gives users access to business intelligence regardless of analytics skills. Using a group of early adopters as BI champions, McAlister and colleagues created a community of low-code developers across the business that didn’t yet have that level of experience - and taught them how to build their own apps.

One of the lessons learned along the way was the need to create a bespoke training course that included a dataset from Henderson Group to make it real to the audience and to give staff a sense of achievement from attending a training course that resulted in a meaningful output. Another important insight was the importance of having a governance model in place from the start, as McAlister recounted:

We set up like a governance model with best practices for data, and then our committee where our BI Champions will like put forward an idea for an app they want to build or a change to a report. The committee will look at how that relates to all the different departments, and we have a framework of checking if the proposal is going to be something simpler, better or faster for making business decisions.

We don’t want our analysts to just be collecting and reporting data - or duplicating work when one aspect could just be incorporated into an existing template. Once they’ve built their app, they come back to present documentation, testing information and take us on a tour of the app. It’s a multi-step process to make sure that everything that's on our Qlik Sense hub has passed those guardrails and that we can be sure it's one single source of truth.

From retail to non-profit 

Another use case came from global humanitarian nonprofit organization Direct Relief. Andrew Schroeder, VP for Research and Analysis explained that the company uses data analysis, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), AI, and other analytical efforts to better understand the need for humanitarian response. It originally integrated Qlik with SAP to enhance logistics and financial management. Schroeder noted that this integration was crucial for increasing the organization's internal understanding of its operations. 

However, the scope of Qlik’s application expanded significantly in 2020, when Direct Relief began working with Qlik’s data science and social good team to produce applications in Qlik Sense, providing insights into problems beyond our organization, such as pandemic response and refugee movements after the Ukraine war. 

AI, including generative AI, plays a crucial role in Direct Relief’s operations. Schroeder highlighted the distinction between generative AI and applications such as machine learning and pattern recognition:

We've used AI for geospatial analysis, like detecting damaged buildings from satellite images after disasters, and predicting demand for humanitarian goods based on historical data and infrastructure information.

Generative AI, specifically, aids in what Schroeder calls "humanitarian information synthesis." He emphasized that by processing vast amounts of humanitarian reports and data, AI helps Direct Relief produce concise, up-to-date briefs on crises like the war in Sudan:

Generative AI allows us to cover crises that might otherwise fall into a knowledge gap due to our limited resources.

The importance of partnership

Collaboration is key to Direct Relief’s success. Schroeder underscored the importance of partnerships in their initiatives. For instance, in the Climate First project, they collaborate with the Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) in India. SEWA provides community connections and builds health programs, while Direct Relief supports these efforts with technology, education, and data literacy. Schroeder acknowledged that "We couldn’t do the actual provision of assistance without our partners who have on-the-ground expertise".

Beyond providing software, Qlik engages deeply with Direct Relief, helping them understand problems and build solutions. This collaboration enables Direct Relief to explore broader advocacy efforts, such as promoting solar energy as a humanitarian issue. Schroeder praised Qlik for its corporate social responsibility partnership work:

In part because like many companies, they provide donated or discounted software. So part of the partnership is built off access to technology and access to resources.  But Qlik goes a step further and works with us around helping to understand what the technology can do - how emerging aspects of their software helps us to think about problems in new ways and even build key portions of some of the tools that we then use. 

In what ways?

We’ve worked for six months in close loops with them to help shape dashboards so that it works to address the specific problem that we need to focus on. It’s not that we couldn't have done it ourselves, but the fact that having their expertise available to us makes it so much better. And it adds to the total amount of work that we're able to do - in this case, looking at every health center in the US, and what kinds of energy transition each one needs and how to think about that in a way that's not just actually about energy. So, you know, what kinds of crises do they face? What kinds of demographics are you helping to solve for? And how does that then allow for kind of a broader advocacy around why solar energy is a humanitarian issue? Qlik really dug right in and worked alongside us.

My take

It was encouraging to hear customers recount examples of strong governance and documentation, and testimonials that say more than any mission statement possibly could. My next piece will feature more customers, and the highlights from discussions with Qlik executives.

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