Move over, Tableau: Power BI on Track to Top the Data Visualisation Market
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Move over, Tableau: Power BI on Track to Top the Data Visualisation Market


Microsoft’s Power BI has recently thrown the global data visualisation hierarchy into chaos with vastly improved updates on its initial 2014 launch offering.

While Tableau has been the go-to name in business intelligence (BI) and data visualisation for the past five years, Microsoft’s tool has now become a real contender for the highest share in the market.

The rise and fall of Tableau

Established in 2003, Tableau’s empire has experienced exponential growth in recent years and the software is now being used by 39,000 customers. Support for the tool has been practically evangelical up to this point, packing stadiums such as the enormous 16,800-capacity MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas in October 2015 with data enthusiasts keen to hear about the latest feature update.

Yet, just as Apple is due a significant decrease in market share over 2016 (at least according to US Venture Capitalist Mary Meeker’s recent estimation), Tableau’s soaring profits eventually came to an end last year, with the company making a loss of $84 million.

This is where Power BI comes in: over the past two years, Microsoft has been continually updating and improving the tool. In March 2016, a landmark of five million users was reached – a real turning point for the technology.

What makes Microsoft’s offering unique in the BI market?

Compatibility is a key advantage for end users of Power BI. Its compatibility with the Microsoft Office Suite, including essentials such as Excel, makes it an extremely attractive alternative to Tableau.

There are also options for selective information sharing and user segmentation – sharing a particular data set with one group of users while concealing it from another, for instance. This advanced level of personalised data management is what really gives Power BI its appeal.

The other factor that may be ever so slightly persuasive is the substantial cost difference. Whereas Tableau can cost up to $1000 for a licence/user per year, Microsoft’s option is a mere $144 year/user, making it perfect for SMEs and individual users.

Another big differentiator is Power BI’s Community Portal, where users can make requests for new features and several are chosen to be incorporated into the next update. The recent May update included conditional formatting – a feature requested by Community Portal users which customises data by value and colour, so high figures are visually distinct from low figures in a table, for example. This proves that Microsoft is taking the time to listen to what its customers want and put their insights into action.

The role of data storytelling

But good data needs a persuasive voice to help translate it into effective business goals.

The best BI specialists are not just technically brilliant at analysing data, but are capable of presenting the information in a compelling manner that convinces decision makers to effect the organisational changes that need to be made. All too often, analysts are found to lack the presentation skills required to relate information effectively to their non-technical managers.

So, how can BI analysts gain these capabilities? According to Charlie Hackett, Lead Analytics Consultant at Colston Consulting, experience with non-technical managers is the key:

‘Data scientists who can gain experience working in a consultancy role, or even just presenting their data on a regular basis to non-technical stakeholders in the business are the candidates who really stand out in this market.’

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