Weighing Up The Pros and Cons of Qlik Extensions - Ometis
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Weighing Up The Pros and Cons of Qlik Extensions

Posted on: 6th July 2018, 11:02 am

I recently read a post by Mary Pitzer titled, Extensions = friend or foe? and it got me thinking about the pro and cons of Qlik extensions.

There is but one positive I can think of, it offers something Qlik Sense, out-the-box, doesn’t. It’s as simple as that.

The post by Mary Pitzer highlights two negatives that are commonly raised when I talk to our customers about extensions:

1. Potential security risks

As stated in Mary’s post, the data never leaves the app but what about the code? Some extensions I’ve seen reference external scripts which have the potential to introduce malware.

Back in September 2017, Qlik mentioned a certification programme for extensions but little indication of any timeframe has been released since. The purpose of the certification programme was to verify the code is sound, has no reason to break in the foreseeable future and contains no malware.

For now, at least, there is no guarantee by Qlik that an extension is secure.

2. Support for future Qlik Sense releases –is it worth the risk?

In my humble opinion, I’d say no. Unless it’s adding something which isn’t currently achievable in Qlik through other means.

To paraphrase Bruno Calver at the Partner Enablement Day earlier this week, there aren’t many questions you can’t answer with a scatter, bar or line chart.

Having said that, to de-risk the potential of the extension not working in future versions, you could learn which API’s the extension uses and check the latest changes via Qlik’s API Insights, which provides visibility into API changes in Qlik products. Here you can grasp a small amount of certainty over any API’s stability.

I guess you’ve also got to ask the question: ‘Can I live without it, at least for now?’

I ask this because the rate at which Qlik Sense is evolving is astonishing, and Qlik are showing no signs of slowing their development of new capabilities and features in the platform.

At the Qlik Sense Tour in June 2018, I heard a customer talk about a feature they wanted, and it came available in the next release. This is something I’ve experienced first-hand, read my Qlik Sense June 2018 Release blog for confirmation, and I’m hearing this more and more from other customers too.

I can add a further negative, such as:

3. Consistency

Is there anything worse than inconsistency within a dashboard? Maybe some things, like a pie chart, but not many!

Currently, from my experience, there is no extension that has an identical look, feel and familiarity to a native Qlik Sense object. I’ll come back to this statement shortly.

Data literacy is a hot topic at the moment – the other day I was reading a post by Tim Wilson titled, ‘The Data Literacy Triad’ and in this post it also talks about tool literacy. There was one sentence that resonated in my head: ‘No amount of UX work can change the fact that complex systems make for complex data and offering a high degree of flexibility adds complexity in its own right.’

Many extensions available on Qlik’s Branch are built to either offer a new visualisation type or to provide more configurable properties. Usually it’s developers trying to turn Qlik Sense into QlikView – something I whole-heartedly disagree with.

So, referring to my previous statement, why add complexity and inconsistency to a platform that promotes simplicity, intuitiveness and visualisation best practices?

After-all, humans inherently get better through repetition, so it could be said that adding an extension to the chart library is the same as throwing a spanner in the works, right?

For example, when the waterfall chart was released in September 2017, I didn’t need to learn how to use it. I already knew as it would be the same as building any other native object. This is not the same for extensions.

From an analyser perspective, you risk alienating less data literate users with unfamiliar visualisations, not because it’s an extension, or due to inconsistency in the UI but because it’s a visualisation they’ve not come across before, which can overwhelm them. I often tell customers to stick to the charts their users are comfortable with.

Please don’t think I’m an extension cynic though.

There are some extensions out there that offer great insights and can even promote user adoption. Take Narratives for Qlik as an example – an extension that writes a narrative about your Qlik data and visualisations, enabling the most and least data literate users to extract all the facts and insights. Providing a level-playing field, in addition to analysis efficiencies for added ROI.

To conclude I have found extensions to be both friend and foe, often bittersweet. They add a new method of visualising data or further configuring the UI design but at the cost of best practices, such as consistency.

In my opinion, sticking with the native chart library is your best option and only using those extensions which focus on adding functionality such as Narratives for Qlik or NPrinting on-demand which aren’t trying to replace an existing object, or visualise the data, but further enhance the products capabilities.

UPDATE:
Today (10/07/2018), a week after it was discussed in this blog, Qlik are introducing their Trusted Extension Developer Program. Check out the announcement here. Alternatively, to check out the lasted Trusted Extension Developer Offerings check out Qlik Market.

By Christopher Lofthouse

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