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Wayne Eckerson

Welcome to Wayne's World, my blog that illuminates the latest thinking about how to deliver insights from business data and celebrates out-of-the-box thinkers and doers in the business intelligence (BI), performance management and data warehousing (DW) fields. Tune in here if you want to keep abreast of the latest trends, techniques, and technologies in this dynamic industry.

About the author >

Wayne has been a thought leader in the business intelligence field since the early 1990s. He has conducted numerous research studies and is a noted speaker, blogger, and consultant. He is the author of two widely read books: Performance Dashboards: Measuring, Monitoring, and Managing Your Business (2005, 2010) and The Secrets of Analytical Leaders: Insights from Information Insiders (2012).

Wayne is founder and principal consultant at Eckerson Group,a research and consulting company focused on business intelligence, analytics and big data.

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.

Interactive Dashboards

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.

Visual Discovery

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
Permalink | 7 Comments |


Hi Wayne,

I believe the IBM Cognos product for visual discovery is called "Cognos Insight". Not to be confused with IBM Cognos Business Insight" which is Cognos 10 unified BI workspace.

Don't know which creative marketing brainiac came up with that one. Everyone seems to be using the word "insight" in their products. Time to come up with another noun! I did a quick google for insight synonyms. I kind of like "perspicacity".


Thanks. You are right! I made the change.

Excellent comments on the visual BI tools space. I must admit I view Qlikview in its desktop mode as a visual exploration tool as well. Users may pull the data in themselves, or an IT partner can help them out initially with very little investment.

Would love to hear your thoughts on PowerPivot and Spotfire as well. Also, as Qliktech enhances QlikView with a semantic layer, and perhaps a drill-through capability, would it start to compete with the traditional tools like Business Objets, Cognos etc ?



You are right that QlikView's desktop version is more of an exploratory tool, although it's not often used that way anymore, from what I can see. I do not know much about PowerPivot -- because from an analyst relations perspective, Microsoft has gone dark. All my contacts have left and they don't do much outreach anymore. But I've heard they have a new version out. I need to take a look!

Spotfire has the best analytical capabilities of all the in-memory players, except perhaps Advizor Solutions. Visually, it's a tad less appealing. Companywise, they've struggled as part of Tibco, but they seem to have gotten their groove back recently and are making a good push into new accounts. Again, it's time i take another look at them.

Wayne, nice write-up.
You almost approached the TCO issue, Total Cost of Ownership issue for QlikView, Tableau, Spotfire versus platforms IBM, Microstrategy, MSFT etc. - and misunderstood TCO is the biggest issue here.

Q, T and S are expensive to maintain because they are best as the constantly evolve. Flexibility is expensive and IT, business analysis teams and business users should view analytics as content - the product of these tools - and content bears a cost for maintenance and production versus traditional reporting which maps data to reports and then becomes automated reconfigured information - yes, with rigid drill downs and guardrails (which controls costs but also inhibits value and burdens innovation/discovery).

Paragon has built a business analytics taxonomy and valuation tool that exposes the TCO components and assigns values to output/content to help rationalize the use of these tools - and you should note - companies on average have 4.1 BI tools (and growing).

Thanks for write-up
Michael R Hoffman, Paragon Consulting

Hi Michael,

You're right--I avoided the TCO issue. All I know is that QlikView et. al. are actually more expensive to buy than most expect since named user pricing and hardware requirements escalate quickly. In terms of ongoing maintenance, that's another question, and I don't have an answer. I'm not sure what you mean when you say "flexibility is expensive" or "content bears a cost for maintenance." However, I'd sure be interested to learn more about your TCO analysis.


can you please brief a comparison between cognos10 and tableau reporting?

it will be a great help .

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