Exploring the Tools of the Trade: Power BI, Tableau, Qlik
As the CPA’s role advances from purveyor of historical records to data scientist, mastering the software tools that support the advanced analysis and presentation of data will become crucial.
In 2019, Gartner, a leading research and advisory firm, engaged in a study to review the top business intelligence and analytics software vendors. Microsoft, Tableau and Qlik each emerged as visionary leaders with a high-level ability to execute in this field. Before reviewing these vendors’ individual offerings, it is important to identify the major characteristics that come into play when selecting a program to assist with data analytics:
- Platform availability
- Data visualization features
- Advanced analytics features
- Ability to integrate with disparate data sets
- Online analytical processing (OLAP) capabilities
- Reporting flexibility and dissemination options
Microsoft Power BI
Microsoft Power BI (powerbi.microsoft.com) is a collection of software services, apps and connectors that work together to turn unrelated sources of data into coherent, visually immersive and interactive insights. Whether the data is a simple Excel spreadsheet or a collection of cloud-based and on-premises hybrid data warehouses, Power BI lets users connect to data sources, visualize what’s important and share that information with interested stakeholders. Power BI integrates well with other Microsoft applications and is scalable. It can create quick insights from a local Excel spreadsheet, SQL database or ERP system. It is also robust and can extend to enterprise-grade systems where it can perform extensive modeling and real-time analytics using a collection of cloud-based and on-premises hybrid data warehouses. Another benefit is that Power BI can deploy quickly and integrate with existing IT systems.
Power BI consists of a Windows desktop application called Power BI Desktop, an online SaaS (Software as a Service) service called Power BI Pro/Premium and mobile Power BI apps available on phones and tablets. These three elements are designed to let people create, share and consume business insights in the way that serves them, or their role, most effectively. A common flow of work in Power BI begins in Power BI Desktop, where a report is created. That report is published to the Power BI service and then shared so users of Power BI mobile apps can consume the information.
Microsoft currently offers online self-paced courses through the Microsoft Partner University (partner.microsoft.com). There are additional resources on Microsoft’s Power BI site that include guided learning, documentation, support, community boards, webinars and blogs. There is also a Microsoft Power BI YouTube channel (youtube.com/user/mspowerbi) with hundreds of videos, and there are additional courses on Microsoft Virtual Academy.
Tableau (tableau.com) is an analytics platform comprised of Tableau Desktop and either Tableau Server (deployed on-premises or in the public cloud) or Tableau Online (SaaS hosted by Tableau). Tableau Desktop lets users connect to any data, explore, analyze visually and build interactive dashboards. Tableau Server and Tableau Online are for sharing, collaborating, managing and governing data and content across an entire organization in a unified and trusted environment. Tableau Mobile is also available for access from handheld devices.
Tableau’s desktop application has a user-friendly interface when working with data sources and creating visualizations. Tableau Desktop automatically identifies data fields as dimensions or measures and recommends the best graphs based on the number of dimensions or measures selected. Tableau Desktop also recognizes the type of data contained in the field based on internal databases, for example, recognizing a field that contains the names of U.S. states as geographic locations. Finally, Tableau Desktop has many built in calculations, for example, calculations that aggregate based on days, months, years.
So, how valuable is the need for data analytics software? In August 2019, Salesforce acquired Tableau in an all-stock deal valued at $15.7 billion.
Qlik View is the original (classic) version of Qlik Technologies software and is still sold and supported. However, Qlik View is primarily a dashboard service. An updated and more current architecture has been developed and is named Qlik Sense, which is a data visualization and analysis tool that also offers customized dashboards. Qlik’s platform (qlik.com) consists of Qlik Sense as well as Qlik Core (a development environment) and Qlik NPrinting for printing and page layout development. Some of Qlik Sense’s more useful features include:
- Smart search — The search bar function allows you to type in keywords and phrases to quickly locate data sets, graphs/charts and reports.
- Self-service creation — Drag-and-drop capabilities offer easy dashboard and report creation without the need for scripting, complex queries or joins.
- Centralized management — Qlik Sense acts as one central location for users to develop and share apps, data stories and insights quickly and efficiently.
- Data integration — Unify disparate data sources on a single platform.
- Interactive visualizations — Qlik Sense offers users simple visualization creation that instantly responds to changes in dimensions and data context.
- Data storytelling — Easily share multiple viewpoints at once while assigning context to data. Storytelling features can also access the original analysis so users can quickly drill down into data to answer questions and change viewpoints.
- Responsive design — Whether on desktop, tablet or smartphone, Qlik Sense automatically adjusts to give you the best view of its apps.
If you decide the science of data analytics is of interest to you, any of these three leading industry packages is a good place to start.
This article appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.