BI tools – new to Qlik Sense? You need to know about these features

In the last year I’ve had the opportunity to play around with a few BI tools and whilst I’m no expert, I’ve found things I like and dislike about those that I’ve used. This is the first in a series of blogs that I’ll write about my views of different BI tools, starting with what I like about Qlik Sense.

Generally we focus on velocity and volume with data and these are applicable to BI tools in some way too. But user experience is an important aspect that is often overlooked. So I will focus on features that enhance the user experience in Qlik Sense and make it different from the rest.


Chances are you’re going to have various sources of data and you will need to link them together  to use in a BI tool. Other tools may do this via a SQL join when you add the data sources, but these relationships don’t transfer to the dashboards automatically.

In Qlik Sense they do via associations. Similar to a SQL join** but the definitions are universal. Have some sales data and want to look at a specific store? Just select the store and watch it adjust to your selection. This is built for me automatically because I defined the relationship in the association. Sure I can do this manually in other tools, but I find the granular management tedious even when there aren’t many. I like customization and flexibility, and simplicity is also appreciated.

Manage relationships in Qlik Sense visually with associations. It even makes suggestions for you!

**When are they different from a SQL join? When you want to do aggregations on distinct values. If I’m joining transaction data with a lookup in SQL, anything that doesn’t comply with the join criteria will not be in the end result set. With associations, if you were to do a count on a column in the lookup, it would count all of them regardless of whether they appear after an association had been applied.


I find the chart select in Qlik Sense pretty bare bones and basic. I can’t do interesting maps with geometry, sankey plots, radio selection buttons etc. But that’s where extensions come in. Extensions are made by the Qlik community and add extra functionality to Qlik Sense. I wanted a sankey plot and there’s one here. This is great as I can search on Qlik branch and there’s probably someone who’s already made an extension of it. They also very easy to add.

Other tools get around this problem with hacks made by very clever people on the internet but they don’t always work and involve a lot of tweaking. I’ve found that no one tool does everything so these are great but a nightmare for the inexperienced.

The caveat is that extensions are made by the community. They may not be updated, work with the latest versions or adjustable to make it work.

Smart search

I find user navigation in difficult general. When I’ve poured a lot of effort into a dashboard with many visuals, how can I guide the user along in terms of where to look and click? I haven’t found the solution but the smart search in Qlik Sense does contribute to this.

It even has suggestions and auto-complete functionality.

It allows me to search within my dashboard (data included), bring up anything relevant and apply it as a filter throughout. Many times I’ve built a dashboard only for my manager to ask “how can I look at ?” and I’d have no answer. With smart search, users of my dashboard can search for what they want without me having to build something bespoke around it. They could even build new their own drag and drop sheets to show exactly what they want.

Improvements wish list

Here are some things I hope to see improved:

More appearance customizations
Qlik Sense does automatic scaling very well with its grid system, but not being allowed to change the grid size makes things difficult. Theme and color palette (only 2) options would also be great in creating unique looking dashboards.

Dynamic parameters for sheets and dashboards
Parameters work for the script loader but once I’m in the visual side of things I can’t change them. The smart search is a substitute for this in a way, but if the user doesn’t know what to look for then it’s not as good.

Live data connections
This does exist in the form of direct discovery, but its development has halted. Live connections make better use of fast access data sources and, in a world with big data, this can’t be overlooked. The upcoming advanced analytics integration looks to solve this.

Better app management
In the Qlik Sense hub, apps all appear in one location. With features like Qlik’s ODAG creating more apps on the fly, more clutter is created. I’d greatly appreciate folders as I’ve accidentally deleted the wrong app before. User error but the interface wasn’t helping!

Data bucketing
This is for defining “in” and “out” members according to some criteria I set. For example, I want to color the “in” one color and “out” another. I could always do it with an “if” in the color expression box or with master items, but it’s not as intuitive.

Your favorites

Hopefully, this has been useful to new users who might be overwhelmed with the number of features, sometimes hidden away, in BI tools. Did I miss one of your favorite features? Or have I not discovered the proper way to do something in my improvements list? I’d love to hear about them and expand my BI knowledge.

If you’re interested in an overview on how Qlik Sense works with Kognitio and big data, check out this data sheet. For a working example of big data with Qlik Sense’s ODAG and Kognitio, watch this video.

Looking to build your own ODAG implementation with Kognitio? Then refer our step-by-step guide.

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