Tableau against the world: the battle of Business Intelligence heats up

Tableau against the world: the battle of Business Intelligence heats up
Tableau against the world: the battle of Business Intelligence heats up


Tableau contra el mundo: la batalla del Business Intelligence se calienta

The field of Business Intelligence (BI) is growing at enormous speed. The world of analytics and data reports based on simulation models, optimization and prediction has been undergoing a massive transformation in the last years. The market of advanced analysis and predictive software is expected to increase from 2.17 billion dollars in 2013 to 3.5 billion in 2018. In general, the BI and analytics tools market players are fighting for a cake worth around 21.5 billion dollars in three years, with an annual growth above 9%. Therefore, there are intense movements in this sector.

Within this complex market, the five traditional leaders are SAP, Oracle, IBM, SAS and Microsoft. Almost 70% of the sector was distributed among them in 2013. But what seemed a cast-iron truth two years ago has undergone some changes. The emergence of Tableau Software has meant a significant novelty for the BI business, mainly because it allows to manage and analyze data without high technical skills. A self-service Business Intelligence. In fact, Gartner consulting already ranked it as a leading company in 2014. See the table below:


Business Intelligence

During the third quarter of 2014 Tableau registered the best results in its history, with revenue of 104 million dollars, 71% more than over the previous year. Three months earlier, it had reached 90 million. In 2013, the company’s annual income reached 233 million dollars, 82% more than in 2012. Now, giants like Microsoft are taking steps to reduce the muscle of Tableau and capture some of the benefits of this self-service BI.

Why is Tableau so good?

Tableau is a tool for interactive data visualization, i.e. the user can interact with data to compare, filter, connect variables, etc. In addition, the platform and panels that can be created with the tool are very visual (facilitating the rapid understanding of data). It also has some interesting advantages for when you manage databases: it accepts formats with Excel, Access and text; you can access many common databases such as Microsoft SQL Server, MySQL, Oracle or Greenplum, and you also have the possibility of using the Tableau API for systematic data mining.

When Tableau is used by a large company, one of the vital issues is whether it is a scalable tool. And Tableau is scalable, both in hardware and memory. Another essential element for a company that needs a platform for self-service Business Intelligence is safety: Tableau Server provides security permissions at any level the user needs. You can set individual permissions for projects, panels and even users (many times there is confidential information restricted to certain levels of a company).


Tableau - Business Inteligence


Microsoft opens its PowerBI tool to compete

The Redmond-based company has been making movements for some time now aiming to gain share in the Big Data market. The last two are the acquisition of Revolution Analytics, a provider of software and services related to R (a programming language commonly used in Data Science and machine learning for statistical calculations and predictive models), and the opening of its PowerBI tool through a freemium model. Users can access now to the professional level of the platform for just 9.99 dollars a month, which means a 75% price reduction. The subscription allows access to PowerBI without an Office 365 license. The trial version is free.

The tool has similar objectives to those of Tableau: enable executives of large companies to do reports and analysis in a simple way. The opening of PowerBI aims to win significant market share from Tableau, but with an added quality: it displays data in charts, but it also processes requests in natural language. Hence, users can ask the platform and it responds to requests with graphics. It’s a mixture of analysis and data visualization with Artificial Intelligence.

This is an important step in the world of Business Intelligence in the race to facilitate the use of data. Microsoft fights to win part of Tableau’s market share, and especially those users who believe that preparing reports with graphs is still overly complex. With PowerBI this situation is less likely, because the platform can produce reports on-demand.

Does Microsoft want to stay there? No; the intention of the technology giant is to increase its revenue via self-service BI, but also to provide access to a tool that can connect to database management systems like Hadoop and SQL Server. It also aims to provide a platform for developers interested in machine learning, implementing in PowerBI functionalities of Azure Machine Learning, Microsoft’s machine learning platform. The ultimate goal is to turn PowerBI into a platform for “predicting future activities such as trends, behaviors and patterns.”

Watson IBM, a more advanced tool

IBM Watson Analytics is a product of the company’s research in Artificial Intelligence. The Watson supercomputer, known for its participation in Jeopardy (the American program of questions and answers), is part of the origin of the current IBM platform for Business Intelligence and predictive modeling. Watson’s functionalities such as natural language recognition are implemented in Watson Analytics, greatly facilitating reporting by companies.

It also has some added features that make Watson Analytics a unique tool, possibly the best BI solution in the market: it features an automatic system that suggests corrections when loading the data (for example it warns about possible duplicate records), it locates trends, and also suggests the most appropriate data visualizations. IBM's idea is that, over time, Watson Analytics will be able to learn from the data that the company is adding to the platform. Pure Artificial intelligence applied to BI.




The tool is available through a freemium system since November 2014. Users can access a trial version before opting for the paid version. In that beta, the future clients of Watson Analytics can run tests with CSV files with less than 100,000 rows, 50 columns and 10MB of weight. They also have 500MB of storage capacity.

Tableau - Business Inteligence


Qlik Sense, Tableau’s alter ego

Qlik Sense is often compared with Tableau. There are many open debates within the community related to data visualization tools about which one is easier or more effective for certain activities. An example of these comparisons is this video on YouTube about the time needed to make a scatter plot in Qlik and Tableau (its author is Craig Bloodworth, who is closely connected to Tableau’s community):


Gartner also placed QlikTech among the leading companies in the field of BI in its quadrant for 2014, close to Tableau both in data visualization and in reporting capacity. The company earned 131 million dollars during the third quarter of 2014, 26% more than in 2013. These figures are higher than those reported by Tableau, although it must be noted that the latter is a popular platform and has become a strong contender in the market. 

Tableau - Business Inteligence

The reality is that there is a great board game within the Big Data, which is self-service Business Intelligence, and outsiders such as Tableau and Qlik Sense have taken over territory that was formerly controlled by other companies like Microsoft. After the arrival of Satya Nadella as CEO, the Redmond-based company is taking a very determined approach to the data world. The question is… will Microsoft be able to cut off the wings of Tableau?

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