The recent 2021 Gartner Quadrant Report has certainly given food for thought.
At first glance, it appears the big winners were Microsoft Power BI and Tableau, with others falling behind – in particular IBM, who have traditionally been a leader. However, as is usual with Gartner’s findings, look behind the quadrant and you will see a significantly different picture. And it’s one that we at DeeperThanBlue Analytics have been promoting for some time.
The way the quadrant is arranged gives a quick, visual guide to the very best in Business Intelligence tools. Get up in the top right-hand corner and the whole world will think your product is innovative, extensive, whilst also being good value and a cinch to use.
But for us, the quadrant is flawed. Although it is treated by the wider world as a product guide, it is as much an assessment of the state of the vendors competitively – each is ranked against the other in a series of measures that have as much to do with the company’s standing or image as they do the solution itself.
As such, the quadrant should not ever be taken as a guide to which is the ‘best’ software, which is a subjective view that can only be answered, individually, through a deeper understanding of what each vendor offers.
For that deeper understanding you should look ‘under the hood’. After all, only one question matters, and it is not one Gartner can answer fully:
“What’s the best tool for my business?”
Our breakdown below starts to give you the answers to that, showing:
- What Gartner says and what it really means
- What the reality is for the different products
- How we at DeeperThanBlue Analytics assess them
Microsoft Power BI
What DeeperThanBlue says about Power BI
We tend to position Power BI as the best product to get started with BI – Gartner appears to back this up.
In its favour is a desktop environment familiar to all Office 365 users. That helps the general uptake within a business. Add to this a broad range of native data connectivity options and it’s easy to see how ease of getting started is rated so highly by Gartner.
More than that, even though it is packed with features the methodology is clear, making it straightforward for non-specialists to get great insights from the beginning. Drag a couple of data items to the workspace and Power BI will do the rest, creating a chart or table, whichever is most appropriate. It’s a lot of bang for your buck, certainly.
The combination of the two is the main attraction for most users – a familiar interface with a raft of powerful features that are all easily attainable.
One drawback raised by Gartner is the function gap between on-premise and cloud versions. This is something of an issue. Although Microsoft are rolling out functions to the local version, it has a way to catch up. Still, it is so powerful even without those features many users simply wouldn’t notice.
Perhaps the main thing to consider that, when the automatic functions run out, Power BI requires an understanding of its backend language, DAX. This is a very powerful language and certainly worth sticking with because the results can be rewarding. So, in some ways, the increased complexity is a positive point because it allows a growth from basic to exceptionally complex analytics. But, it is something to bear in mind.
In summary, if you want the easiest to implement solution particularly for the new analytics adopter, with almost instant, powerful results, but with some enterprise limitations (backed by the financial might of Microsoft for future development) choose Power BI – if possible, the fully-featured cloud version.
What DeeperThanBlue says about Tableau
Our take is that Tableau is relatively simple to use, even for beginners, but is more intuitive at the next level of complexity.
Its well thought out user interface is slick and clear – in many ways superior to Power BI but lacks the easy familiarity of being Office 365 based. However, although it looks straightforward, it is very powerful, providing very powerful insights for both novice and experienced analysts. The reporting engine produces visually engaging, dynamic results without any programming knowledge at all.
But that is almost taken as read for a modern BI tool. The ace up Tableau’s sleeve, though, is at that next level. A good example is the ability to create calculations within a table, which is relatively straightforward in Tableau (and complex in Power BI).
Connecting and manipulating data is clean and efficient, too. Out of the box are multiple native connections which you simply instigate to get the data. It really is easy to use.
Not only that, but there is a large community of enthusiastic users which offers support, pre-built solutions and more which can give a great starting point to any report.
However, caution is recommended if scalability is a requirement. Although it has some cloud capabilities, it is not a cloud native solution. This means it has limitation in rollout and development, (although prior knowledge and good planning mean neither have caused particular issues for any of our clients).
We have found Tableau best suited for clients where reporting or analytics is more mature, and the current reporting tool (often Excel) has reached its limitations. To move to the next level, more complex and – crucially – dynamic reporting is needed, and Tableau is ideal.
If you want a visually attractive powerful alternative, without data connectivity and dissemination issues affecting you, Tableau could be your next step on the analytics road.
IBM Cognos Analytics
What DeeperThanBlue says about Cognos
So far, Gartner is reasonably accurate in its findings. It does not go far enough to say where the solutions best fit, but generally it is on point. Where it comes unstuck is with IBM.
IBM have reacted strongly to the report. Quite rightly so. The link above outlines some of the real issues with Gartner.
We have been working with IBM Cognos for many years and it has long been our tool of choice where a robust analytics function needs to move to the next level. During that time, it has been continually developed, which is why we were surprised by its positioning in the quadrant.
Our fundamental disagreement is the focus put on the way IBM are considered and the effectiveness of their marketing – neither of which affect whether a product is suitable or best fit for your business. To ‘downgrade’ a product for anything other than its merits is wrong.
Cognos Analytics is an exceptionally powerful solution that, even without experience, produces powerful, actionable insights.
Its core strengths remain; it has possibly the most powerful analytics engine, enterprise level data extraction capabilities, superior in report calculations, and unrivalled report dissemination functions.
In the past, it could have been argued that its reporting was not as ‘pretty’ as, say, Tableau. It looked old-fashioned. Now things have changed though. IBM has put a lot of effort into improving the interface with Cognos Analytics. This is allowing new users to come on-stream, but as importantly, it is allowing IBM’s very large existing customer base to stay.
With any embedded solution, it is important to have confidence that it is being developed and kept up to date. This is happening, so if you already have Cognos then the improved, simpler user interface opens analytics to a wider audience within your organisation – and in turn, no need to look elsewhere.
How we position Cognos Analytics has not changed. If anything, user interface improvements have made it a strong option to set against Power BI and Tableau.
For the best mid-market to enterprise level organisation – and particularly if your business is growing – IBM Cognos Analytics is the perfect solution.
Each of the products in the quadrant is a good piece of software. DeeperThanBlue Analytics focusses primarily on the three above because they provide a good spectrum of capabilities with a broad set of use cases.
With a selection of solutions available it is a consultancy’s job, initially, to assess which one suits best. This can only be done with a deep understanding of what each can offer, strong points and their relative weaknesses.
Unlike many business partners, we can realistically do this. We have experience with all three and can draw in projects completed from a wide range of clients, large, medium, and small.
To sum up, we say the Gartner Quadrant is important, but should only be a part of the decision process. Much more weight should be given to an expert assessment of the best fit, long-term scalability, and actual cost of ownership.