I enjoyed reading this article by Martin Heller in which the author analyzed three top Data Visualization products: Tableau, Qlik Sense and Power BI. Heller does a nice job explaining how these products represent an evolution in BI, making real data insights attainable for non-IT business users. Mr. Heller says that each of these make self-service BI “remarkably easy” for users throughout the organization, but that in his opinion Tableau stood out as the best of the three.
But if Heller’s analysis is correct, then his conclusion makes no sense. He first cautions that none of these products is well suited for Enterprise Reporting; an important point — if you are looking for financial reporting, you are looking in the wrong place. He then details each product’s features at length, with a focus on ease of use and the breadth of visualizations available in each. He notes that there is very little difference in mobile capabilities (the Android app for Power BI is an exception, slated for September release). Finally, he concedes that Power BI offers the best value as compared to Qlik Sense, and significantly better value than Tableau. My question to Martin is this: if you cannot afford Tableau or Qlik Sense licenses, and therefore cannot truly democratize business insights from data in your organization — what difference does the rest make?
I’m not talking about a few dollars here and there, I’m talking 4x – Power BI Professional is $10 per month per user, Tableau Online is $500 per year per user. I’ll let you do the math. Mr. Heller does state that Qlik Sense is less expensive than Tableau, but does not go into specifics.
Who wants another server on-premises to publish BI reports and dashboards? Business users love cloud services: they pay a simple monthly subscription for the insights and visualizations they need, and they don’t need to ask IT for anything! Further, they get accelerated product updates from the cloud – much faster than traditional IT shops can maintain. The net result is that vendors inevitably achieve parity, and the question “which product has the best visualizations?” quickly becomes a zero sum game.
Power BI is the only product with Natural Language Query capabilities. You simply type a question (i.e., “What was our customer churn rate in the past 3 months?”) and Power BI selects a visualization for you to explore. The visualization chosen may or may not have been created by the dashboard’s author.
All of these tools offer simple connectors to databases, Hadoop, CSV files, cloud data providers, but neither Tableau nor Qlik Sense provides a data shaping tool with the capability of Power Query. For real power data users, Power Query’s M Language has all the capability of an IT Pro’s data transformation package, with none of the IT headache. Power Query can be used in Excel, and it can also be used in the Power BI Desktop application. In either case, analysts consume and shape data on the desktop, build reports and publish to the cloud.