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Inside the deal: KoP-based Qlik doubles down on artificial intelligence with new acquisition

January 28, 2019

Source, Philadelphia Business Journal, Michelle Caffrey

When global data analytics firm Qlik decided to increase its investment in artificial intelligence, it didn’t have to look far.

The King of Prussia-based company announced this week it’s agreed to acquire California-based analytics company Crunch Data, which was founded five years ago by a team that included three former Qlik employees who wanted to build new ways for Qlik customers to access data.

That was how CrunchBot, a product also acquired as part of the deal, was born. It allows users to get insights into their data through natural language processing, including voice and text-based interactions that can be integrated into applications they already use daily, like Slack, Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa, Salesforce Chat and Microsoft Teams. Crunch’s customers include well-known brands and corporations including Comcast, Expedia and Intuit.

The deal is the second Qlik, one of the handful of tech companies in the region owned by private equity firm Thoma Bravo, has made since bringing on a new CEO in March 2018. Terms were not disclosed.

“When we started Crunch, we really wanted to do something new,” said Charney Hoffman, a Crunch co-founder and its VP of services . “We loved the idea of delivering a service for AI, and always kept Qlik in the back of my mind,” he said, adding they invested heavily in Qlik as well because it has an “incredible” API and it saw an opportunity to validate the way Qlik goes to market.

While AI can apply to a number of fairly simple data processes, Crunch Data brings in machine learning technology, which goes deeper by adding in more automation, enabling a machine to not only make decisions based on inputted data, but to continually improve that process by learning from data interactions it creates. For example, if you ask CrunchBot a question, it doesn’t just provide the data you need, it uses your response to improve its functions as well.

“There’s a lot of potential, so when they approached us wanting to forge a deeper and deeper partnership, we were of course super open to that.”

Crunch first partnered with Qlik four years ago, and the CrunchBot feature had already been integrated into Qlik, but the company wanted to take its relationship with Crunch a step further.

The decision to take the relationship from partner to parent partly stemmed from last year’s “Data Revolution Tour” where Qlik execs traveling the country heard from customers about how they liked to interact with data and appreciated CrunchBot’s ability to present data in a way that feels natural to users. Conversations between the two companies started to ramp up more in the second half of 2018, culminating in this week’s deal.

“We were super impressed with the people and felt that we wanted to give the opportunity to come back. It was a great fit,” said Drew Clarke, Qlik’s senior vice president of strategy management, adding that when the company announced the acquisition at its global sales kick off in Barcelona this week, employees gave a standing ovation.

Now as part of Qlik, the CrunchBot is available to all Qlik users, and will be renamed the Qlik Insight Bot and available as part of Qlik’s Sense platform.

The acquisition doesn’t just bring the CrunchBot product in-house, a driving force behind it was also acquiring its staff. In a time where in-demand tech positions are difficult to fill — especially ones that require experience in the emerging field of AI — the group of about 30 professionals who will join Qlik’s global ranks of more than 2,000 will be a welcome addition to AI-focused initiatives throughout the company.

“[Adding a missing] piece of the puzzle is a great way to think about,” Taylor said.

Data and being able to present it in a way users can understand and act on it has been Qlik’s central focus since the beginning, but AI capabilities allow it to take that a next step to make it easier to pinpoint exactly what data users need and easier to understand.

Adding those capabilities amounts to what Qlik calls “augmented intelligence,” in which the focus isn’t just about a machine’s input, output and the algorithms in between, it’s about giving users the ability to mold every step of that process so the results are reliable and relevant.

“Even though machine learning and AI has a lot of potential, enabling the users to interact with what the AI algorithms are doing and putting that in context of a conversation is what lets you tighten that up,” said Hoffman

The ultimate goal, Clarke said, is to help users make better decisions, and the combination of human and artificial intelligence is a powerful way to reach it.