Business Intelligence

This page:
1. briefly explains what Business Intelligence (BI) is.
2. is aimed at businesses who are mainly using Excel charting for BI . 
3. gives a comparison of Excel and other BI products
4. provides some useful BI related links
5. provides a learning journey for Tableau

What is BI?  
Using data to help people understand their business better and to make well informed decisions.  To monitor and evaluate.  Using data to find questions and explore possible answers.  
See here for a tableau video giving BI oversight with example data Visualizations and explanations.  
See Wikipedia here for text.

The main "big" players in the BI Market
The ability to execute (the y-axis) is very important for small/medium businesses,particularly those with limited resource, time and technical people.

2014 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics

A learning journey for becoming familiar with Tableau 

Here's he steps I would take to get to know tableau friarly well, fairly quickly.

1.  Use visualizations that others have created.  
- No software needs to be installed.
- Use an official Tableau Visualization "Building Seattle"   (on the canvas you are given try  clicking and dragging over things as well as clicking on stuff)
- Use online visualizations here made by the general public.  
- Watch the training videos about tableau public  this demonstrates the use and creation of the "Building Seattle" workbook.

2. Download Tableau public Desktop and use for a few days - to have a go.
- This is a useful way to get a feel for tableau and watch the videos here.  In the hour it takes to watch these videos, you will get a good feel for Tableau public 99% of which applies to the paid for versions.
- Any saved visualizations are public, and the data that you base them on becomes public (when they are saved).
- I found these videos more useful as an overview than the other videos provided for the paid for / trial product.

- When you want to keep your data private and use larger data sets you can stop using public and start a two week trial period.
- You will get a sales call and be invited to attend a sales days and free training sessions
- Also use the free Desktop reader to open the workbooks you created - it can be used by anyone to view the workbook files and is a good way of using Tableau cheaply in your organisation.

4. My general advice 
- There are good books out there, which are easier to learn from than the written content on the tableau site. eg Tableau Your Data!  Tableau 9: The Official Guide
- The tableau training videos are useful, but it can be hard to remember it all without a book.
- The help pages are very detailed - but hard to learn from as not many general or high level comparisons and concepts are explained.
- The tableau training courses may be a good option.
- All the tableau people I have met are very nice and very professional and knowledgeable.    The company is very supportive. a UK (mainly London) based accredited tableau consultancy.  Good site, Good people, useful free training sessions - free lunch and beer!

5. About tableau site contents:
- the Starter Kits page is very useful - particularly the resources links at the foot to the following
- Tableau Help Pages  these are very detailed but I don't think they given enough general or conceptual overviews. 
- quickstart guides  this page gives a list of "how to do things" and provides links to help pages related to the item on the list.
on demand training videos are very details but don't give conceptual overviews.

6. My Content
You may find content of interest on My OneNote Tableau pages where I share my thoughts, and summarise some tableau videos and some general insights I gained and comparison I have made.
These pages were created mainly for my own benefit, so please bear in mind they are not highly polished.

Microsoft power-bi  vs  tableau
This page on on another site provides a good article comparing MS BI and tableau with some other BI software. Also some other useful links.

Excel 2013 & 2016   (with PowerPivot and a data model with DAX )
The most common version of Excel offers many BI features  (Pivot tables, Slicers, Charting, SQL Querying, PowerQuery/Maps/View/Pivot, data lookup and manipulation/prepreation,  etc) 
The "full version" of Excel, that has more powerful BI features, but only comes with some more costly Business subscriptions.  You can buy it for £120 though.

"Full Excel" has a "SQL Server Analsyis Services" data model embedded into each workbook as a "backend" database,  (ie a compressed efficient, tabular, relational data storage with a powerful formula language called DAX).
It's powerful and, if you know DAX well, it is probably more powerful that Tableau, but not as quick and easy as tableau to use for more basic features - and I believe Tableau will do what 95% of people need.
DAX is a "easier version" of the older Microsoft BI technology MDX and these are both mature powerful functional languages. Note that DAX workbooks will migrate to SQL Server and scale for big business well.  But it's all so hard!
DAX  *may* offer some functionality that Tableau doesn't (but as tableau integrates with R it seems unlikely), however, in terms of usability tableau wins!  I got cross using Excel after I had used Tableau, because I was finding it "difficult" and I am an experience user!
In short, using Excel provides a lot of flexibility but there are many many downsides.  eg sharing a "secure" un-editable workbook with BI products is easy, "locking" Excel can do this to some extent, but it's simply not as good and much more work.

Excel is not a purpose built BI tool, but is a spreadsheet that has been progressively augmented to offer database and BI technologies e.g. first VLOOKUP, then Pivot tables and now PowerPivot and a proper relational data model with DAX. Charting has got better and better too.   Please be aware that Excel is still a very useful tool and does many things and can be used for many purposes which Tableau and other BI products are not suitable or able to do  eg financial modelling, simple databases and data cleansing,  mail merging, note taking etc..

Note that many BI products are based on similar database technology.  A columnar database with ALL data loaded into in memory that is VERY QUICK and stores the data efficiently (as individual columns of data not as a row).  The data is highly compressed. 

Click here if you want to see how the basic version of Excel can be used to present data using pivot tables, conditional formatting, charts, etc.  Note that an Excel workbook can be downloaded from this page that has been extensively configured.  (No DAX though and not many charts as I was finding it to hard! - I may get around to adding some slicers.)  The volume of data that tableau was working with easily caused Excel to get very slow and "stop working" at times.

Microsoft BI

This is essentially a way of delivering interactive Excel like content ie charts/pivot tables/maps in a controlled way via dashboards online.   It can connect to "big data" sources like SQL Server securely and it look very nice.

Sales Blurb     
Pricing - Free for self use, and $10/month/user to share content "online"!
Video Tour - shows examples of dashboards that users can be given, note the charts are very basic compared to tableau ones.

Looks and feels very much like Excel and it's Power* addins (ie Query, Pivot, Map, View, etc).  Has a very similar interface.  Has reduced/different functionality compared to the "Excel spreadsheet product" and greatly reduced "charting ability" compared to tableau and more expensive BI products.  The main benefit is it's ultra cheap price.

You can deliver a BI Viz to customers and allow them to simlpy use it and prevent them from changing the design.
As a power Excel user (with extensive VBA skills) I found MS BI incredibly hard to use and clunky compared to Tableau.  When I went back to it after using Tableau, I got cross with how hard it was to do things - even though I'm extremely fluent with Excel 2013 and Power* and use DAX a bit.  However, MS BI lets you create Excel like content and share it with others "online".  The benefit of using BI not Excel is clear: Others can use but not change your "Excel like" dashboard content and it's an easy to use interface on many platforms.

Some things it does well:  
Pre-built dashboard for Salesforce etc. ,  Natural language queries.  Basic charts and dashboard, once built are simple and easy to use, but are basic compared to other BI s/w like Tableau, but may do enough for many businesses.
In short, doing more advanced functions is very hard compared to Tableau, doing easy ones is harder to, but it's cheaper and even free for personal use - because it is basically a reduced version of Excel!     

Microsoft's PowerMaps are excellent and significantly better than Tableau as you can create animations of time changing data.  Nice.  Here's an example video (watch the first 20 seconds) .  Note this is a free feature available in BI and Excel 2013 onwards.
Tableau also does not allow barcharts on maps and in effect only graphically plots 2 facts about each point (the size and the colour + a popup text with other values).  PowerMaps can break this down using a stacked barchart to give more detail etc...

There are lots of other subtle and not so subtle differences, that you will come across (eg Tableau conditional formatting is not a powerful as MS Excel), but tableau and powerful BI products do so much more that more simple ones in other ways.

Note that for $1000 Tableau, can be used to create files that can be shared with other people for free.  Although slightly more, I feel this will be the best option in many scenarios for small (& some medium) businesses / applications.
The data is not live, ie In order to update the data people see, you have to reload the data into the workbook then save it, but this is ok sometimes.

Like many Tableau is my current preferred choice for BI

I'm quite new to Tableau but found I was able to achieve a lot in very little time compared to Excel and other BI products. The learning curve is very flat and easy to begin with.
It has many powerful features when formulas are used, but the basics will be easy for many people - not just IT geeks. You can achieve LOADS very easily.

I was very depressed the day after I discovered Tableau, as I've been struggling to do things in Excel and SQL Server for ages, and Tableau makes it all so easy! What a struggle! I wish I'd found tableau sooner.

Here's more information about adopting it:

Tableau Public
Tableau public is free.  You download "Tableau desktop" and it does everything the paid for one does BUT you can't connect to BIG data (just csv, excel and Access) and you have to save any creations on the web. So it's a great way to try and learn it. there are simple videos that help get you started very quickly.

The trial version of the full product
The main site here is where you can access the trial version and the paid for versions that I mention below.

The Small Business scenario - Tableau Desktop Personal and the free reader
To use in a small business you will need the cheaper paid for version of "Tableau Desktop" known as "Tableau Desktop Personal". This has all the features of the professional version, but reduced database connectivity. It's $1000 = £665 (not an annual charge). Your workbooks and data can be privately stored in files and you can use a few other datasources like Excel, csv, Access.
A Reader version of "Tableau desktop" is free, so if you create "Tableau workbooks" everyone can use them for free - they can't change the design, but they can interact as you want them to - ie a lot. However, sharing a workbook like this gives the recipient an unprotected file (that they could edit if they had the full version) and access to all the data in a file. (You can set it up so that data is accessed "live" from a server....I've not used this yet..... and you need a per user server license I think! which is about $500 )

The Bigger Business scenario - "Tableau Desktop professional"and a server
To use the desktop ap. with SQL Server and larger data sets, it's more money - $2,000 = £1,330 (not an annual charge). If you want to share the "workbooks" you create them using desktop and add to the server so that many people can access the same "server workbook" and access live data, well it's shed loads more! $500/year a user for hosted online - roughly. However, this is still a worthwhile option for many as it will provide many cost savings in terms of understanding the business. Tableau can HOST the server for you. The cost can reduce to $200/yr/user - after you're used it for around 3 years with 10+ users and used your own server. Note that the main benefit of the server versions is security. eg it allows row level data security to be easily achieved. ie You can very easily limit users to only see data for their department or region, or for a certain date range.

Annual Charges & support
For both the above (ie not public) the annual charge after the first year is 20% of the purchase price - this gives free upgrades and support , but your old version will continue to work - I think!

Trial version
There is a trial version of the full products, but I would learn it using Tableau public for few days/weeks and get the trial when you need to access bigger/ private data.

Comparison of using your own server vs paying more for a hosted "online server"
In short, server and online are very similar, but price and accessing live data inside your company firewall are the main differences.
I compiled this table from sales info provided by tableau and other sources. It's a better format than they provided!

Note for smaller datasets Excel PowerQuery is useful for preparing the data for use in Tableau, although Tableau favour the use of Alteryx for "big data".  
Tableau has some "data cleansing" features and an excel addin but they are not as good as Power Query. They don't need to be as good but they are never the less useful in many scenarios.

Qlikview has been around for 20 years or so.  It is a great product but needs quite a bit of coding and scripting to get it to do things (unlike tableau).
They have a recent "simpler to use but basic" version QlikSense (herethat aims to compete with Tableau/Microsoft BI, but it is very simple and in my opinion not in the same league as tableau in terms of features and usability. It is more similar to Microsoft and price wise may be a possible choice as Qlikveiw are currently almost giving away their products for free (their sales teams stress the unlimited trial period), which I think says a lot.
Qlikview offer some significant features that Tableau doesn't have, but I think it is best suited to very large organisation who need to roll out a single dashboard to many people, such that they use it, but don't make it or need to adjust it!

Other BI products
There are other products similar to Tableau.  I've not used them much, and gave up trying with some - as they were clearly not a good choice

 Spotfire one you might want to consider:
 QlikView The simple QlikSense product I mentioned can be found here .  Their other products here   Different pricing model could make this a possible alternative for some solutions.


Other Related Information

Tableau Consultancy. Lots! of very useful content 

Downloads of geographic data

Finance and economic data in the form you want; instant download, API or direct to your app.

Need More help/support/advice/assistance

I'm available see here. but you might be better of talking to !

[Harvey Oct 2015]