Business Intelligence (BI) Tools

2021 Reviews of Top BI Software

BI Tools Guide

This guide provides an in-depth comparison of the top BI software and practical advice to help you select the right solution for your organization.

  1. What Are Business Intelligence (BI) Tools?
  2. BI Tools Comparison Summary
  3. In-Depth Comparison Of BI Tools
  4. Analyst Perspectives On BI Tools
  5. Five Key Steps To Evaluate BI Tools
  6. The BI Tool As A Holistic System

What Are Business Intelligence (BI) Tools?

Business intelligence tools include software and SaaS applications that better inform business decisions by bringing together and processing data from a variety of sources into a single data analytics platform that supports a variety of use cases such as embedded analytics, data visualization and augmented analytics for users of all skill levels.

Simply put, the best BI tools close the gaps between data, insights and actions. In this way, they better inform decisions, drive actions, and propel your business forward.

Business Intelligence Tools: Comparison Summary

With so many BI tools on the market, finding the right solution for your company can be quite a challenge. To make this process easier, the comparison chart below pits Power BI vs Tableau vs Qlik, summarizing how three top business intelligence tools compare on the key capabilities of modern BI software.

See full comparison

Business Intelligence Tools: In-Depth Comparison

Following on the BI tools comparison summary above, this section takes a deeper dive in comparing Power BI vs Tableau vs Qlik on the most important criteria when evaluating business intelligence software. How does the leading BI software on the market stack up? Read on to find out…

Free Form Exploration

The heart of all business intelligence tools is the data engine. The old school, query-based approach limits the data you can explore so they limit the discoveries you make. A modern approach combines an unlimited number of data sources and lets you freely explore them all. This lets you uncover connections you might not have queried or just couldn’t find at all with a query-based BI tool.

  • Qlik

    Qlik’s data engine is "associative" in that it lets users explore all data freely, on the fly, and from any angle. Plus, machine learning allows Qlik’s cognitive engine to get smarter over time – giving you ideas of where to explore.

  • Power BI

    Power BI works on a SQL database that restricts users to linear, predetermined query paths.

  • Tableau

    Tableau also operates over an SQL database that restricts users to following specific (and predetermined) paths within a narrow slide of data. In any given query, only part of your data is analyzed, leaving key patterns and connections undiscovered.

Augmented Analytics

Augmented analytics amplifies the power of human intuition with the scale and speed of machine intelligence, raising the data literacy of every user.

  • Qlik

    Qlik combines machine intelligence and human understanding to suggest insights and new connections as you explore your data. Ask any question and get robust answers in natural language.

  • Power BI

    Power BI added AI with two features, Quick insights and Q&A. Quick Insights provides shortcuts to analyze anomalies in your data and Q&A brings natural language capabilities to the tool.

  • Tableau

    Tableau’s Ask Data feature doesn’t work with the business logic built into workbooks because it can’t access workbooks. It connects only to data sources, which means it can’t leverage the insight your analysts have built. Plus, it’s limited. Ask a simple question and get a simple answer.

Broad Use Cases

Business intelligence tools should support many use cases--exploring data, creating dashboards and sharing interactive reports to name a few. The best BI tools should allow you to carry out all BI use cases using the same interface, on any device.

  • Qlik

    Qlik provides a single interface for business authors to easily create full-featured interactive dashboard apps that novice users can explore with great freedom and context. Qlik also offers traditional BI reporting tools, custom and embedded analytics, and more.

  • Power BI

    Multiple Microsoft products are required to deliver on a range of use cases.

  • Tableau

    Tableau claims it can deliver on a range of use cases. The truth is, their product really only does one thing: self-service visualization. They also claim that anyone can use it. The reality is that you need skilled business authors who know the rules of databases and SQL to create dashboards.

Governed self-service

Top BI tools should allow you to keep your data under control without limiting self-service discovery. They should have a centralized management capability that uses rules-based governance to control publishing, sharing and user access to apps and data. Because you want data, analytics and insights everyone can trust.

  • Qlik

    All content creation on Qlik happens on a server, where IT can validate it at every step. Plus, Qlik centralizes and unifies your data, creating and updating a single source of reliable truth that everyone can trust. It’s self-service without the risk.

  • Power BI

    With Power BI’s decentralized approach, your data is spread across people’s desktops and the cloud. How can you manage everything properly when it’s all over the place?

  • Tableau

    Tableau is a desktop product, where individual users build workbooks on their hard drives. Sure, they could share on a server. But do they? (Hint: no.) Versions get passed around. Data gets polluted. Updates aren’t made. And IT has no insight into any of it.

Scalability

Uncovering insights works best when users have a complete, up-to-date view of all relevant data. This requires business intelligence tools to integrate and combine data from any source, as close to real-time as possible. To do that successfully, you need BI software that’s built to handle data at any scale without compromising performance or driving up costs.

  • Qlik

    The Qlik Analytics Platform® can ingest billions of rows of data from an unlimited number of sources with complex schemas with dozens of dimensions – and deliver answers in seconds. And thanks to Qlik’s ability to add, modify and remove records, you can keep data fresher in a much smaller build window.

  • Power BI

    Power BI makes you spend dearly for scale. Once you hit the cheaper Power BI Pro’s shockingly low data limits (1GB per data set), you’ll need to switch to Premium (for a “whopping” 9 more GBs). Or live query, which will slow your work (and everyone else’s) to a crawl.

  • Tableau

    What happens when Tableau’s engine attempts to handle large volumes of disparate data, especially when paired with complex analytics? It. Slows. To. A. Crawl. And if you need to increment data – and keep it fresh – in small build windows, you’re out of luck.

Mobility

No matter where you are or what device is closest, you need a platform that lets you freely explore data and uncover hidden insights whenever inspiration (or curiosity) strikes.

  • Qlik

    Qlik is built for mobility. Responsive design and touch are native to the platform and we offer a fully functional mobile app. You’re free to explore data to discover deep and unexpected insights exactly as you do on a laptop or desktop – wherever you are, even offline.

  • Power BI

    The Power BI mobile app only allows for viewing, not creating and Power BI’s cloud is mainly used for uploading reports. Because on the Power BI platform, desktops reign supreme – and you’ll need different desktop software for different tasks.

  • Tableau

    On mobile, Tableau allows you to download one sheet from a broader workbook. You can’t filter; you can only highlight one value at a time and scroll to see where that value shows up in related charts. Trying to get insights on-the-go? Prepare to be stopped short.

Embedded analytics

Building a competitive edge comes from making new discoveries in every area of your business. But that only works if analytics are everywhere, too. The best BI tools should allow you to easily embed robust analytics to the applications, portals and processes your business runs on. This includes your entire enterprise ecosystem – so employees, suppliers, partners and customers alike can make better decisions faster than ever.

  • Qlik

    With Qlik Sense®, you can embed a dashboard – and individual numbers, values, and metrics – so you can embed analytics in your products, workflows, portals, and edge devices. Qlik’s API-first platform was built using modern standards to work with the latest web and application technologies, allowing you to extend functionality wherever your imagination takes you.

  • Power BI

    Power BI allows for embedding dashboards and objects. But despite Microsoft being a very developer friendly company, Power BI is not API-first and a lot of capabilities are not available in their SDKs.

  • Tableau

    Tableau can embed a dashboard – an entire dashboard (woot!). But that’s all. Its APIs are notoriously limited, which means your options for embedding and extending your analytics are seriously limited, too. Without these essential capabilities, it is becoming increasingly difficult to meet the massive rise in demand for insights across most organizations today.

Total Cost of Ownership

Many companies only consider the initial purchase price when choosing business intelligence software. But total cost of ownership (TCO) is much more than that. From buying the software and infrastructure, to deployment and integrations, to support and maintenance, some platforms demand a much bigger financial – and time – commitment.

  • Qlik

    Qlik provides total transparency on costs and your total cost of ownership is lower. You won’t get hit with extra data or compute costs down the road.

  • Power BI

    Power BI may seem low-cost on the surface. But if you’re expecting to work at enterprise scale, you'll have to pay a lot for that upgrade. Not to mention all the add-ons you’ll need to buy.

  • Tableau

    You need to create lots and lots of Tableau reports to replicate what is in a single Qlik app. That takes time, and time is money. And refreshing that content could cost extra.

Flexible Cloud Strategy

Keep your cloud strategy flexible. Business intelligence tools should help you gain insights, not force you to build new infrastructure or limit your options. From on-premise to cloud hybrid, your BI software should have a platform-agnostic, multi-cloud architecture that enables you to deploy in any environment with unparalleled performance and scalability.

  • Qlik

    Qlik allows you to deploy on-premise, in a public or private cloud, or in any combination of these options – at enterprise scale and with unprecedented speed. And, Qlik is independent, offering total freedom and control of your data.

  • Power BI

    With Power BI, you’ll be stuck with Azure – and only Azure. It simply won’t work with other cloud providers. But you will get some (unwelcome) variety: Power BI's on-premise functionality is different from their cloud experience.

  • Tableau

    Now that Tableau answers to Salesforce, what does that mean for their customers’ data? Great question. If you’re evaluating Tableau, it’s time to start asking where your data could end up and whether it could get locked in.

Data Integration

Your business intelligence software will help you go further faster if it has end-to-end data integration and analytics. This is because a flexible and scalable data integration and analytics solution can put the power of insight into the hands of any user. Having a single platform that brings these capabilities together as an integrated solution means you can quickly focus on maximizing the value of your data and analytics, not managing a complex technology stack.

  • Qlik

    Qlik is built from the ground up on modern architecture designed to help you be more profitable. Our end-to-end web-based platform is ahead of the curve with its robust analytics and data integration offerings.

  • Power BI

    Power BI is built on a patchwork platform designed to get you to keep adding stack products – and, you guessed it – spend more money.

  • Tableau

    Tableau has data prep capabilities in Tableau Desktop and in Tableau Prep. But they solve different problems (although neither can solve all). So which do you use? And what do you use for the data problems Tableau can’t solve?

Data Literacy

Data literacy is the ability to read, work with, analyze and communicate with data. It’s a skill that empowers all levels of workers to ask the right questions of data and machines, build knowledge, make decisions, and communicate meaning to others.

  • Qlik

    Data democracy: Qlik believes in true self-service. Our platform lets anyone, at any skill level, explore their data. Qlik Sense lets users create reports with drag-and-drop ease. And, end users aren’t restricted to simple dashboards with filters.

  • Power BI

    Data dictatorship: With Power BI, only authors have self-service access. And once they’ve published content, it’s available only with very limited interactivity. If users want to explore deeper, they have to go back to the author for a new report.

  • Tableau

    Tableau’s idea of discovery requires you to be an author. So their data literacy initiative is focused on authors only. That’s data literacy for data dictators that leaves the masses behind.

Analyst Perspectives On BI Tools

Compare the best business intelligence tools with these useful resources.

  • BARC’s The BI Survey

    See how top BI tools stack up in this survey of 3,000 real-world BI users. Qlik was ranked as a leader in 48 categories, including customer satisfaction, product satisfaction, business value, and analyses.

  • Gartner’s Choice for a Magic Quadrant Leader

    Find out why Qlik has been named a Leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms the 10th year in a row.

  • Guide: How to choose the right analytics and BI tool

    BI initiatives come with many functionality requirements and priorities, so finding the right platform can be tough. Our guide on how to choose a modern analytics platform will help.

5 Key Steps To Evaluate BI Tools

Transforming your business into an insight-driven operation starts with a modern business intelligence tool, and choosing the right tool is critical for success. Not all BI tools are created equal. To make the right choice, organizations must consider how business intelligence will drive value, which users will be doing the driving, and the full spectrum of costs associated with deploying the solution.

Below are five key steps for evaluating and selecting the best BI tools:

1. Be specific about the ways in which analytics will drive value

Your best data insights will come once you make concrete decisions about what your organization is trying to achieve digitally. For example, you might be trying to democratize data and analytics by embedding them into operational apps or creating advanced analytics to support strategic decisions. The more specific your requirements, the easier you can frame selection criteria.

2. Identify which users REALLY are important

Users may include technical business analysts, data scientists; business users and managers, upper-level management, external clients and partners, customers, and even front-line customer service reps or warehouse personnel. Are they all important? They might be. The point is, be honest, identify which ones are, and then determine if the analytics platform can meet their needs…and use cases.

3. Go beyond TCO to recognize the costs of doing analytics wrong

Evaluating TCO is a critical factor in selecting a platform. But, when you select a business intelligence tool as a foundation to drive digital transformation in your organization, there are a multitude of hidden costs to consider. We’re not just talking about the usual hardware, software, support, training, and ongoing license/subscription fees.

We’re talking the REAL hidden costs…the ones that many vendors don’t want to discuss, such as “What’s it going to cost if repositories of visualizations are not available for reuse?” or “What’s the cost of purchasing and integrating complementary software when my data and visualizations can’t be packaged and deployed together within applications?” Learn more about the hidden costs of business intelligence software that cannot easily address your use cases.

4. Focus on business intelligence and analytics capabilities that deliver widespread value

Who cares if Platform A beats Platform B in 7 out of 10 features tested if the features do not align to the broad spectrum of specific use cases needed across your organization? This guide provides you with in-depth criteria to evaluate virtually any business intelligence use case.

5. Identify the capabilities needed to drive digital transformation

Before getting into feature/function discussions, make sure you’re considering business intelligence tools that offer a solid foundation to support data-driven digital transformation. At the core of this foundation is intuitive data access, robust governance, and broad deployment options. An effective BI tools comparison process will help you gauge the ability of any solution to effectively democratize data and drive data literacy throughout your business.

To get more comprehensive business intelligence and analytics evaluation criteria, download our modern analytics platform evaluation guide.

The BI Tool As A Holistic System

Data analytics alone is no longer enough. Modern business intelligence tools must close the gaps between data, insights and actions, to better inform decisions, drive actions, and propel business forward. This means taking a holistic approach, bringing together data integration, data analytics and data literacy.

Data literacy offered as a service

As shown above, business intelligence software should actually be a holistic system, starting with enterprise data integration to make all data universally accessible to all users. Then, a business-ready data catalog helps all users find this data. Augmented analytics helps users understand the data and embedded analytics helps all users take action on it. Finally, providing data literacy as a service helps all users trust and have the confidence to work with the data.

Let’s take a deeper look at each stage:

  1. Data Integration focuses on improving communication, integration and automation of data loads between business analytics consumers and the data teams. It’s about moving from raw to analytics-ready data in order to advance the speed and accuracy of analytics and improve productivity. By leveraging real-time data integration technologies such as change data capture and streaming data pipelines, the best BI tools change how data is shared and how it is made available across the enterprise.
  2. A data catalog provides actionable data, on-demand. This simplifies and accelerates an organization's ability to manage, prepare and deliver analytics-ready data to every business user across a diverse data landscape. Modern data catalogs optimize existing data assets and then curate, enrich and transform that data into business-ready information which can be made accessible to business users via a simple catalog and marketplace.
  3. Augmented analytics provides better insights, faster. The best BI tools seamlessly integrate with the data offerings mentioned above and enrich the human experience through AI rather than a black box approach. Qlik even offers self-service intelligent alerting and advanced statistical trending and outlier evaluation that immediately notifies users of material changes in the data.
  4. Embedded analytics put actionable analytics and data into the hands of people right where they make decisions. Modern business intelligence tools provide open API’s and an extensible platform.
  5. Data literacy offered as a service goes way beyond education on how to use a product. It strives to create a data-driven culture through a holistic approach that blends training, processes and technology to ensure customer success.

Why do customers choose Qlik?

kpi dashboard examples

Compare Qlik Sense® to other BI tools and you’ll see why Qlik sets the benchmark for a new generation of data analytics. Our one-of-a-kind associative analytics engine and sophisticated augmented analytics let you freely explore all your data to make bigger discoveries and uncover insights you can’t find using other data analytics tools.

And with a true governed multi-cloud architecture, deploy any way you want, massively scaling users and data without compromising security or performance. Qlik helps you empower people throughout your organization to make better decisions, take smarter actions and drive stronger business performance, every day.

FAQs

  • They make it easier for business users to access, explore, and extract insights from an organization’s information assets by simplifying the process of connecting to, gathering, and profiling data from various business systems and other sources, and streamlining data preparation processes. They help users create data visualizations and rich analytics applications, as well as build and share reports and dashboards which are used to distribute actionable insights across the organization.

  • Business intelligence software helps by providing decision-makers with timely, accurate information and actionable insights about a business. This allows them to better understand customer behavior, track performance, detect market trends, discover emerging problems, and obtain greater visibility into all aspects of the business.

Get ready to transform your entire business with data.