Spotfire Tableau and Qlik Sense 2015
Here is the lowdown on these three analytics platforms:
- If you just want pretty visualizations choose Tableau.
- If you want easy-to-use visualizations with analytical beef choose Spotfire.
- If you want a unified view of your data and extensibility pick Qlik Sense.
Of course Tableau and Spotfire will offer a unified data view, but not as effectively as Qlik Sense. Qlik Sense and Spotfire provide lots of eye candy, but not as much as Tableau. And Spotfire stands alone in offering as much computational analytics capability as you might possibly want.
Spotfire challenges the received wisdom that sophisticated technology is complex, and that easy-to-use technology is unsophisticated. For the large population of business users who simply wish to understand and analyze their data with least possible overhead, Spotfire will oblige. This is particularly true of version 7 where considerable effort has been made to automate routine tasks. However Spotfire goes well beyond routine day-to-day requirements, and as users gain confidence and skills so they can venture into other forms of analytics – statistics, predictive analytics, business rules and optimization, and real-time analytics for processing complex events.
Like: A full range of capabilities – from simple graphing to real-time analytics.
Dislike: There really isn’t much to dislike here.
Unlike most of the new generation of data visualization and exploration platforms Spotfire will not present a dead-end as requirements become more complex. And it should be remembered that TIBCO has a long-standing pedigree in technologies which support data, process and application integration – something that is absolutely necessary if businesses want to turn the insights derived from analysis into action.
Spotfire 7 provides a very productive and easy-to-use interface for dashboard, chart and report creation. The new Recommendations feature presents the most suitable representation of data (the actual data and not a static prototype) with just a few mouse clicks, and a redesigned data panel makes data selection and filtering straightforward. Grouping is also a new feature where similar items (a collection of products or regions for example) can be grouped together on a chart simply by dragging the mouse across them. It is hard to imagine how the process could be simpler, and these new features, which are of great benefit to new users, also aid the productivity of expert users. And as with many products of this nature, Spotfire majors on producing very attractive visuals.
Spotfire comes in three variants:
- Spotfire desktop provides a stand-alone environment for users to explore their data and create visualizations and dashboards. An in-memory engine means the analysis is very fast, and for larger data sets an in-database engine can be used via various connectors.
- Spotfire Platform enables sharing and collaboration in an enterprise setting. It also embraces other forms of analytics including predictive, prescriptive, content (e.g. text) analytics, location analytics and real-time analytics. Only a few suppliers challenge this breadth of capability – and at much higher cost.
- Spotfire Cloud provides full Spotfire functionality via a cloud based service. A web browser interface is used and generous cloud storage is provided for data.
The speed of Spotfire is greatly enhanced by its clever memory and data management. For more modest data sets the in-memory processing ensures very high performance. Larger data sets can be processed in-database, and a hybrid approach called On-Demand optimizes the data held in local memory and that held in the database. This is unique to Spotfire.
TIBCO’s roots go way back to 1985 and for many years it majored on it’s middleware products so that applications and data could be integrated. The actual name TIBCO (The Information Bus Company) was adopted in 1997.
The company is headquartered in Palo Alto US and has offices around the world. It is a publicly quoted company with revenues of around US$1 billion.
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Without doubt Tableau Software set the pace for easy-to-use data visualization and exploration software. In practical terms this means business users can get to their data, typically without assistance from IT, and create graphs, charts and dashboards in a way that is most meaningful to them. Authoring takes place on Tableau Desktop which, as a stand-alone environment, can perform its own analysis, either against the Tableau in-memory database, or against external data sources – databases, cloud data sources, spreadsheets and so on. In a group or enterprise setting Tableau Server acts as a central facility for data access, delivering visualisations, enforcing security and managing user access. Tableau Server distributes visualisations through the web browser to almost any device that supports a web browser – desktops and mobile devices.
Likes: Lots of eye candy and attractive visualisations.
Dislikes: Not much in the way of computational analytics and poor extensibility.
The architecture of Tableau Server is scalable, and is well demonstrated by the Tableau Public free service where millions of visualizations (albeit simple ones) are served up every day. It does support some level of extensibility, particularly the coding of bespoke applications that are not natively supported, but users have to resort to XML code to achieve this.
One of the more intriguing aspects of Tableau is its integration with the analytic language R. It is such a stark contrast – the easy to use Tableau product set, and the not so easy to use R programming language. Even so it does give advanced users, and programmers the ability to add other forms of analysis into the Tableau environment, and particularly statistical analysis and predictive analytics. This contrasts with some of the competition (Spotfire particularly) who, in addition to an easy to use visualisation capability also offer easy to use statistics and predictive analytics tools.
I set out by saying that Tableau set the pace, but in reality it is now at least equalled by several other products. Qlik Sense and Spotfire have both been reengineered for an easy to use experience, and there are cloud based products such as Sisense and GoodData. And of course we should not forget Microsoft’s latest foray into the world of data visualisation and exploration with Power BI Designer. It’s immature, but it will be disruptive.
Tableau is not an enterprise business intelligence solution, and the fact that several other suppliers use it as a data visualisation front end betrays its real use. It is a powerful augmentation of a broader business intelligence solution.
As an organization Tableau is very much in tune with business user sentiment. Their marketing and sales activities are sometimes seen as a bit aggressive, but the rapid growth of Tableau demonstrates its effectiveness. They have taken business intelligence to the masses, and in the process have almost turned business intelligence into a consumer product, with associated marketing style and branding. There are dangers associated with this, but Tableau is addressing the frustrations of business users, who simply want to see their data in a meaningful format.
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Likes: Very clever structuring of data for analysis purposes.
Dislikes: None really, but could have more computational analytics capability.
Qlik Sense is a drag-and-drop data visualization and discovery platform capable of addressing most business intelligence needs apart from heavy duty production reporting. It delivers an easy-to-use interface suited to all levels of skill, and has a substantial amount of in-built intelligence to help users along. Charts, tables and dashboards are its main currency, of almost any level of complexity – or simplicity. Users can share their visualizations via various mechanisms and the platform was built ground up for mobile access – no matter the device (visualizations are rendered in HTML5).
Perhaps the most significant Qlik Sense differentiator is its associative data engine. This understands the links between various data sources and can suggest previously unsuspected relationships. Many suppliers use the term ‘data discovery’, but this facility adds new meaning to the term.
It comes in two versions – Qlik Sense Desktop, which is free to download and is not throttled in any way. It runs on a Windows desktop and is capable of accessing many data sources. Qlik Sense as a platform runs on a server(s) and provides users with a browser based interface. Both editions have similar functionality, but the server platform can scale to serve global distributed enterprises through its excellent scalability and distributed architecture. Qlik has always offered excellent governance of its environment, and IT has the tools to ensure data is secure, unambiguous and that the right people get to the right data.
Very importantly Qlik Sense is extensible. Not a very sexy attribute perhaps, but one that distinguishes the adults from the children in the world of enterprise business intelligence. In fact Qlik Sense is one large extension, built on itself! A large number of APIs are available for embedding visualizations into production applications, creating custom data connectors and building new visualization types. Developers will have absolutely no problem extending Qlik Sense, if that is what is needed. Finally Qlik Sense is fast – its in-memory columnar associative engine guarantees that.
Qlik Sense is the perfect fit for organizations who need easy-to-use data visualization and discovery tools, but may also want the head room to accommodate more advanced levels of sophistication. It is an enterprise solution, with its governance and developer support capabilities. Businesses looking for a enterprise production reporting platform (invoices etc) should look elsewhere, as should users who needs a few simple charts, since they would find Qlik Sense overkill.
Qlik Sense does not come with any advanced statistical or predictive analytics capability, but that is not its domain.