3 Top Business Intelligence Tools Compared: Tableau, PowerBI, and Sisense

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<span data-preserver-spaces="true">Business Intelligence (BI) is used to transform data into actionable insights that provide value to an organization and help achieve its business goals. Reports and dashboards are the go-to approaches for modern-day business intelligence tools.</span> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">At Appsilon, we are big advocates of R and <a href="https://appsilon.com/shiny/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">R Shiny</a>, but we also have significant experience with business intelligence tools. Besides, coding custom solutions from scratch (or coding in general) isn't <em>always</em> the right solution, especially for simple tasks. The custom-built BI solutions have their place, but more on that towards the end of the article.</span> <blockquote><strong>Are you an Excel user who is curious about R Shiny? Read <a href="https://appsilon.com/switch-from-excel-to-r-shiny/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">How to Switch from Excel to R Shiny: First Steps</a></strong></blockquote> All of the BI tools you'll see in this article are top contenders in Gartner's Magic Quadrant. Because of that, all of them are considered to be go-to solutions for enterprise businesses. Here's a list of our top BI tools: <ul><li><a href="#tableau">Tableau</a></li><li><a href="#powerbi">Microsoft PowerBI</a></li><li><a href="#sisense">Sisense</a></li></ul> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">In addition to evaluating these tools, we'll also answer the question of whether you should <a href="#rshiny">develop custom dashboards from scratch</a>, and when would be an appropriate time for that.</span> <h2 id="tableau"><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Tableau</span></h2> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">This BI tool doesn't need an introduction. If you're reading this article, you probably know what <a href="https://appsilon.com/tableau-vs-r-shiny/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Tableau</a> is and what it can do. It is considered one of the leading analytics platforms for good reasons - it is </span><strong><span data-preserver-spaces="true">intuitive and easy to use </span></strong><span data-preserver-spaces="true">and has remarkable visualization capabilities that look great by default.</span> <img class="wp-image-6013 size-full" src="https://webflow-prod-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/6525256482c9e9a06c7a9d3c%2F65b021a0e8fe2e8669afc87d_tableau-dashboard.webp" alt="Example Tableau Dashboard for business intelligence tools" width="1261" height="891" /> <em>Tableau Showcase: Global Market Overview dashboard (https://www.tableau.com/learn/articles/business-intelligence-dashboards-examples)</em> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">Further, Tableau can connect to almost any data source you can imagine, handles larger datasets with ease, and has a great community behind it. </span> <ul><li><em><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Stuck on some visualization problem?</span></em><span data-preserver-spaces="true"> A quick Google search will lead you to Tableau forums with an appropriate solution. </span></li><li><em><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Need to track your data on the go?</span></em><span data-preserver-spaces="true"> Download the mobile app.</span></li></ul> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">If this wasn't the case, we seriously doubt that giants like </span><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Charles Schwab</span><span data-preserver-spaces="true">, </span><span data-preserver-spaces="true">PepsiCo</span><span data-preserver-spaces="true">, </span><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Verizon</span><span data-preserver-spaces="true">, and </span><span data-preserver-spaces="true">St. Mary's Bank</span><span data-preserver-spaces="true"> would use it on a daily basis. </span> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">The impressive features and ease of use don't mean there aren't any downsides to using Tableau. A lot of Tableau users complain about </span><strong><span data-preserver-spaces="true">inadequate support</span></strong><span data-preserver-spaces="true">. In many cases, all that the support team does is recommend that you buy another feature, promising that it will solve your issues. </span>With Tableau, you are also limited in embedding features. If you have many visual elements, it becomes a real challenge to build a responsive dashboard. <strong>Further, we've found it almost impossible to build an external component that interacts with Tableau charts.</strong> Next,<span data-preserver-spaces="true"> let's discuss pricing. Tableau offers a 14-day free trial, but once that's over, the only viable option is to pay <strong>$840 for a year-long subscription</strong>. That comes to <strong>$70 per month</strong>, which is by no means cheap (and since we're all stuck at home – we already have multiple streaming service subscriptions to pay for monthly). Scale this cost to a 10-person team, and that's an expense you'll notice (<strong>$8,400 per year!</strong>). More affordable options are available, but these are either limited in their capabilities or can't be purchased for a single user. </span> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">For example, maybe some team members only want to look at charts and dashboards - so the </span><strong><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Viewer license</span></strong><span data-preserver-spaces="true"> is enough for them. That will only set you back $12 per month instead of $70. </span><span data-preserver-spaces="true">If you want to use Tableau on the web only, the </span><strong><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Explorer license</span></strong><span data-preserver-spaces="true"> is available. This will cost you $35 per user/month, but it requires you to purchase at least five licenses.</span> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">To conclude: Tableau is an excellent and easy-to-use BI tool, but it's not cheap and has multiple potential <strong>deal-breaker limitations</strong>. </span> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">Read more about Tableau:</span> <ul><li><a class="editor-rtfLink" href="https://www.tableau.com/solutions/gallery" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Tableau visualization gallery</span></a></li><li><a class="editor-rtfLink" href="https://wordpress.appsilon.com/tableau-vs-r-shiny/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Tableau vs. R Shiny - Which one is right for you?</span></a></li></ul> <strong>You can now create Tableau dashboard extensions using R and Shiny with <a href="https://rstudio.github.io/shinytableau/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">RStudio's shinytableau R package</a>! </strong> <h2 id="powerbi"><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Microsoft PowerBI</span></h2> <span data-preserver-spaces="true"><a href="https://appsilon.com/powerbi-vs-r-shiny/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">PowerBI</a> is a collection of software services, apps, and connectors that work together to turn unrelated sources into coherent, visually immersive, and interactive insights – at least according to </span><a class="editor-rtfLink" href="https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/power-bi/fundamentals/power-bi-overview" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Microsoft</span></a><span data-preserver-spaces="true">.</span> <img class="wp-image-6010 size-full" src="https://webflow-prod-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/6525256482c9e9a06c7a9d3c%2F65b021a0fd01060a37e0821f_powerbi-dashboard.webp" alt="Example PowerBI Dashboard for business intelligence tools" width="674" height="604" /> <em>PowerBI Showcase: Sales and Marketing dashboard (https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/power-bi/create-reports/sample-sales-and-marketing)</em> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">PowerBI is one of the most widely recognized BI tools due to its intuitive interface, various visualization options, and because it looks good by default. Even if something isn't supported, </span><strong><span data-preserver-spaces="true">PowerBI can easily connect to R and Python</span></strong><span data-preserver-spaces="true">.</span> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">PowerBI comes in a few different flavors: </span> <ol><li><em><span data-preserver-spaces="true">PowerBI Desktop</span></em><span data-preserver-spaces="true"> - a Windows-only application used to perform analysis, create visualizations and reports</span></li><li><em><span data-preserver-spaces="true">PowerBI Service (Pro)</span></em><span data-preserver-spaces="true"> - web application used to create dashboards. Provides a way for sharing results through a collaboration mode</span></li><li><em><span data-preserver-spaces="true">PowerBI Mobile</span></em><span data-preserver-spaces="true"> - a mobile application used only for data access, not for analysis. It is available for both Android and iOS</span></li></ol> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">All of these options and plenty of other more technical details made PowerBI a tool of choice for giant corporations, such as </span><a class="editor-rtfLink" href="https://www.walmart.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Walmart</span></a><span data-preserver-spaces="true">, </span><a class="editor-rtfLink" href="https://www.apple.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Apple</span></a><span data-preserver-spaces="true">, And </span><a class="editor-rtfLink" href="https://corporate.exxonmobil.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><span data-preserver-spaces="true">ExxonMobil</span></a><span data-preserver-spaces="true">.</span> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">PowerBI is easy to get started with. You'll only need a couple of crash courses to create impressive data visualizations. Don't let this fool you though - </span><strong><span data-preserver-spaces="true">PowerBI is tough to master</span></strong><span data-preserver-spaces="true">, as this requires learning the whole suite of Microsoft tools. </span>At the same time, that's the biggest reason to use PowerBI - it includes full integration with the Microsoft ecosystem (authorization, Azure, Office 365, and so on). If you are a big fan of Microsoft's UI, it's safe to say you'll find PowerBI somewhat familiar and comfortable. <span data-preserver-spaces="true">As with Tableau, PowerBI isn't all sunshine and rainbows. <strong>PowerBI is read-only</strong>, and you can't access the source code. As a result, it is nearly impossible to maintain proper version control. This is a problem that PowerBI shares with <a href="https://appsilon.com/excel-is-obsolete-here-are-the-top-2-alternatives-from-r-and-python/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microsoft Excel</a>.</span> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">Also, you can't do too much about visuals within PowerBI. Don't get us wrong, there is a lot you can tweak, but the amount of options doesn't necessarily correlate with how charts end up looking. The UI can also feel overwhelming at first because there are too many icons and menus to look at, which takes focus away from the visualizations.</span> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">When it comes to pricing, things look better with PowerBI than with Tableau. PowerBI desktop is </span><strong><span data-preserver-spaces="true">entirely free</span></strong><span data-preserver-spaces="true">, provided you have a Windows machine. It is limited to approximately 2GB of data, but you can always upgrade to the Pro version if you need more. It will set you back <strong>$9.99 per month per user</strong>, so this shouldn't be a deal-breaker. </span><span data-preserver-spaces="true">There are more advanced Premium versions of PowerBI which are used in enterprise situations, and those currently cost <strong>$4,995 per month</strong> per dedicated cloud compute and storage resource.</span> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">To conclude: PowerBI can be entirely free for individuals and small teams depending on the use case. The tool has its quirks, and it's not as intuitive as Tableau, but it won't cost you a small fortune to get started.</span> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">Read more:</span> <ul><li><a class="editor-rtfLink" href="https://powerbi.microsoft.com/en-us/learning/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Learn PowerBI</span></a></li><li><a class="editor-rtfLink" href="https://wordpress.appsilon.com/powerbi-vs-r-shiny/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><span data-preserver-spaces="true">PowerBI vs. R Shiny - Which one is right for you?</span></a></li></ul> <h2 id="sisense"><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Sisense</span></h2> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">Sisense falls into the category of excellent but lesser-known business intelligence tools. It's not that no one is using Sisense - quite the opposite - but it's the lack of brand awareness that makes you think of Tableau or PowerBI first. Even so, we think Sisense gives PowerBI and Tableau a run for their money.</span> <img class="size-full wp-image-6012" src="https://webflow-prod-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/6525256482c9e9a06c7a9d3c%2F65b021a2e6755ca41b3171ca_sisense-dashboard.webp" alt="Example Sisense Dashboard" width="1429" height="836" /> <em>Sisense Showcase: Marketing dashboard (https://www.sisense.com/dashboard-examples/marketing/)</em> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">Sisense provides a drag and drop solution for analytics and dashboards, both on-premise and in the cloud. Dashboards and insights can be shared with multiple users, and they can even run their queries, depending on the set permission level.</span> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">Sisense has been placed in the </span><strong><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Visionary quadrant</span></strong><span data-preserver-spaces="true"> of the <a href="https://info.microsoft.com/ww-landing-2020-gartner-magic-quadrant-for-analytics-and-business-intelligence.html?LCID=EN-US&amp;ls=Website" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gartner Magic Quadrant for BI and Analytic platforms</a></span><span data-preserver-spaces="true">. That's a huge accomplishment because the competition is harsh in this department. Further, Sisense is well-recognized and used by companies such as </span><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Hewlett Packard (HP)</span><span data-preserver-spaces="true">, </span><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Phillips</span><span data-preserver-spaces="true">, </span><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Nasdaq</span><span data-preserver-spaces="true">, </span><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Motorola</span><span data-preserver-spaces="true">, and </span><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Wix</span><span data-preserver-spaces="true">.</span> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">Sisense is divided into two parts:</span> <ul><li><em><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Web interface</span></em></li><li><em><span data-preserver-spaces="true">ElastiCube</span></em><span data-preserver-spaces="true"> - an analytical database that must be downloaded locally</span></li></ul> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">In the ElastiCube, you can load and establish connections to the data. Keep in mind that it requires a Windows machine to function. If you are not on Windows, the cloud is the only option. </span><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Any form of analysis and visualization is done through the web interface. Sisense is known for its </span><strong><span data-preserver-spaces="true">good performance on larger datasets</span></strong><span data-preserver-spaces="true"> and low-ish hardware requirements.</span> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">That all sounds great, but let's consider the downsides. It has been reported many times that Sisense dashboards only work well on the web. The other big downside is that Sisense doesn't support sending scheduled reports via email. Besides that, Sisense is a great BI tool that doesn't lag behind its more well-known competitors. </span> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">With regards to the pricing, there's not much we can tell you. They offer an annual licensing model tailored to individual business needs, but how much it actually costs for an arbitrary user is unknown.</span> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">Read more:</span> <ul><li><a class="editor-rtfLink" href="https://www.sisense.com/dashboard-examples/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Interactive dashboard examples</span></a></li><li><a class="editor-rtfLink" href="https://www.sisense.com/get/one-on-one-demo/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Schedule a demo</span></a></li></ul> <h2 id="rshiny"><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Should You Develop Dashboards From Scratch? Better Business Intelligence Tools</span></h2> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">Answering this question isn't easy. Honestly, the most correct answer is "it depends", but this isn't a sufficient answer. We'll try to demystify this question as much as possible in this section.</span> <strong><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Using a BI tool is sometimes enough</span></strong><span data-preserver-spaces="true">. If you are analyzing and visualizing data for yourself, it doesn't have to look amazing. The only important thing is that it gets the job done. This might also be the case for internal analysis and visualization projects in smaller companies.</span> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">But what if you are performing and delivering analysis for a client? Can you afford to make your reports look only somewhat decent instead of amazing/impressive? Probably not. That's where custom-built web applications in the form of a data analytics dashboard come into play.</span> Most business intelligence tools fail whenever you try to integrate them within other web apps, and you are forced to use their products individually. Most of our clients want to embed dashboards within other tools keeping them fully controlled by external UI elements and with custom authorization setups. <strong>This BI limitation often results in having multiple BI tools within one organization rather than having access to a single integrated solution.</strong> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">At Appsilon, we are big fans and avid users of R and </span>R Shiny<span data-preserver-spaces="true">. These technologies have helped us create numerous dashboards for small, medium, large, and even Fortune 500 companies. <strong>If you want to leave a professional impression on your clients, developing an analytical solution from scratch isn't just one of the options - it is the only option.</strong></span> <img class="wp-image-6069 size-full" src="https://webflow-prod-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/6525256482c9e9a06c7a9d3c%2F65b021a20ce0b7ac0652150d_Screenshot-2020-11-26-at-10.47.10.webp" alt="Example Shiny Dashboard" width="1231" height="769" /> <em>R Shiny Enterprise Demo Dashboard (source: https://demo.appsilon.ai/shiny-enterprise-demo/)</em> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">Our open-source team has developed <a href="http://shiny.tools" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">R packages for UI, routing, and translations</a> to make dashboard development from scratch easier. These packages allow you to deliver an impressive all-around solution in a fraction of the time.</span> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">Learn more:</span> <ul><li><a class="editor-rtfLink" href="https://shiny.tools/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Appsilon's open-source packages</span></a></li><li><a class="editor-rtfLink" href="https://demo.appsilon.ai/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Appsilon's collection of demo dashboards</span></a></li></ul> <h2><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Conclusion - top business intelligence tools</span></h2> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">Covering all of the available business intelligence tools isn't feasible for a single article. Instead, we wanted to cover a few of the top market leaders. Tableau, PowerBI, and Sisense have their place in modern data analytics and visualization, and it's up to you to decide which one(s) you'll use.</span> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">If price is your main concern, start with PowerBI. The free version comes with more than enough features for many users, but if you want something completely customizable, R Shiny and other code-based solutions are your only real options.</span> <blockquote><strong>Learn more: <a class="editor-rtfLink" href="https://wordpress.appsilon.com/why-you-should-use-r-shiny-for-enterprise-application-development/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Why You Should Use R Shiny for Enterprise Application Development</a></strong></blockquote> <span data-preserver-spaces="true">With Shiny, you can quickly get up to speed in a couple of weeks </span><a class="editor-rtfLink" href="https://wordpress.appsilon.com/how-i-built-an-interactive-shiny-dashboard-in-2-days-without-any-experience-in-r/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><span data-preserver-spaces="true">or even a couple of days</span></a><span data-preserver-spaces="true">, depending on your prior knowledge of programming. </span><strong><span data-preserver-spaces="true">If you want to make a scalable enterprise Shiny dashboard, then you can always reach out to </span></strong><a class="editor-rtfLink" href="https://wordpress.appsilon.com/shiny" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><strong><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Appsilon </span></strong></a><strong><span data-preserver-spaces="true">for help. </span></strong><span data-preserver-spaces="true">We're continually pushing the limits of what's possible with Shiny, and we'd be happy to guide you and your company.</span> <!--more--> <h2><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Learn more about R and business intelligence tools</span></h2><ul><li><a class="editor-rtfLink" href="https://wordpress.appsilon.com/how-i-built-an-interactive-shiny-dashboard-in-2-days-without-any-experience-in-r/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><span data-preserver-spaces="true">How Our Project Leader Built Her First Shiny Dashboard with No R Experience</span></a></li><li><a class="editor-rtfLink" href="https://wordpress.appsilon.com/shiny-dashboard-ui-crash-course/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><span data-preserver-spaces="true">A crash course in R Shiny UI</span></a></li><li><a class="editor-rtfLink" href="https://wordpress.appsilon.com/rapid-internationalization-of-shiny-apps-shiny-i18n-version-0-2/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><span data-preserver-spaces="true">How to translate R Shiny dashboards</span></a></li><li><a class="editor-rtfLink" href="https://wordpress.appsilon.com/shiny-worker-package/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><span data-preserver-spaces="true">How to make R Shiny faster</span></a></li><li><a class="editor-rtfLink" href="https://wordpress.appsilon.com/how-to-scale-a-shiny-dashboard/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><span data-preserver-spaces="true">How to scale R Shiny dashboards</span></a></li></ul> &nbsp; <p style="text-align: center;"><strong><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Appsilon is hiring! We are seeking R Shiny developers. See our </span></strong><a class="editor-rtfLink" href="https://wordpress.appsilon.com/careers/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><strong><span data-preserver-spaces="true">Careers</span></strong></a><strong><span data-preserver-spaces="true"> page for all new openings.</span></strong></p>

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