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Analytics has come a long way in the past 19 years. The introduction of Power BI in 2014 made it possible for many enterprises working in Microsoft environments to easily deploy business intelligence (BI) analytics and BI has been around for a lot longer than that.

Power BI and the Business Intelligence Market

The first Gartner Magic Quadrant for BI was published in 2002 and demonstrated that even 20 years ago, BI was flourishing. Recently, the 2021 edition of this MQ (subscription required) was published and showed that while growth in enterprise spending on BI has slowed down compared with the spending during the 2010s, revenue is still growing — by 19% — and more and more workers now have access to it as the price per seat has fallen dramatically.

The research shows that investment in cloud-based analytics dominates the market. For the first time, all but one of the seven hyperscale cloud infrastructure and platform service vendors have an offering in the ABI platform market either directly or via an acquired subsidiary.

In all there are twenty companies in the MQ with only three in the Leaders’ quadrant: Microsoft, Tableau and Qlik. But the Leaders’ quadrant in this MQ is not necessarily the most important with many of the other vendors providing specialized, or targeted, services that have their own specific market.

Currently, one vendor — Microsoft — dominates the market in terms of user adoption. The massive growth of the Microsoft Power BI cloud service has continued, fuelled in part by the bundling of this product with Office 365 at a greatly reduced price.

However, the MQ points out that dedicated, specialist analytics vendors are using their independence from the big cloud providers as competitive differentiators against the large cloud players, playing on customers’ lock-in concerns. But can they really stack-up against Microsoft and what are the alternatives to taking the Microsoft route?

Related Article: How Data Analytics Are Gaining Ground During COVID-19

BI Competitors

Daniel Elman is a research manager focused on CRM, analytics, supply chain and ERP at Nucleus Research. He argues that Microsoft's domination of the analytics space is a superficial consideration of the market. Any fair analysis, he said, would position Tableau as being (at least) on the same level as Power BI and he says he would question any research that suggests otherwise. Additionally, Qlik remains a consistent performer in the enterprise. It has recently invested more in data integration/ETL functionality to expand the breadth of its offering, but has long been touted for the value it delivers in traditional analytics/business intelligence use cases.

On product capabilities, he believes that Tableau offers the same level of functionality (or better), although it is typically, more expensive on a per-user basis. Tableau maintains a massive legacy user base and is migrating its customers to the cloud; this alone would suggest strong long-term prospects as more customers modernize their instances. Given that Tableau is now part of the Salesforce ecosystem, it opens the door to cross-sales throughout the Salesforce network and looks to be a profitable long-term play, especially as more customers who are just beginning digital modernization projects mature toward more complex IT projects like large-scale reporting and analytics. But Microsoft does have its advantages.

“Where Microsoft has an advantage is with Azure, its cloud service. As more customers are looking at unifying processes/applications in the backend, Azure offers the cloud framework upon which customers can build,” he said. “It is a compelling proposition (and likely very friendly from a pricing perspective) to store data in Azure and analyze it in Power BI (which natively would integrate with Azure of course).”

In this respect, he says, the nearest peer competitor with a similar all-in-one offering would be Oracle, however it lags in customer mind-share and is most deployed to support/add value to other Oracle apps such as ERP rather than as a pure analytics play.

Microsoft Environments

Times are certainly different than when Cognos, Tableau, and a host of other analytics ruled the market with unique features related to ease of dashboards, Brandon Ahmad, Grapevine, Texas-based Power BI consultant and technical architect at Instructor Brandon. He says that where Microsoft has differentiated itself is that they've integrated Power BI closely into many of their products. This has given Microsoft the ability to create tight product offerings that often save on price. For example, with the Microsoft Dynamics 365 Enterprise Business Line, organizations already pay for a Power BI license as part of their product purchase. This leads to many organizations dropping the other alternatives because they prefer to use something that they are already paying for.

"Where we do see competition is with vendors who offer analytical spaces tailored towards specific products,” he says. “This is where the cost of services can often be high to meet specific company needs. Several ISV's are coming out for the major products which offer their own enterprise software solution-specific BI solutions, and that market is thriving.”

In the end, he believes that many of the large, traditional BI providers are starting to understand that the key to survival will be to target their solutions towards specific industries and then offer them across multiple enterprise vendors.

While the cloud has brought proprietary advantages for coupling product offerings to major vendors, it has also presented more opportunities to share software across different vendor solutions with helpful, developer-friendly open sharing protocols such as a RESTful interface. “In my opinion, I can see an adoption to the model where vendors don't differentiate themselves by simply allowing people to create dashboards easily, but they do it by offering industry-specific templates that users can access for rapid report and dashboard production, which yields a competitive advantage,” he added.

Google Data Studio

Elise Connors is director of marketing client services at New York City-based Happy Cog, a full-service digital agency. She says that Power BI is poised to dominate the market simply because there are many machines that have the system loaded onto it by default. Issues with data security make it more challenging for companies to seek outside solutions. But it does not mean that there are not alternatives.

However, there are more innovative and flexible products on the market — Google Data Studio being one of them. Within Google Data Studio, you have a considerable amount of flexibility to manipulate data to your heart's content. And there are many built-in connectors and community visualizations that allow anyone to make sense of their data — even if they are not a BI wiz.

Further, Power BI holds a lot of potential users back, by not allowing Mac users to run the system without using a virtual machine. With Google Data Studio being 100% cloud-based, anyone can access the data from anywhere at any time. And for the future? Gartner’s MQ suggests that Machine Learning, AI and analytics are on a collision course.  It says that the proliferation of augmented analytics capabilities is putting the ABI and data science and ML platform markets on a collision course. “Currently, the two remain discrete markets with different buyers, but that situation is likely to change."