Business Intelligence Barista: Mixing your choice of BI Coffee with Tableau, Power BI or Qlikview?

** Update at 11th March: 
This is not an advert for PivotStream and I am not endorsing their services or solution. 
To show that this blog post is not an advert for PivotStream, I will explore alternatives, which I will follow up in a future post.
In the meantime, you could look at PowerBI and Office 365 with Azure, for example. 
Any questions, please leave at the bottom of this post and I will pick them up. 
I strongly advise people to make up their own mind when choosing a solution but this is blog post discussess some of the factors that you may want to take into consideration, along with other items such as technical support and so on which I do not cover here.
**

Choosing a Business Intelligence is a bit like making coffee for the whole company. Everybody likes it their way, and they want it right now. Plus, everybody wants it differently. Some want a latte, a cappuccino, or a dainty little espresso so strong that you can stand your spoon in. Some want it hot, some want it with ice, or poured over ice-cream. Some are allergic to milk and nuts, so they have to have special treatment because of the constraints on them. Plus, if that wasn’t hard enough, everyone wants the sprinkles, right? They want the syrups and they might want brown sugar, white sugar, sweetener, Stevia or just plain.  They might even want the pretty little picture on the frothy coffee to make it look nice.
You get the idea, right?

So, given that everyone has different requirements, how do you go about keeping everybody happy? If you think about how hard it is to keep everyone happy when you’re just making coffee, think how hard it is to select a business Intelligence solution. Not just any solution…. the *right* solution. The one that will keep everyone happy and give them what they want. The solution that will keep the ambulance away from the door, where constraints must be met or there will be serious trouble. The solution that will keep everyone out of danger whilst making sure that the sprinkle lovers get their sprinkles, and the folks who like a chocolate covered spoon in their coffee get a little chocolate covered spoon – in milk, dark or white…

This blog is a guidepost for people who ask me the following question a lot: Which BI tool should I choose? Truthfully, chucking a large chequebook at a technology is not going to solve all your Business Intelligence problems. To be honest, that’s like buying a great big coffee machine that might look shiny, but doesn’t actually put the sprinkles on top for you. Additionally, asking consultants and teams of sales people to do a ‘beauty parade’ of BI tools may not be the answer either. Sometimes that is just a way to stave off the decision; we are doing something so we must be doing something right because we look busy.  No-no.

So, here I have taken two extremely well known technologies: Tableau and Qlikview, and put it against a Microsoft Partner PivotStream whom you may not have come across. You may have seen recently that Microsoft are offering a Power BI solution which has the Power BI tools as a standalone option. I haven’t included it here because this technology is still in Preview, and I felt it wasn’t fair to include Preview technology. Instead, I chose PivotStream because they currently offer Microsoft BI Tools hosted in the cloud right now.

Note: These are just my insights. I didn’t tell either vendor that I was going to write this, and ultimately, the opinions are mine. However, I keep getting asked the questions, and if you are looking for a BI tool and are bewildered by the options, this post is for you. I compared on a few metrics: Business Criteria; Data Visualisation Criteria and Technical Criteria

CAVEAT: Here are my thoughts below. I expect that the people who love any of these technologies with a passion will comment, and they are free to do so. I am not saying that this is sanctioned by any of the aforementioned organisations. Instead, it is just the world how I see it, and I may be wrong! If I am, please do feel free to correct me.

Ok, to business. My assessment is at the end of the tables.

Business Criteria

Business Criteria
Tableau
Qlikview
Microsoft / Pivotstream
Comment
Time to implement
Fast
Longer
Longer
Scalability
Good
RAM Limited
Excellent
Tableau: virtual RAM
Enterprise Ready
Good for small organisations who can use the cloud option. On its own, Tableau Desktop is not expensive.
Good for medium businesses who might find it more cost-effective to take more licenses. Requirements for very small teams may not be suitable or cost-effective. There is a myriad of product options and it’s not clear how the one or two person team could have a cost-effective option.
Good for SMB
Qlikview is more mature but Microsoft has a much clearer vision than previously. Tableau is demonstrably used in many large organisations, as their customer list shows.
Long-term viability
Fastest growth
Public company
Dependable
Excel is widely used in the organisation so no adoption is required
Getting free online help?
Tableau forums
Qlikview LinkedIn group
Microsoft online communities
Tableau and Microsoft provide great free online help. Qlikview has its own forum which you sign up for. Tableau has the best free training videos I’ve ever seen.
Getting paid training
Yes
Yes
Yes
The costs vary depending on the courses.
Big Data Support
Above Average
Average
yes, ODBC connectivity to HDInsight
It is on all of their roadmaps. Tableau offers a bewildering number of ways to connect to lots of data sources. However, they don’t connect to PDW very well so Microsoft wins for PDW support. It isn’t clear if QlikView support PDW or not.
Partner Network
Average
Qlikview: 1000+ partners
Small. More direct approach.
Since PivotStream are a younger organisation, their partner network is emerging. Mainly deal direct, not via partners.

Visualisation Criteria

Visualization Criteria
Tableau
Qlikview
Microsoft / Pivotstream
Comment
Eye Candy’ Appear
Yes
medium
Medium
Tableau blows users away with its beautiful data visualisation. I’ve seen it – I know. It has ‘wow!’ factor.
Data Interactivity
Excellent
Excellent
Excellent
Tableau’s interactivity has improved a lot and hits the mark for a lot of requirements. The scripting requirement in QlikView makes me a bit wary for users. Microsoft’s various reporting tools need to be aligned more, but this isn’t news to them – I am sure it will become easier to get PerformancePoint to talk to PowerView etc. in the future. Small steps in a huge task, which is a side-effect of the sheer range of reporting offerings that Microsoft have in place today.
Visual Drilldown
Excellent
Excellent
Very Good
I’d like to see drilldown in PowerView, for example. Excel has a neat drill down feature.
Offline Viewer
Free Tableau Reader
Personal Edition
Excel spreadsheets downloaded
Tableau and Pivotstream offer Excel downloads for offline viewing.
Analyst’s Desktop
Tableau Pro
Qlikview Desktop
Excel
Excel is familiar within the organisation.
Dashboard Support
Good
Excellent
Excellent
Dashboarding methodologies can be implemented in QlikView and Tableau. Tableau has basic default KPIs but these can be manufactured easily enough. QlikView seem to be popular with finance departments and seem to talk well with them.
Web Client
Very Good
Very Good
Very Good
No real distinguishing factor here. Microsoft has Excel services and we know that business users love Excel!
Mobile Clients
Excellent
Excellent
Good
Tableau and Qlikview have an edge on Microsoft for now, but the release of PowerBI for O365 is visibly getting traction and interest in the Preview.
Visual Controls
Very Good
Very Good
Very Good

Technical Criteria

Technical Criteria
Tableau
Qlikview
Microsoft / Pivotstream
Comment
Data Integration
Excellent
Very Good
Very Good
Tableau integrates easily with Google Analytics for further analysis, but this is not required at the early stages of a BI strategy. You can get extra connectors for QlikView from DataRoket
Development
Tableau Pro
Qlikview Developer
SQL Server Business Intelligence or Excel skills
QlikView has scripting, which the organisation will need to learn. This may incur training costs. If the organisation already has strong SQL Server BI Developer skills in-house, and would not require further training..
64-bit in-RAM DB
Good
Excellent
Excellent
SQL Server ‘talks’ to other systems and will output data easily to QlikView and other formats. This is not reciprocated i.e. once the data is in QlikView, it stays in QlikView.
Mapping support
Excellent
Average
Excellent
Tableau has Mapping. Excel 2013 has 3D Power Map as a feature within it, and this is interesting for further, future analyses.
Local data files (text, spreadsheet etc.)
Yes
Yes
Yes
Relational databases (SQLServer, Oracle etc.)
Yes
Yes
Yes
OLAP cubes (SSAS, Essbase etc.)
Yes
No
No
Online data sources
Yes
Yes
Yes
Microsoft’s new Power Query allows you to search online and scrape datasets straight into Excel.
Multi-source access
Yes
Yes
Yes
Multi-table access
Yes
Yes
Yes
Extracted data storage
Optional (proprietary)
Proprietary
Data remains where it is.
Maximum capacity
Unlimited
Billions of rows
In-memory engine
Desktop or Server
Desktop or Server
Tableau reads SSAS and PowerPivot Cubes, but not very well. Tableau and QlikView want to suck the data into their own data models; Microsoft keeps the data where it is, where it is easily accessible by Microsoft and other vendors.
Modeling, Analytics
Below Average
Below Average
Data mining and other capabilities
Microsoft is the winner here for providing a range of modelling and analytics tools such as Tabular model, SSAS. Again, the organisation has experience in these tools so you are leveraging in-house skill sets.
Data Mining
Limited
Limited
Yes
By ‘Data Mining’, I mean true data mining e.g. building neural nets with thought put into it about avoiding jitter, bootstrapping and so on. This is not ‘what if’ scenarios but data science.
Multidimensional
Very Good
Limited
Excellent
Microsoft is the winner for multidimensional modelling
xVelocity Support
Good
None
Excellent
Microsoft is a pioneer in xVelocity support
PowerPivot Support
Good
None
Excellent
Microsoft is a pioneer in xVelocity support
API
Excellent
yes, documentation over at the QlikView Community site.
Excellent
Microsoft open their software up and have APIs available.

The detail is below, but the take-away summary of my thoughts are below:


From conversations with customers, they often want the simplest solution possible. Office365 has previously been pooh-poohed by organisations looking at BI because it introduced a lot of gubbins that people did not want or need i.e. Lync, Exchange and so on. This created a concern amongst the technical people and you can almost read their minds: if the bosses just want a reporting solution, why are they buying something with Exchange? Am I going to be out of a job? This meant that the technical folks were against it, and this reduced the likelihood of adoption or even getting Office365 solutions in the door. Plus, as a guiding principle, people do not buy stuff that they do not need. Fact. With the advent of PivotStream – who simply offer Microsoft BI in the cloud – the antagonism over some of the Office365 story went away.


What will happen to PivotStream now that Power BI in the Cloud is in the offing? I think that they will be fine because they offer one thing which is often key: control over your own cloud deployment. If your PivotStream sharepoint site goes down, then you can wade in yourself and fix it. That might be good for some but not so good for others. For me, that’s the USP.

What about Tableau? I’ve been a Tableau fan for years. It’s a little known fact that spoke at their Tableau European Conference in Amsterdam in 2011, and even had a Heineken with Stephen Few and some of the Tableau team and dataviz gurus (if you haven’t already, read Stephen’s blog. Now. ). Where I think Tableau succeed is that they are superb at what they do: data visualisation. For me, they are the hallmark and the touchstone of where dataviz wants to be, and they are constantly breaking boundaries. However, what they succeed at is something that many organisations aren’t quite ready for; breath-taking visualisations. For some, getting data in and out of Excel is a nightmare and they are simply not ready for it. For these people, Office365 or PivotStream are perfect.

What about QlikView? They are beloved of financial departments but I am not sure that they talk so well to IT departments. For me, the fact that there is scripting involved is an issue. If it is self-service Business Intelligence, it should be as easy as possible. In my opinion, they are a bit Marmite as we say in the UK; you either love them or you don’t. There is no half-way house. From my perspective, I hear both sides but I don’t really see QlikView fanboys the way that we see Tableau fanboys.
To summarise, sorting out user requirements is key. There is no wrong choice, if it is the right choice for your organisation. However, any technology is a bad choice if it isn’t the right choice for your organisation. Look past the flash, and see what is really right for you.
 /*** Late Breaking News ***/
My apologies: I put Tableau API as None but that isn’t correct.
I’ve fixed the table, and here is a pointer to the Tableau documentation on the JavaScript API. Thanks to Andy Cotgreave for the spot!
By way of apology, here is the Tableau API in action, done with the panache and fun you’d expect from a Tableau video.

/** Even Later breaking news *//

Sorry QlikView team! My humblest apologies. Apparently QlikView *DO* offer an API and you can find information on it here.  Quote from the site (I’m not repeating a sales pitch or commentary here, this is just straight from the community site)
The QlikView Software Development Kit is the home of the QlikView Software Integration toolbox. It includes sample code and the Application Programming Interfaces  (APIs).

Note: More content will be added in an ongoing basis.
In my defence, the comments at the foot the QlikView community page are riddled with comments from people who can’t find this or that, or don’t know the status of stuff, and then get supplied by links from other people. I’m guessing that I am not the only one who doesn’t find the information very easy to find on the community site then.
So here is the link http://community.qlikview.com/docs/DOC-2639 and I have updated the table.