Gartner releases multiple “Magic Quadrants” every year to rank different industry players. This February they published the Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence & Analytics Platforms. What’s the news here? Microsoft broke through into the “leaders” quadrant, undoubtedly due Power BI as their flagship self-service business intelligence offering.
What does this mean?
While there are many debates on how useful Gartner’s classification is, it is still regarded as one of the key benchmarks comparing providers in the software industry. The methodology clusters industry players into 4 brackets along two axes:
- Completeness of vision
- Ability to execute
Being in the Leaders quadrant is still a recognition of performance. That notion is clearly visible from the article Microsoft published after the Magic Quadrant became available.
It is also pretty clear from the same article that this recognition should be attributed to the developments of Power BI. It has gone a long way from some Excel add-ins to a full feature Power BI stand alone application. I’m also a big fan of self-service BI in general, so I’m happy to see Microsoft “up there” with Tableau and Qlik(view).
How could Power BI propel Microsoft up?
Put simply, it is free. Of course, there are enterprise versions, but most of the package is accessible to anyone, not to mention it all started from similarly free plugins to Microsoft Excel, which leads us to the next advantage.
Builds on familiar ground
It all started out from good old Excel. For analysts that is the most common, probably familiar environment. Although the new Power BI application deviates slightly from its roots, it is still carrying a lot of the Excel logic with it, making adoption much easier.
Democratizing access to information
By making it publicly available Microsoft enabled lots of people to play with any data openly available and glean insights from it. I dare to stay that even more openly than with Excel, since you do not need to purchase anything to gain access. Also the publication of a dashboard, model or view is easy even for a beginner without IT background.
Easy to learn the basics
As it is built on a familiar platform getting the first results is relatively easy. Also as the plugins have been around for a while a lot of material has been created around them. Much of this information is still totally applicable in the standalone application.
It is important to note, though, that once the simpler, more familiar tasks are handled there is a learning curve involved. Learning DAX, the query language of PowerQuery or the not-so-Excel-based formulas of PowerPivot does take time and requires practice. Yet the first steps are simple.
Timing on the market
I think Microsoft has played it pretty safe by using the self-service BI momentum to release the stand alone Power BI app. While it did play a huge role in actually making the movement grow Microsoft kept a low profile with having only the plugins in the market. Then when the market became ready it used all the learnings and only then basically “re-launched” a mature concept.
Is it better than Tableau?
Tableau has been around for a while as well, but I have always rather considered it a data visualization tool. It has made strides into becoming a full BI solution, but I still believe Power BI is stronger when it comes to building data models or cleaning and loading data. Simply, not all the capabilities of PowerPivot and PowerQuery are met head on by Tableau, which remains easier to use though when it comes to visualization.
The two players clearly show a convergence in features, which will be exciting to watch in the coming years. I hope this race will really benefit the analytics, BI and business end user, like marketers, community.
Exciting times ahead! I’m eager to see how Microsoft is able to carry forward an already strong platform and how a totally new analytics platform, with self-service in its core, will arise. With its roots in Excel and free access for anyone Power BI can really transform the way we interact with our business data.