10 best advanced data visualisation platforms to watch

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As organisations deal with increasingly massive data sets from a plethora of sources, it becomes increasingly difficult for business users to make sense of the bewildering array of information, let alone act on insight gained from it. Business Intelligence (BI) vendors are seeking to help organisations solve this problem with new advanced data visualisation capabilities. Here are 10 advanced data visualisation solutions to watch based on research by Forrester and Gartner.

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IBM

Big Blue has one of the most comprehensive Business Intelligence (BI) offerings, which combines software, hardware and services. Earlier this year it added desktop-based advanced data visualisation to its portfolio with Cognos Insight, based on its in-memory OLAP TM1 engine. While it lacks some of the advanced data exploration and discovery features of its more costly competitors, it's an excellent choice for what-if scenario modeling and planning use cases dependent on write-back capabilities. It also has the capability to consume and analyse predictive analytics output from IBM's SPSS Modeler.

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Information Builders

Information Builders, best known for its large-scale BI deployments, offers advanced data analytics for business users through its WebFOCUS platform, which offers capabilities like the InfoAssist query builder and Active Reports. It also includes the Visual Discovery product, which adds in-memory data exploration and discovery. WebFOCUS is based on the FOCUS fourth-generation programming language (4GL), which means that some advanced visualisation routines may need to be optimised using FOCUS programming.

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Microsoft

Microsoft is an up-and-comer in the advanced data visualisation market, building on the BI functionality in Excel, SharePoint and SQLServer with the PowerPivot and Power View in-memory data analysis and discovery engine. Forrester calls it "Excel on steroids." It currently offers only about 80% of the advanced BI functionality of other leading vendors, but is an excellent entry point for organisations with a Microsoft-centric information infrastructure. Business users may also have an increased level of comfort with it as they are familiar with the Excel UI.

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MicroStrategy

MicroStrategy, which specialises in enterprise BI deployments running on large enterprise data warehouses, offers the capability to visually explore data and generate insights using its Visual Insight tool. MicroStategy's BI platform is an especially good fit for organisations that need to visualise data across multiple heterogeneous data sources due to its ROLAP engine. Forrester notes that many Forrester clients that use the ROLAP engine cite lower long-term cost of BI ownership because it allows them to build fewer cubes or reports. However, leveraging the ROLAP engine can be very complex and time consuming, and MicroStrategy's platform has a steep learning curve.

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Oracle

While it may not boast as many complex workloads as its competitors, Oracle's solutions are broadly deployed. The Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition (OBIEE) features an enterprise-grade ROLAP engine with heterogeneous data sourcing capabilities, and the company added the Exalytics In-Memory Machine in October 2011 to leverage assets across its stack for traditional BI, dynamic planning, what-if and scenario analysis, along with interactive visualisation and data discovery capabilities. However, Gartner says its references rate it second only to SAS in terms of difficulty of implementation.

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QlikTech

QlikTech's QliKView is not a direct competitor to broad BI offerings. Instead, it specialises in discovery and exploration capabilities, making it an excellent complementary technology to advanced data visualisation platforms like SAP and IBM. Forrester's clients particularly cite its memory-compression and speed-of-analysis, and Gartner's clients rate its ease of use higher than any other vendor. However, data integration requires IT scripting, which contributes to a slow turn-around time when building large, complex reports from various data sources.

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SAP

SAP is seeking to take the lead when it comes to performance on big data advanced data visualisation, using a combination of SAP BusinessObjects Eplorer, Visual Intelligence and the SAP HANA in-memory appliance. Whereas most other in-memory DBMS engines have practical limitations that allow you to analyse no more than a few hundred GBs at a time, SAP has a production in-memory model that can analyse 7-8TB compressed to about 1TB. In the lab, SAP says it has tested it to scale up to about 80-100TB compressed to about 16-20TB. However, Gartner notes that many SAP customers report confusion about SAP's product roadmaps.

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SAS

SAS Enterprise Business Intelligence is already a common choice for many organisations seeking to solve complex business problems, especially ones that require advanced analytics on large, unstructured data sources. SAS JMP and Visual Analytics add powerful advanced data visualisation capabilities, including visual self-service for big data exploration techniques. Because of its solution-oriented analytic application approach, it offers an array of cross-functional and vertically specific analytic applications out of the box. Gartner notes that its clients consider SAS's product the most difficult to use for business users compared with offerings from other vendors.

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Tableau Software

While not a full-fledged broad BI platform, and despite growing competition, Tableau sets the standards when it comes to advanced data visualisation. Gartner says its clients give Tableau top or near top marks for ease of use, functionality, product quality, product performance, support, customer relationship, success, achievement of business benefits and view of its future even as it achieved 94% revenue growth in 2011. Like QlikTech, it makes an excellent complementary technology. It features strong mobile capabilities and also excels at handling large unstructured data sets.

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Tibco Software

Like QlikTech and Tableau, Tibco Spotfire Analytics is a complementary technology to broader BI platforms from other vendors that lack leading-edge advanced data visualisation-based discovery and exploration capabilities. It is often chosen for its ease of use for end users. It features a highly graphical associative in-memory engine for self-service discovery, authoring analytic apps and publishing interactive visual dashboards. Gartner notes that although Spotfire has among the highest complexity of user analysis scores of any vendor it surveyed, they also rate it above average for ease of use.

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