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What is best for you?  Comparing Sisense and PowerBI

Del Leung
Data Analyst

Sisense VS Power BI

We previously compared Sisense and Tableau but we wanted to compare Sisense to another similar, and popular, tool Power BI. Both tools have their specific uses and we will go over them today so that you can choose the best product for your project.

Product Basics: Sisense VS Power BI

Overview – Sisense:

  • Full-Stack Data Analytics package containing the primary components for an end-to-end dashboard/reporting solution all within a single User web-based interface. The platform includes:
    • data connectors for data loading,
    • data transformations,
    • data visualizations widgets to create dashboards.
  • Is known for embedded analytics, the integration of dashboards into customer-facing applications with a variety of visualization widgets such as charts, graphs, and gauges.
  • Has two product support tiers.
  • Scales across all skill levels and use cases for an integrated analytic experience
  • Scales on-demand with cloud, on-premises, and hybrid architecture
  • Uses AI throughout for automated prep and delivery of insights.

Overview – PowerBI:

  • Power BI Service is a secure Microsoft-hosted, cloud-based, business intelligence service suite by Microsoft.
  • Free Power BI Desktop tool which is easy to learn and does not require advanced skills to access and transform data, build reports and other visualizations.
  • Power BI Mobile apps provide access to dashboards.
  • Integrates with other Microsoft products such as Cortana, which allows users to verbally get access to charts and graphs.
  • Is part of the Microsoft Office 365 package

Data Modeling and Data Source Connections

Sisense:

  • Sisense utilizes a proprietary high-performance analytics database called an ElastiCube which boosts native support for many different types of data sources and stores that data. Elasticubes do require SQL programming knowledge and allows for a robust data model with custom fields, tables, and enhancing data.
  • Uses in-chip technology to process data which was designed from scratch with a scalable, memory-optimized columnar database that can comfortably handle terabytes of data and dozens of concurrent queries.

PowerBI:

  • Data modeling in Power BI is done in a very straightforward way using a drag and drop interface and little to no code is required. You can take various views and tables and drag and drop relationships between them and create calculated fields.
  • A large array of import capabilities particularly shines in Excel imports and web scraping.
  • Can use Data Analysis Expressions (DAX) to solve a number of basic calculation and data analysis problems. DAX is a collection of functions, operators, and constants that can be used in a formula, or expression, to calculate and return one or more values. DAX helps you create new information from data already in your model.
  • Power Query is built-in to prepare and transform the data in a low code/no-code way. This is the simpler alternative to MScript and DAX, which are used to do more advanced transformations.

Data Governance and Data Security

Sisense:

  • Data governance: 5 main users, Admin, Data Admin, Designer, Data Designer, and Viewer. Admins can control the granularity of the permissions.
  • Multi-level security, governance, and performance monitoring

PowerBI:

  • There are 2 fundamental types of user roles, Power Users and Casual Users. Power users have access to advanced features to create reports, Casual users are able to modify existing reports. Access according to these roles enables the users to have access to information without compromising security.
  • Power BI has robust encryption for both data at rest and data in transit. Data at rest is encrypted in Azure BIob Storage and Azure SQL DB. Data in transit is encrypted with HTTPS, while data in use is cached, encrypted, and stored in the Azure SQL database.

When should you consider using Sisense?

  • If you plan to embed your dashboard into an application, Sisense allows you to customize the appearance to seamlessly blend into your application. The range of options to embed analytics into customer-facing applications is excellent and highly customizable with javascript. Multiple embed options and libraries include iFrames, Embed SDK, Sisense JS.
  • If you require both a way to store and clean data as well as have tools to present meaningful insights, Sisense makes sense as it has both tools to do so.
  • Sisense is a very cost-effective full data analytics package and reporting solution for small to medium businesses and organizational units, having the ability to scale up to handle large data volumes
  • If you don’t have the in-house capabilities to support custom or multi-vendor solutions, Simplifies data analytics architecture for organizations.
  • If you need an easy-to-access development environment where you can manage both the data (Elasticubes) and the dashboards without installing to your local computer. Sisense uses an all web-based interface and can be accessed via web browser.
  • If you don’t want to have the overhead of administrating a database. Sisense database is very hands-off from an administration perspective vs. other products on the market.
  • If you need the most modern product deployment options which align with current technologies
  • If you need highly customizable look and feel for your dashboards. Sisense web interface and dashboarding support Javascript which is more suitable for developers to customize their applications.
  • Functionality flexibility through 1st and 3rd party plugins. Plugins offer additional features that out of the box Sisense does not have, and many are free. There are subscription-based premium plugins that help solve more complex challenges you are facing with your dashboard. Some examples:
    • The Blox plugin is a free 1st party plugin that includes a robust library of templates for quick development of visualizations as well as access to many API capabilities using basic CSS and JSON. There is however exciting news that this plug in will be integrated into the existing Sisense product!
    • Export All Tables to CSV is a free 3rd party plugin that allows users to download all the table widgets on the dashboard to a CSV so they can further delve into the data.
    • Single Sign-On (SSO) Router is a Premium 1st party plugin that provides new REST API endpoints to route login and logout JWT SSO requests based on the source request domain or URL parameter.
    • Map with Pie Charts is a Premium 3rd party plugin that adds a world country map visual which you can click on individual countries to bring up a pie chart.
    • Many more plugins offered on the Sisense plugin marketplace

Other Considerations:

  • The variety of data visualization options are lower compared to other dedicated visualization tools out of the box. In Sisense, developers can customize widgets through Javascript and Json, and 3rd Party plugins to create a more tailored feel to dashboards.
  • Premium add-ons can have a yearly subscription cost, so these should be budgeted as part of the overall analytics project if desired.
  • Easy to Medium Learning curve on the data analytics development. The learning curve on the product deployment and maintenance ranges from easy (SaaS offering) to high for more large scale self hosted environments. Sisense provides great courses for all of these activities.

When Should you Consider using PowerBI?

  • If you have advanced skills in Excel, PowerBI maybe for you. PowerBI provides extremely user-friendly and easy to use tools to import Excel files, such as transformations and multiple sheet imports. PowerBI often works like Excel and if you have skills in that area, PowerBI can be an extension to that. Further more, if your users plan to use the data in Excel extensively, this will be the obvious choice. In short, it’s a great visualization prototyping tool when combined with Excel data.
  • If you need a tool that can prep/transform data quickly and efficiently, PowerBI shines in this area. The Excel-like interface gives an easy way to transform data, though there are some limitations, but can be overcome with MScript. If you are on a tight timeframe, this maybe the right choice.
  • If you have no advanced training in BI and do not need advanced tools, PowerBI is a great entry-level way to get your feet wet with its easy to learn interface. Yet you can take advanced training and learn Power Query and DAX to further Power Bis capabilities.
  • If you have many types of sources for data that needs combining, Power BI has many import options and connectors to pull data in and create a data model, ie. from multiple databases, Excel, web scraping.

Other considerations:

  • Power BI is not supported on Mac.
  • Working space is somewhat limited due to the many sidebars required in the tool.
  • When working with large data sets, you will need to upgrade off of the free version.
  • Power BI works well with simple relationships between tables, but struggles with more complex relationships such as more than one connection on a table.
  • Power query formulas and DAX are somewhat inflexible, formulas can be very rigid.

Conclusion

The goal of this blog is to explain that neither product is absolutely better than the other, but instead, each tool can be used to solve specific problems. Both have a relatively low cost.

Sisense is great if you do not have an ETL process in place and you can leverage its Full Stack analytics package to manage and clean the data, as well as create the dashboard in a single web-based UI. But its true strength is Embedding options into your existing applications, and if this is your plan, we would recommend Sisense.

PowerBI “excels” (bad pun) at transforming the data using knowledge of Excel, giving you excellent tools and an easy-to-use interface to perform that, though this is better at prototyping than using in a production environment. Visualizations are then built on top of that, though are somewhat limited. If you are skilled in Excel then PowerBI will be intuitive and a natural extension. Also, being a Microsoft Office 365 product, PowerBI fits seamlessly into a Microsoft stack, for example integrating with MS Team chats.

Looking for an Embedded Analytics Solution?

Indellient provides custom and embedded analytics solutions to companies of all sizes. Indellient is an IT Professional Services Company that specializes in Data AnalyticsCloud ServicesDevOps Services, and Business Process Management. Learn more about our Sisense Solutions below!

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About The Author

Hi, my name is Del Leung, Senior Data Analyst at Indellient. I have 15 years of BI and Data Analyst experience on both the enterprise and small business level, and am passionate about learning all the tools that go along with the job.