My blog last week, "QlikTech Goes Enterprise" created quite a stir from all quarters, much to my surprise. I presented an even-handed portrait of QlikTech, and I stand by everything I wrote. However, I'd like to elaborate on some issues that came under scrutiny from readers.
First, I never claimed QlikView (QlikTech's product) is an enterprise BI product. Today, QlikView is an extremely successful departmental BI tool. The problem with all good departmental BI products is that customers push them upstream into enterprise deployments. And that's exactly what's happening with QlikView, for better or worse. The same thing happened with today's vanguard of enterprise BI players--namely, MicroStrategy, SAP BusinessObjects, and IBM Cognos--all of which started out as desktop BI products in the 1990s.
The fact that a small, but increasing number of QlikView customers is purchasing and deploying thousands or, in some cases, tens of thousands of seats doesn't mean that QlikView is a bonafide enterprise BI product. At least yet. QlikView customers and partners are currently doing somersaults to work around product limitations that I mentioned last week. I have no doubt that QlikTech will address these deficiencies in the near future. So enterprise BI players need to stay alert lest QlikView ambush them from behind. The bigger question is whether QlikView will lose some of its appeal--or more specifically, it's ease of use, performance, agility, and affordability--in making the transition from a departmental to enterprise BI product.
The BI Triumvirate
Many people last week commented on my notion of a BI triumvirate consisting of MicroStrategy for reporting, QlikView for interactive dashboarding, and Tableau for visual discovery.
First, I view these capabilities as distinct and separate categories of BI, each of which addresses different information requirements and groups of users. (In truth, there are two additional BI categories--OLAP cubes and data mining--but these are smaller niches.)
Second, the vendors I referenced are examples only. I could have substituted any number of vendors in that list. For example, Oracle BI Enterprise Edition is an enterprise dashboard tool and IBM Cognos recently released a visual discovery tool, called Insight. However, I chose the three I did because I view them as leaders in their respective categories.
But just because I reference a vendor in one category doesn't exclude it from other categories. For example, MicroStrategy also provides exceptionally good dashboards, and last year, it unveiled a Tableau-like product called Visual Insight. So, if you are a MicroStrategy customer, your triumvirate could easily be: Microstrategy Report Services for reporting, MicroStrategy Report Services for dashboarding, and MicroStrategy Visual Insight for visual discovery. (And to boot, you can also use MicroStrategy OLAP Services for OLAP cubes and MicroStrategy Data Mining Services for data mining.) Obviously, one of the benefits of going with a BI platform vendor like MicroStrategy is that you get all the BI functionality you need in a single, integrated environment.
The real question is whether MicroStrategy and other comparable products are best of breed in each category. In terms of dashboards, MicroStrategy and QlikView both offer significant value but in different ways. MicroStrategy dashboards are pixel-perfect reports that run against a cached cube or data warehouse and are viewed through either a HTML/AJAX, Flash, or native mobile interface, while QlikView dashboards run against a server-based in-memory database and viewed via a Web/AJAX or desktop interface. Filters in QlikView expose relationships (or lack thereof) among all elements displayed on a dashboard screen, while filters in MicroStrategy constrain views of data to support drill down and drill across navigation. Obviously, these are different interfaces and architectures powered by different database structures. Broadly generalizing, QlikView dashboards are more horizontally interactive (via its associative model of data), while MicroStrategy dashboards are more vertically interactive (via its dimensional data structure.) The best product is in the eyes of the beholder.
In terms of visual discovery, MicroStrategy Visual Insight is a first-generation product that currently lacks many of the features in Tableau. For instance, today MicroStrategy Visual Insight only accesses one data source at a time and displays one visualization per page. Customers also need to purchase and implement the entire MicroStrategy stack (version 9.2) to use Visual Insight. Thus, it's not a downloadable product like Tableau, which you can install and start using within minutes. To compensate, MicroStrategy now offers a free cloud-based version of Visual Insight, called Cloud Personal, that lets users upload and manipulate Excel spreadsheets without having to install any software. Touche!
MicroStrategy plans to release a new version of Visual Insight later this year that will move the 1.0 product closer to the current version of Tableau. Of course, Tableau isn't sitting still, either. It's working on a new version slated for a fall delivery and continues to raise the bar for what's possible in a visual discovery environment.
Dashboard Development Environments
Although Tableau is a market-leading visual discovery tool, it can do other things as well. I've run into many customers that use Tableau as a development environment for building departmental dashboards. As such, Tableau often butts heads with QlikView for these types of accounts. In the past year, Tableau has added many features, including an in-memory database, server-side data storage, and data blending of multiple sources that transform it from just a very good desktop analyst tool to a departmental dashboard development environment that competes with QlikView.
Clearly, vendors watch each other carefully and mirror each other's moves. If one succeeds in the marketplace, then others quickly adopt similar functionality to staunch real or potential losses in market- and mindshare. As a result, BI innovations spread quickly across vendors and products. The key is to understand whether new functionality is more a marketing makeover than a bonafide product extension.
At some point, all customers face an "all-in-one" or "best-of-breed" decision. Enterprise BI customers have to decide whether to go with an upstart that offers market-leading innovations or wait for their BI vendor to catch up. Conversely, departmental BI customers need to decide whether to jump ship for an integrated BI platform or wait for their pet BI vendor to embrace enterprise-scale computing.
This is when it pays to know your vendor. If you have confidence in its direction and ability to execute, then it might be wise to stay put. Otherwise, it's probably time shake the dice and look at alternatives.
Posted May 17, 2012 11:07 AM
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