Expert Interview Series: Hrvoje Smolic of Qualia on Data Visualization

on December 29th, 2016

Data analysis

Hrvoje Smolic is founder and CEO at Qualia, a business intelligence and data visualization company.

We recently asked Hrvoje about how data visualization and data analysis helps companies improve. Here’s what he shared:

Can you tell us about Qualia’s mission? How are you helping businesses today?

It all started in 2010 with a passion for data visualization, theory of human perception, Anscombe’s quartet and the enthusiasm to build a better, more “natural” software to present Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and business data insights.

Today, we are helping more than 5,000 businesses worldwide to – in short – see and to understand how they are doing. Our BusinessQ software tells them the story of their business data in a precise, effective and unambiguous way. From monitoring sales, overseeing inventory, measuring business success, to tracking KPIs. It helps companies to see otherwise hidden patterns, to spot business problems on time as well as to identify useful opportunities in their raw data.

What are the major pain points and/or challenges facing your clients today? How are you helping them?

Everybody needs at least basic information about their business success, no matter how small or big company is. The first challenge is to always get relevant data, because information is not always in an easy-to-read format.

The second challenge, often omitted, is to visualize data in a clean, right way. Raw data can only be valuable when it is understood, and not just when it is available.

Our brain is pattern-detecting software – and BusinessQ is leveraging that fact. We provide our clients with proper data visualization so they won’t be stuck with mere numbers and won’t spend hours trying to understand them.

How has the field of business intelligence evolved since Qualia was founded?

Qualia was founded in 2010. Somewhere at that point the business intelligence world was beginning to change. Old BI tolls lacked the capabilities to visualize ever growing data in the proper way. Since then, the leaders in the industry became those who understood the new need for proper data visualization. Reports moved from tables to more insightful graphs.

Why is data so critical to a businesses success? What insights are especially useful to a company’s growth?

Good data is critical in any way. Businesses can not be lead by hunches, not anymore. Today, there are too many possible data sources. Our brain by itself can keep track of or can have a “feeling” about only a small number of them. By collecting all relevant data and by communicating it to the managers, they have new powers to keep track of their business and make informative decisions. For retail, insights like which items are top sellers and which are the ones you have in stock, but does not sell, which part of the day is the busiest one, which tables in my restaurant earn more than others etc. are extremely useful.

How should businesses be leveraging data to grow their brands?

It really depends on the business type. It can mean going through historical data in Google Analytics in order to determine which times of the year new customers are most likely to buy, for example. Or, to analyze past data to understand different patterns in revenues in order to better prepare for months to come.

What are the most common mistakes or oversights you observe your clients making in regards to how they use data?

The most common mistakes come from certain inertia – most people are still thinking that report is a spreadsheet table with 10,000+ rows. That is very hard, if not impossible to read and understand. Often, one chart showing a trend, part to whole or nominal comparisons can reveal a great deal about revenues, and will do that in seconds. When people start to read data through carefully designed information dashboards, they immediately start to understand how they are doing, without time-consuming spreadsheets.

What tools or resources are essential to companies who want to harness their business intelligence?

If the company is small, all they need to have is a piece of software that can pull their data and visualize them properly. For that they need only a little passion for data visualization. If the company is larger, they not only need only a software tool, but also human resources such as data warehouse (database experts and data scientist enthusiasts who can “tame” a big number of database rows into quality information.

What role does quality visualization and data analysis play in a company’s ability to understand their business intelligence?

Essential. Today, still around 80 percent of business intelligence projects fail. We think that one of the major reasons is the fact that project don’t have data visualization experts. At the end of the day (project), if a manager doesn’t understand charts, or worse, if he is looking into misleading chart junk – BI project will fail. Business Dashboards are not here to entertain managers, but to inform them. That is essential. You can build a perfect data warehouse, integrate 10 data sources, but if data is poorly represented, the BI project will fail.

What innovations in the field of business intelligence are you most excited about? Why?

I am most excited about the ability to understand and read non-traditional data sources that can’t generally be put into a data structure like columns or rows. Unstructured data is often more subjective and is usually text heavy. Together with traditional data sources they can give a 360-degree view of any business.

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