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How Data Analysis Transforms CSR Efforts: Q&A with Qlik’s Julie Whipple

Software company Qlik aims to harness the collective intelligence of people across an organization. Their platform is all about providing an easy way for clients and organizations to access data in one place and push stories out, says the company’s global head of corporate responsibility Julie Whipple.

“Everybody is talking about using data to make better decisions, glean insights, and go farther, especially in the social sector,” she says. “We leverage our products, our people, and our culture to help organizations.” Based in Radnor, Pennsylvania, and originally founded in Sweden, Qlik currently has around 48,000 clients around the world.

The company has formed partnerships with groups like the United Nations, the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) Private Sector Roundtable, and the Clinton Global Initiative. They also have a program supporting about 400 NGOs with their platform. In addition, global enterprise customers use Qlik to measure sustainability factors such as carbon footprints and water usage.

Recently we caught up with Whipple to find out how data analysis and visualization can transform international CSR efforts.

What trends are you seeing around tracking sustainability data?

Often it takes partnership, transparency, and collaboration to make an impact. The NGO community, the public sector, and the private sector can’t do it alone.

We partnered with the Nature Conservancy in Brazil, supplying them with Qlik licenses. They work through the Green Blue Water Coalition, a TNC initiative that has support from the private sector, to contribute to water security in 12 of Brazil’s metropolitan regions.

Previously, the coalition was trying to measure how much water was available to different business organizations. They were doing that in spreadsheets. With our partner iMaps, we put all the data into a dashboard.

Through that dashboard, the coalition will be able to integrate the watershed information, systematize it, and create plans to better conserve that resource going forward. It’s not a finger-pointing exercise. All of the organizations involved realize that they need to work together to reduce water usage and waste.

How has improved data analysis made a difference for one of your clients?

We support an NGO in Hong Kong called Crossroads Foundation. They’re a wheelhouse of donated new surplus products from large manufacturing organizations in China.

Before Qlik, Matthew Gow, head of IT at Crossroads Foundation, stated that this organization wasn’t able to process these products, ship them out, and understand their impact virtually at all. They were doing it all on spreadsheets and sometimes on paper.

They now manage that whole supply chain in Qlik — hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of product that they move out to hospitals, health care organizations, global health organizations, NGOs, and schools around the world. Crossroads is now fostering donations of gently used goods and keeping products out of landfills, all driven by their use of data.

Do you have an internal example?

Every company manages their travel and expense budget. At Qlik we’ve always been managing our airfare, how much we spend on hotels, all of that. We tweak that a little bit, we save millions of dollars.

That’s a dashboard by person, country, department, and how much is spent on travel. It’s a typical financial report. We’ve added the carbon footprint. So with every record of how much we spend on an airline ticket comes the carbon cost of that flight.

Now decisions include the ability to save money and reduce the carbon footprint of our organization — whether or not you go to visit a client in Florida. That meeting could take place on the phone. We don’t need everybody to fly to Barcelona for this in-person meeting. We can do this over WebEx.

What are the biggest challenges you’re seeing come up for CSR data management?

There are so many different areas needing attention. We’re having conversations around how we take climate change, this big scary hairy thing, and make it actionable for the individual.

People want to do the right thing, but there is so much information out there that oftentimes they don’t believe their own personal action is going to make a difference. That’s what we’re trying to change.

How are you working to shift this using data analysis and visualization?

We’re trying to figure out the lever that says ‘your personal action will make a big difference,’ but we have to get the data pulled together and present it in a story that’s consumable by the average person looking on the internet.

It’s easy to believe there’s nothing good happening anywhere. But there’s an incredible amount of great work happening. The more good stories that we hear and learn about, the more we can leverage that collective intelligence to help organizations down a sustainable path.

What does the future look like for managing sustainability data?

The leaders you associate with sustainability — Unilever, Ikea, Volvo, those kinds of organizations — we can share what they do and say, ‘Here are templates.’ Then you’ll be measuring your own organization’s sustainability data according to these same metrics.

If we can showcase how leaders are doing this and drive it down to the tens of thousands of organizations that don’t know where to start or think they can’t add value to the equation, that’s where it gets exciting.

But it takes a lot of work, a lot of companies buying in and collaborating. Just like the folks in Brazil — government and companies — realizing that none of them are going to have access to clean water if one person abuses the system. We’re all in this together.

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