Data Visualization Tools

2021 Reviews of Top Data Visualization Software

Data Visualization Tools Guide

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

What Are Data Visualization Tools?

Data visualization tools allow users to easily create graphics and imagery that help them make sense out of large amounts of data. Graphs, maps and charts allow them to quickly see trends, recognize relationships and uncover outliers in their data. The result is more informed decision-making, which can increase efficiency, revenue and profits.

The top data visualization tools bring together data from across the organization to tell a complete story and let users of all skill levels explore this data to find actionable insights.

Modern data visualization requires a tool with multiple features and capabilities.

The best data visualization tools go beyond graphs and charts to provide data integration and advanced analytics at scale.

Data Visualization Tools Comparison

There are dozens of data visualization tools to choose from and it’s not easy to figure out which is best for your organization. And when you look beyond just producing a graphical representation of data, you find that interactive data visualization at scale requires a suite of supporting capabilities that only the very best tools deliver. This guide compares three top tools -- Power BI vs Tableau vs Qlik -- on the key capabilities of the best data visualization software.

1. Free Form Data Exploration

Unlike older, query-based data visualization tools, a modern platform empowers users to explore their data freely, in any direction. With the ability to use data from unlimited sources, users can discover insights they may not have thought of before, or found with traditional query-based tools.

  • Qlik Sense

    Qlik features an “associative” data engine that lets users investigate data from all sides, and on the fly. And Qlik’s cognitive engine uses machine learning to get smarter over time – providing you with ideas of what to explore next.

  • Tableau

    Because Tableau uses a SQL database, users are restricted to specific, predetermined paths within a narrow portion of data. That means the platform only analyzes part of your data, leaving out key patterns and connections.

  • Power BI

    Power BI also operates on a SQL database, restricting users to query paths that are linear and predetermined.

2. AI-Powered Recommendations

The best data visualization tools go beyond basic dashboards, offering ways to get better insights faster. With the power of AI and machine learning, augmented analytics helps you quickly analyze your data from angles you may not have considered. This helps you increase productivity and make better decisions.

  • Qlik Sense

    Qlik gives users the ability to ask questions in natural language and get in-depth answers. As you explore your data, Qlik automatically makes suggestions for new ways to look at your data.

  • Tableau

    Your analysts work hard to produce advanced insights. But if you work with Tableau, users won’t be able to access them. That’s because Tableau’s Ask Data feature can only connect to data sources—not workbooks. That means the platform won’t work with the business logic built into workbooks.

  • Power BI

    Two features in Power BI use artificial intelligence: Q&A and Quick Insights. With Quick Insights, you can use shortcuts to explore anomalies in your data. Q&A gives users the ability to analyze data using natural language.

3. Fully Functional Mobile Experience

Users should be able to create rich data visualizations and fully analyze their data at any time, on any device they choose. The best data visualization tools provide a fully functional mobile app that empowers users to deeply explore data and generate insights wherever they are.

  • Qlik Sense

    Because responsive design and touch are native to Qlik, users can complete the same functions on the mobile app that they can on their desktop or laptop—even offline.

  • Tableau

    Tableau’s mobile app limits you to basic functions, such as downloading one sheet from a larger workbook. You can’t filter, either. Instead, you’ll have to highlight one value at a time and then scroll around to find where that value displays in related charts.

  • Power BI

    Desktops are the main tools for Power BI users, and you’ll have to use different pieces of software for different tasks. Power BI offers cloud capabilities for uploading reports—with limited editing capabilities.

4. Scalability

To get the most valuable insights, you need a complete view of your data. That means bringing data together from multiple sources in near real time. Be sure your data visualization platform can handle large amounts of data without increasing cost or degrading performance.

  • Qlik Sense

    With Qlik, you can answers in seconds. Our platform can ingest billions of rows of data from any number of sources with lots of dimensions and complex schemas. And, with the ability to add, change or remove records, you can keep data updated in a much smaller build window.

  • Tableau

    Tableau has trouble processing large volumes of disconnected data—especially when complex analytics are involved. In addition to slower performance, you can’t increment data and keep it fresh in small build windows.

  • Power BI

    Power BI can get very expensive when operating at scale. With extremely low data limits of 1GB per data set, Power BI Pro requires the use of live query—which slows you down—or an upgrade to Premium, adding only 9 more GBs.

5. Embedding Visualizations

With embedded analytics, employees, partners, customers and suppliers can visualize and analyze data using their everyday applications. Also known as OEM or white label analytics, embedded analytics helps users make better decisions faster by making insights available in portals and processes. Big data visualization tools should embed analytics functionality across the enterprise by providing open APIs and an extensible platform.

  • Qlik Sense

    Qlik offers a variety of APIs to help you integrate with your web and application technologies, including products, portals, workflows and edge devices. For example, embed a dashboard into your mobile app, complete with individual numbers, values and metrics.

  • Tableau

    Tableau offers a very limited amount of APIs. For example, you can only embed a complete dashboard, not individual values.

  • Power BI

    Power BI does allow for dashboard and object embedding, but Power BI is not API-first and many capabilities are not available in their software development kits.

6. Deployment Flexibility

The best data visualization tools allow you to deploy your data any way you choose—regardless of platform or cloud architecture. Steer clear of solutions that lock in your data, restrict your cloud analytics strategy or require new infrastructure.

  • Qlik Sense

    Keep control of your data with Qlik. Because Qlik is an independent company, you’ll never lose sight of your most valuable asset. Plus, Qlik gives you the flexibility to deploy in public or private cloud, on-premise, or any combination of these.

  • Tableau

    Stability is important. Now that Salesforce owns Tableau, what does that mean for Tableau customers’ data? You don’t want to be left wondering where your data could end up or whether or not it could get locked in.

  • Power BI

    When it comes to deployment, Microsoft’s Power BI offers one cloud option: Microsoft’s cloud solution, Azure. And, because the cloud experience differs from on-premise, the user experience could get bumpy.

7. Governed Self-Service

Trusting your data while also allowing many users to generate their own insights is a tricky balance. The best data visualization tools allow you to securely manage your data in a centralized way using rules-based governance. At the same time, they also give users access to self-service analytics so they can explore their data without calling on IT or an analyst for help.

  • Qlik Sense

    Qlik provides everyone in your organization with a single source of truth by unifying and centralizing your data. Users get the tools they need to explore their data—which happens on the server— while IT keeps it all secure.

  • Tableau

    With Tableau, users keep work on their hard drives. Because it’s desktop software, users may or may not share on a server. That means potential issues with version control, and the chance your data could become polluted or outdated.

  • Power BI

    Managing and validating data with Power BI is challenging. Because the platform decentralizes data, it’s scattered across user desktops and the cloud.

8. Single Interface for Broad Use Cases

A modern data visualization platform should give you the flexibility to conduct a wide range of analytics activities, no matter which device you use. This means using the same interface to perform visualization, augmented analytics, dashboards, self-service data exploration or BI reporting.

  • Qlik Sense

    Qlik supports all use cases from a single interface, making it easy for users to perform analytics activities—from interactive dashboards to data visualization reporting.

  • Tableau

    Tableau focuses on a single use case: data visualization. However, to create these visualizations, you’ll need business authors who have database and SQL expertise.

  • Power BI

    With Power BI, you can perform a range of uses. But Microsoft requires users to switch between multiple products to do so.

9. Data Integration

The most vivid images in the world mean nothing if you don’t start with the right data. Effective visualization tools integrate data from across the enterprise and provide business users with a data catalog that makes it easier for them to find what they need—no matter what their skill level.

  • Qlik Sense

    Qlik gives you the flexibility to integrate data in a variety of ways—all available in a comprehensive web-based platform.

  • Tableau

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

  • Power BI

    Power BI’s disparate offerings makes it hard to integrate your data. To make it work, you’ll need to buy and add stack products.

10. Supporting Data Literacy

The best big data visualization tools go beyond just teaching people how to use their platform. Instead, users should learn how to be data literate, helping them understand how to analyze and communicate with visual data.

  • Qlik Sense

    Users of any skill level can freely explore their data using Qlik’s self-service tools. For instance, users can create reports with a simple drag-and-drop. You can also take advantage of Qlik’s data literacy as a service—an offering that blends training, processes and technology.

  • Tableau

    Tableau requires you to be an author to make discoveries. So their data literacy initiative is only focused on authors. That’s data literacy for data dictators and leaves the rest of us behind.

  • Power BI

    The only Power BI users who can access self-service are authors. After content has been published, there aren’t a lot of options for other users to further interact with data. For deeper exploration, users need to go back to the author.

Total Cost of Ownership

Your data visualization software should provide full transparency into total cost of ownership.

Total cost of ownership (TCO) covers more than just the cost of software. It also covers costs over a 3- to 5-year period, including systems setup and development, infrastructure, and systems admin and support. Be sure your data visualization tools vendor discloses the total financial and time commitment required to use their platform.

  • Qlik Sense

    Qlik offers lower TCO than Tableau or Power BI, and doesn’t require extra data or compute costs down the line. With Qlik, you get total transparency.

  • Tableau

    To replicate what’s in a single Qlik app, you’d need to create many Tableau reports. That would take time, and time is money. Plus, refreshing that content could cost extra. Learn more.

  • Power BI

    Power BI users who want to work at the enterprise level will have to pay substantial upgrade and add-on fees. Learn more.

Analyst Perspectives on Data Visualization Tools

Compare the best data visualization software with the latest analyst reports.

BARC: The BI & Analytics Survey 2021

See how top data visualization and analytics tools stack up in the world’s largest independent survey of BI users.

  • Image displaying the comparative matrix of BI vendors from the BARC BI & Analytics Survey 2021.
    Qlik Sense earned 11 number one category rankings including Dashboards and Customer Experience and 44 leadership positions.
  • Image displaying the comparative ranking of BI vendors for dashboards from the BARC BI & Analytics Survey 2021.
    93% of surveyed users rate Qlik Sense’s functionality for creating dashboards as excellent or good.

Qlik Sense® Self-Service Visualization and Discovery

kpi dashboard examples

Now that you’ve compared Qlik Sense® to other data visualization tools, you can see why Qlik takes data visualization to a whole new level.

  • Easily combine, load, visualize, and explore your data, no matter how large (or small).
  • Smart visualizations reveal the shape of your data and pinpoint outliers.
  • Every chart, table, and object is interactive and instantly updates to the current context with each action.
  • Get insights faster with assistance from Insight Advisor for chart creation, association recommendations, and data preparation.

Get ready to transform your entire business with data.