BI Tools Comparison: How to Decide Which Business Intelligence Tool is Right for You

May 6, 2021 | VALERIYA BARTOSH and ALEX KOVALCHUK

Now that you have a general understanding of the importance of Data Analytics and the tools available to you (read the previous article), it’s time to make a decision about which one to use. As you might expect, this is a complex decision, and depends on an extremely wide range of factors, that we are going to speak about later in this article.

Negotiating all of this may seem intimidating at first. Indeed, it can be very challenging to pick and implement the right tool to its maximum efficacy — especially if you do it by yourself as a decision-maker with insufficient technical knowledge and experience. Fortunately, you don’t have to go through this process alone. We have spent more than a quarter century in the field of business analytics, and we have more than 200 experts certified in major platforms. Having completed 100+ projects for clients of all sizes and geographic locations, we are well-versed in the BI Tool implementation process, and can make it much less intimidating for you.

However you choose to go about picking a tool, your first step must be a thorough study and analysis of your current and future business needs and challenges you might face. That is why we will try to walk in the shoes of a person who is thinking about deploying a BI Tool but lost in the market. We will distinguish the tools based on our experience of which tool works best for which types of organizations, instead of tedious pros and cons comparing. As in our Data Analytics article, we’ll focus on Tableau, Power BI, Qlik, and IBM Cognos.

Table of contents

  • Which BI Tool is Best for You? General Factors.
  • Essential Factors: pricing, ETL, single source of truth.
  • Granular Factors: Self-Service, Pre-Built ETL, Sources of Data, Interactivity, Statistical Reports, Geographic Analysis, Mobile-Friendliness, Embedded Statistical Packages, Manual Data Amendment and Insertion, Processing Data Volume Limitations, Sending Reports, Interaction with Other Systems and APIs, Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning, Integration with Unstructured Data.
  • Conclusion

Which BI Tool is Best for You? — General Factors

Business people often want to know what the best BI Tool is. The true answer is that there is no single best BI Tool. The four we listed, as well as a sizable handful of others, are excellent tools if they suit your needs. They can all produce visually appealing, actionable data analytics. The question, therefore, should not be which is best, but rather, which tool is best for you.

The first factor that comes to mind when evaluating the various tools is visualization: sleek diagrams, tables, and charts. The fact is, all BI Tools do this well and pleasant to look at. Let us prove it below by importing examples of each BI Tool’s table/spreadsheet capabilities. Take a look!

Qlik Sense table

Qlik View table

Tableau table

Power BI table

Cognos table

As you can see, they all look good, and they all present digestible data. So how to make the right choice? To answer this question, you must realize how complicated and tricky it was to prepare these tables in each BI Tool. The same understanding applies to other features and factors as well as to your overall business needs.

We live in the 21st century; progress is incessant. Competition spurs vendors to develop new and better features to make their customers’ work more convenient. If one vendor develops a Google Drive connector, the rest will have it tomorrow. If one vendor adds widgets for displaying maps, others will include the same widgets in an update. The same goes for all of the fancy, trendy words that different BI Tools manufacturers use to tempt new customers.

At IBA Group, we’re not in the business of tempting our clients with fancy language. We’re in the business of evaluating your desires and objectives individually, helping you make the best possible choice, and helping you optimize your experience with each tool.

In this section, we’ll explore a handful of important factors to consider when beginning to evaluate BI Tools, explaining how each one applies to the four major tools above.

Essential Factors

Factor #1: Pricing

In general, it’s not a good idea to choose a tool based only on the price. That may sound counterintuitive — we’ll illustrate why.

Let’s say Qlik costs about $30/month, and Power BI costs $20/month. That may seem to mean that Power BI is cheaper. Well, maybe. If you already own the entire Microsoft stack, it will indeed cost you less to incorporate Power BI into your native ecosystem. You won’t need to pay any additional developers to seamlessly integrate Power BI with your existing stack. In that case, yes, Power BI would probably be the less expensive option.

Qlik costs more in nominal terms, but that’s because it doesn’t need databases, a supplementary ETL, or a separate development team. Still, it can be expanded with additional products.

As you can see, the license price is not the only item that contributes to the overall price of a BI Tool. So, generally speaking, when evaluating pricing, these are good rules of thumb:

  • If you have a Microsoft stack, it will be logical to look into Power BI
  • If you have an IBM stack, try Cognos
  • If you aren’t tied to any stack, we propose to look at Qlik or Tableau

You’ll also want to consider the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for each BI Tool. The license cost of each tool does not comprise TCO, which includes technical infrastructure, additional manpower to implement and manage the product, and added costs like customer support and training. TCO will vary depending on the BI Tool you choose, its complexity, the number of experienced experts in the market, and much more.

We can help you avoid these various price pitfalls, select the tool that’s right for you, and get the most out of implementation.

Quick Tip

★ If you have a Microsoft stack, it will be logical to look into Power BI. ★ If you have an IBM stack, try Cognos. ★ If you aren't tied to any stack, we propose to look at Qlik or Tableau.

Factor #2: ETL

Does your company already use an ETL tool? If not, are you planning to implement one? Or, having weighed all the pros and cons? Have you decided that you don’t need ETL, and you’ll therefore have to process, clean, and load data only for BI tasks?

Whichever way you answer these questions, any BI Tool will suffice. The only caveat is if you neither own nor plan to own a third-party ETL, in which case you should choose a BI Tool with the strongest fully functional embedded ETL.

Each BI Tool has some kind of embedded or separate, prebuilt product that allows you to load and transform data. However, the capabilities of these ETLs are slightly different in each BI Tool. Our BI experts can help you identify and evaluate these differences, deciding on the tool most fitted to your existing ETL setup if any.

If, by answering our questions, you just now realized you need ETL, we will be happy to help you choose one, and tell you in great detail why it’s best for you. There are many solutions out there (e.g.: Informatica PowerCenter, IBM Infosphere DataStage, Pentaho Data Integration, Talend Data Integration, Spark, etc.), but we’ll save the deep dive for the next article.

Quick Tip

Each BI Tool has some kind of embedded or separate, prebuilt product that allows you to load and transform data. However, the capabilities of these ETLs are slightly different in each BI Tool.

Factor #3: Single Source of Truth

At this point, you should ask yourself whether your organization has a single source of truth (e.g.: a trustworthy data warehouse). Let’s study two cases. Suppose there is a system that contains all of your company’s data, you trust this source, the data is correct, then it can be used for all imaginable tasks. Alternatively, you have only ERP/CRM system containing all the data that you need solely for analytical tasks – visualization.

If you’ve already prepared and stored data, any BI Tool can visualize it equally well. If you haven’t, try to understand what tasks you want to cover with BI, so that the BI Tool you have chosen can make it happen.

If you’re thinking about creating a single point of truth, or you need advice to understand how to build and work with data in your company, please contact us.

Quick Tip

If you’ve already prepared and stored data, any BI Tool can visualize it equally well.

Granular Factors

Those first three factors can give you just a general sense of the BI Tool that’s right for you. But there’s a whole lot more to consider. In this section, we’ll endeavor to compare Cognos, Power BI, Qlik, and Tableau in terms of the features and capabilities that our customers most frequently consider when selecting the best BI Tool for them.

These features are closely connected to the needs of your business and the deep understanding of it.  We can help you analyze and study these needs to guide you to the right decision.

Self-Service

Self-service is a useful feature and compelling opportunity for customers to prepare their own analytics and reports. It’s impossible to anticipate every kind of visualization, so customers often want their BI Tool to be adaptable, able to construct ad-hoc visualizations, giving them flexibility and agency — ideally, without additional knowledge or code-writing abilities.

In our opinion, Tableau is the self-service leader. Qlik Sense takes second place. While Power BI and Cognos share third place. We base our opinion on a fully functional understanding of what self-service can and should offer. That being said, all tools have the ability to create flexible, self-sufficient analytics — Tableau and Qlik Sense just do it better.

Pre-Built ETL

All of the BI Tools presented here have extensive functionalities that allow users to process, load, and transform data. But in our opinion, Qlik and Cognos have the most to offer, providing the most extensive data transformation and loading capabilities. Tableau and Power BI may be more convenient (especially Tableau), but they aren’t as powerful as Qlik and Cognos.

Sources of Data

All four tools can connect to any source of information — file systems, relational systems cloud, web services, etc. This list expands every day, but the most basic version looks like this:

  • File Systems — CSV, Excel, etc.
  • Relational Systems — Oracle, SQL Server, DB2, etc.
  • Cloud Systems — Windows Azure, Google BigQuery, etc.
  • Other Sources using ODBC

We’d like to note Qlik’s own data source, Qlik Data Market, which stores data on finance, weather, demographics, countries, and more.

Interactivity

We’re all getting used to fast filtering/search systems. It’s how we navigate online shopping catalogs, sort through contacts, perform market research, and so much more. We want to see the same level of interactivity when handling data in a BI Tool.

System interactivity within each tool depends on several factors, including the amount of data, the desired level of granularity, BI Tool’s ability to build interactive objects, and more. Each BI Tool presents this interactivity but implements it differently.

The best interactivity is provided by Qlik, with its patented associative data model, where all data is linked to all other data. Qlik is followed by Cognos, with its active reports; then Tableau, and Power BI, where interactivity is implemented by additional settings for relationships.

Statistical Reports

A report is a static object — often a table — with predefined data and format. Reports are produced at a regular frequency, and when handled by humans, take a lot of time to prepare.

While it’s labor-intensive for a person to create a data report, for a BI Tool, reporting is extremely simple. As such, there is no true leader in this realm. All BI Tools are equally strong when it comes to generating, downloading, mailing, and/or presenting data reports.

Geographic Analysis

For mapping turnover, identifying most profitable regions, and evaluating logistics, you’ll need a map object, and data on which the system will base the coordinates. This is supported in all BI Tools with base visualization and functionality.

We want to highlight a Qlik product, GeoAnalytics, that expands basic analytic capabilities on maps. Cognos also has integration capabilities with MapBox.

Mobile-Friendliness

Many customers are curious as to whether they’ll be able to use BI Tools on their phones. Fortunately, all tools make this possible. You can open all of these BI Tools with your browser, and all of them have their own mobile apps. Qlik Sense and Power BI both have automatic scaling, while Tableau and Cognos must be pre-designed for the mobile device you plan to use.

Embedded Statistical Packages

When it comes to statistical packages, the truth is, everyone asks, and almost no one uses it.

The problem is that even the simplest indicators (e.g.: income/margin percentage) are inaccessible to many employees because all of a company’s data may be in ERP with only preconfigured reports that are insufficient for flexible analysis. Therefore, deployment of statistical packages and smart calculations in such companies is irrelevant.

Typically, employees of financial and purchasing departments, category managers, and marketing and logistics specialists comprise the most frequent BI Tool users. Very few other employees in a company would need to calculate a regression model, for example. Even if the need emerges and finances are allocated, only a few people understand the calculation of the regression model and will be able to explain its purpose. Then, if these people leave the company without transferring this knowledge, no one else will be able to explain why this stat pack was deployed.

So, when considering a BI Tool, the ability to connect/implement any statistical packages should be considered a low-level priority. The probability that you’ll use it — much less rely on it — is extremely low. Moreover, you don’t know in advance what you’ll count, and by what algorithms.

That’s not to say we want to discourage you from using this feature. By all means, if you need it, we’re always here to help you get it. Each of the four BI Tools has the ability to connect statistical packages and has built-in functionality for solving these problems.

Manual Data Amendment and Insertion

Traditionally, BI Tools are used to visualize, not input, data. Still, it’s sometimes necessary to input new data, and when that need arises, it’s nice to have a BI Tool that can accommodate it. In our case, this most frequently happens during planning. The ability to immediately and manually adjust figures/numbers in the plan so that they correspond to fact is of crucial importance.

The standard functionality of BI Tools does not allow users to correct figures during visualization so that they are immediately recorded in the original source and then used everywhere. However, paid add-ons/extensions can help to complete this task. IBA Group is willing and able to guide users curious about manual data amendment to the best, most convenient options.

Processing Data Volume Limitations

Data limitation and system performance do not really depend on which BI Tool you choose. They depend more on your hardware, its settings, and whether you understand the best practices of each product.

Sending Reports

This is a nice feature for those who need reports — rather than analytics — sent out periodically. It can help reduce costs for BI Tool licenses. It’s possible to send reports via email or to copy them into a particular folder.

Tableau, Cognos, and Power BI use embedded functionality to send reports. Qlik Sense uses NPrinting, while Qlikview has both embedded functionality and NPrinting connection.

Interaction with Other Systems and APIs

The majority of BI Tools can connect with third-party APIs. Each case must be studied individually.

Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning

Cognos, Qlik, Tableau and Power BI are possible to integrate with AI and ML products, such as Jupyter Notebook.

Integration with Unstructured Data

All four tools offer comparable integration with unstructured data like HDFS, Kafka, S3, ElasticSearch, Hive, SQS, Kinesis, MongoDB, and DynamoDB.

Conclusion

If you made it this far, congratulations — you’ve just completed our comparative analysis of the four major BI Tools. As you can see, while each BI Tool features cutting-edge tech and analytics capabilities, each of their characteristics make them better options for certain types of organizations.

A thorough understanding of all the nuances involved in picking the right BI Tool doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years of experience and a dedicated team of experts to provide this level of insight. IBA Group is intimately familiar with each of these tools and can greatly simplify the selection process.

For all the wisdom that comes with almost 30 years of business analytics experience, leave your comment or question below, and learn more about partnering with us.

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