Post: Will AI Replace Visual Analytics?

We just wrapped up a great Qlik Connect conference in Orlando. I was intrigued by the discussions of what AI may mean to the future of our industry. I found the panel with the AI Council especially stimulating, some great minds sharing their research and perspectives. I was especially struck by the common refrain that “we know AI will impact our businesses, but there is much unknown as to exactly what this will look like”.

I’m of the mind that if we don’t know, let’s start working through some thought experiments. A potential that came up for me is: Generative AI, specifically RAG and private Enterprise LLMs, could replace the visual analysis function of Qlik Apps.

In Qlik Apps we create Dashboard visualizations. These visualizations provide answers to known questions, e.g. “what is current total sales vs target?” We also generate reports, a broader, although still summary view of a fixed point in time, for metrics like financial health. Both of these functions use carefully curated and validated data and will continue to do so.

In my Qlik trainings I use a story where a Leader sees the Dashboard values are out of compliance and tasks a Manager or staff analyst to explain the discrepancy. Sales are not meeting target, why?

A well designed Qlik App contains sufficiently detailed data with additional sheets and charts — containing dimensions and detail beyond the dashboard sheet — to filter and sift the data and allow a user to answer the ad hoc “why” question.

Through interaction with the analysis charts, we may find that the contributions of one salesrep, “Joe”, is causing the non-compliance. If we take Joe out of the mix we are on target. It’s likely this type of insight — what dimension(s) are responsible for the non-compliance — can be determined by a machine agent and a visual chart to support the determination can be generated on the fly. We are seeing that today.

Joe has been a stellar performer in previous periods. What has changed and what action should we take?

Could a Gen AI assistant be useful in this case? I shopped this scenario with a number of respected colleagues at the conference. One thread was “Joe’s spouse recently died and that understandably has affected his performance. A staff analyst could uncover this fact but an AI assistant would not”.

Could AI be aware of this event? There might be a record in the Enterprise HR system. Or public records such as obituary notices may be available. Or perhaps the staff analyst reached out to Joe via Teams and Joe shared this information. Could an AI assistant interview Joe and elicit the same information?

At the conference there was lots of talk about “trust”, which I understood to generally mean trust in the validity of the data. Should we also be talking about how we will ensure that employee, customer and partner interactions with Enterprise AI are consistent with privacy policies and regulations? If “AI” asks me for information, am I confident the information I provide will be properly categorized and subjected to relevant privacy and usage policies?

Can the AI assistant recommend an action plan? At Qlik Connect we saw how Qlik Answers can process unstructured documents like HR benefit policies. Could the assistant determine that Joe is eligible for company paid grief counseling services and draft an email to Joe offering help?

Another action may be to temporarily double team some of Joe’s accounts to relieve pressure on Joe and ensure that customers are getting optimal service. The AI assistant could identify appropriate salesreps based on product lines, region or other criteria.

What about “hallucinations”? That is, totally wrong answers from the AI assistant. I don’t see that as much of an issue. The assistant is not taking action directly, it is merely advising the leader. Staff analysts can “hallucinate” as well. I’ve been schooled a few times myself when I’ve delivered non-sensical answers. Leaders know their business. Also, the use of Gen AI also does not necessarily eliminate the staff analyst role. It may be that the analyst is using the AI assistant and curating the results for the leader.

If Gen AI can identify causes, generate supporting visuals and recommend action, do we need analysis charts in the Qlik App? Do we need detail data in the app if AI is already looking at a broader set of data? My best understanding of RAG is yes, we will require some level of detail data to provide context. But does that data need to live in the Qlik app data model if we are not using it in charts?

What do think? Will Gen AI kill off analysis charts? How do you see Generative AI changing what we build and deliver with Qlik?

– Rob Wunderlich

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As the BI space evolves, organizations must take into account the bottom line of amassing analytics assets.
The more assets you have, the greater the cost to your business. There are the hard costs of keeping redundant assets, i.e., cloud or server capacity. Accumulating multiple versions of the same visualization not only takes up space, but BI vendors are moving to capacity pricing. Companies now pay more if you have more dashboards, apps, and reports. Earlier, we spoke about dependencies. Keeping redundant assets increases the number of dependencies and therefore the complexity. This comes with a price tag.
The implications of asset failures differ, and the business’s repercussions can be minimal or drastic.
Different industries have distinct regulatory requirements to meet. The impact may be minimal if a report for an end-of-year close has a mislabeled column that the sales or marketing department uses, On the other hand, if a healthcare or financial report does not meet the needs of a HIPPA or SOX compliance report, the company and its C-level suite may face severe penalties and reputational damage. Another example is a report that is shared externally. During an update of the report specs, the low-level security was incorrectly applied, which caused people to have access to personal information.
The complexity of assets influences their likelihood of encountering issues.
The last thing a business wants is for a report or app to fail at a crucial moment. If you know the report is complex and has a lot of dependencies, then the probability of failure caused by IT changes is high. That means a change request should be taken into account. Dependency graphs become important. If it is a straightforward sales report that tells notes by salesperson by account, any changes made do not have the same impact on the report, even if it fails. BI operations should treat these reports differently during change.
Not all reports and dashboards fail the same; some reports may lag, definitions might change, or data accuracy and relevance could wane. Understanding these variations aids in better risk anticipation.

Marketing uses several reports for its campaigns – standard analytic assets often delivered through marketing tools. Finance has very complex reports converted from Excel to BI tools while incorporating different consolidation rules. The marketing reports have a different failure mode than the financial reports. They, therefore, need to be managed differently.

It’s time for the company’s monthly business review. The marketing department proceeds to report on leads acquired per salesperson. Unfortunately, half the team has left the organization, and the data fails to load accurately. While this is an inconvenience for the marketing group, it isn’t detrimental to the business. However, a failure in financial reporting for a human resource consulting firm with 1000s contractors that contains critical and complex calculations about sickness, fees, hours, etc, has major implications and needs to be managed differently.

Acknowledging that assets transition through distinct phases allows for effective management decisions at each stage. As new visualizations are released, the information leads to broad use and adoption.
Think back to the start of the pandemic. COVID dashboards were quickly put together and released to the business, showing pertinent information: how the virus spreads, demographics affected the business and risks, etc. At the time, it was relevant and served its purpose. As we moved past the pandemic, COVID-specific information became obsolete, and reporting is integrated into regular HR reporting.
Reports and dashboards are crafted to deliver valuable insights for stakeholders. Over time, though, the worth of assets changes.
When a company opens its first store in a certain area, there are many elements it needs to understand – other stores in the area, traffic patterns, pricing of products, what products to sell, etc. Once the store is operational for some time, specifics are not as important, and it can adopt the standard reporting. The tailor-made analytic assets become irrelevant and no longer add value to the store manager.