Ah yes, it is that magical time of year. Emotions in the business intelligence world peak every time the Gartner BI and Analytics Magic Quadrant (BI MQ) report is released. My LinkedIn blue polka dot chart post already has 65,711+ views and a plethora of comments. Reading through them is entertaining. I see congratulations, disbelief, insinuations of pay to play, and so on. The enduring controversy that surrounds Gartner BI MQ is astounding. Over the years, several groups raised questions on Silver Lake Partners relationships, ownership stake and board participation though no evidence of report influence was shown. Few people know what is actually being scored.

Since I closely track the analytics industry every single day, I enjoy comparing my notes to the Gartner BI MQ report. For those of you that don’t know me, I am a literally a subject matter expert on the two market leading solutions – Tableau (former Zen Master) and Microsoft (former Principal Program Manager that helped in the Power BI redesign/relaunch). Seeing the 2017 results made my day! When my Microsoft non-compete finally ends on March 25, 2017, there are a lot of vendors and groups that I can help.


Understanding BI MQ Results

I do deeply admire the team that puts this report together. To be transparent with you, the Gartner BI MQ format does not align with how I’d pick a vendor. I prefer the less hyped Gartner Critical Capabilities report. Vendors in Critical Capabilities get scored according to features/functionality. Those scores accurately reflect what I see, hear and find in my own “hands-on” vendor solution reviews. Vendor scores in Gartner BI MQ get skewed by subjective business criteria, market buzz and market reach. Thus Gartner BI MQ is almost always controversial.

Vendor scores in Gartner BI MQ get skewed by subjective business criteria, market buzz and market reach.

Update 2/23/2017: Gartner BI MQ Research VP, Cindi Howson, further clarifies Biggest Mistakes To Avoid When Reading the Magic Quadrant, what Ability to Execute and Completeness of Vision axes consider, the role of Critical Capabilities and other reports. 

Update 2/26/2017: One of my readers reminded me that there is a public image of the last Gartner Critical Capabilities popular Governed Data Discovery use case that shows how differently vendors rank on functionality versus Gartner BI MQ criteria. 

Update 8/10/2017: Gartner started updating the Critical Capabilities report. Notably Microsoft was the first analytics vendor to have Critical Capabilities updated. SAS and Qlik were updated shortly after. Almost all other vendors have not yet been updated. Be sure to ask your vendor about any gaps if you are using this report since vendors are not getting updated at the same time. 

In 2016, Gartner changed the BI MQ significantly. I could not say anything at that time but I don’t like the odd split into two reports. I know at least one other industry expert agrees with me on this point. In my humble opinion, mega-vendors bring more value when they can combine modern offerings with the traditional, governed solutions in a “bi-modal strategy”. That should be a win-win for customers.

Moving parts of mega-vendor offerings into a separate Market Guide diminishes the value of this report and just makes it more bizarre. When I filled out the detailed Gartner BI MQ evaluation spreadsheet last year for Microsoft, I found myself still needing traditional offerings to fulfill modern BI requirements. For example, an Analysis Services cube is the core engine of Power BI Desktop. Power BI Desktop makes it easy to visually build small, simple cubes. Realistically, large or complex cubes still get developed by my peers that are IT/BI professionals. I suspect SAP, IBM, SAS, Oracle and Microstrategy may have similar approaches.

To truly comprehend the nuances of the Gartner BI MQ evaluation, you do need to read the entire ~80-page report. Gartner BI MQ criteria includes things like Business Model, Viability (financial health), Sales, Pricing, Marketing, Customer Experience, Operations, Innovation and Geographic Strategy.

As I delved into the report, I noted numerous vendors were called out for not having large market presence, partner ecosystem, community buzz and so on. I do wonder what this BI MQ would look if those subjective elements were not factored in. I think Gartner subscribers can experiment with customizing criteria and weighting. If they can do that, the differences in placement would be better personalized to varying organization valued requirements.

Update 3/09/2017: Gartner was kind to provide me an image of what the interactive, customized, weighted criteria looks like. It is very nice. 

Interactive MQ 2017

For all the vendors that did get downgraded on “limited market awareness” aka market buzz, I have one simple suggestion for you.

Dump the bots and invest a little money into building a human community.

It amazes me just how out of touch most vendors still are today. If all external communications are routed to a few specific people, your message will not scale. I rarely hear about Amazon even though it dominates the cloud since all news comes from one guy. I am also tired of seeing the same old men for 20 years at every industry event. Expand your circle of influence. Embrace diversity and fresh talent. Let your people connect with other people.

To build a community you need to give something, to get something.

In my opinion, market awareness reflects what you are giving to get us hooked. To build a community you need to give something, to get something. You need to be proactive. Make us feel special = Marketing 101. Don’t just toss up a forum or blog thinking that will build a community. Analytics pros value roadmap insights, sneak peeks into your latest development builds, free personal use software, quick start kits or templates, free training content, books, discounts to events, and even silly t-shirts. Tableau does a stellar job of providing value and saying “thank you”. I’ll never forget how thrilled I was to get a Tableau t-shirt in the mail in 2013 or a little box with a Zen rock. They give and get. Microsoft also nurtures community with the help of PASS.

Enough chit chat…let’s dive into the details!

Tableau still the Gold Standard

Tableau continues to be the modern BI market leader. As a Tableau customer myself, the user experience and design really do set them apart from the crowd. There are hundreds of similar data visualization tools that don’t have the analytical authoring depth, flexibility and elegance that Tableau delivers. It is something that you have to experience to understand. It is not a check-box type feature.

Tableau’s design is simply exquisite.

I suspect the lack of current smart data discovery, natural language query, real-time streaming and other non-functional business criteria that I’ll discuss later dragged down their score in light of innovations that I see in the market. Several of those areas are on the roadmap along with a new high-performance database engine called Hyper and a self-service data prep offering called “Project Maestro”. Enterprise governance and advanced analytics functionality with R and Python that I dinged Tableau on in the past have vastly improved from lagging to leading. With a new cloud-experienced CEO at the helm, it will be fun to watch them evolve.

Looking at the cautions, mainstreaming of core innovation and pricing comments seemed fair to me. I’d like to see even more creativity from this group. I have visions for them to entertain! The complex data model comment seemed off. Most groups I know don’t design complex models in self-service BI tools – they still use data warehouses or OLAP to do it. I have a fun “Did you buy a self-service BI fantasy?” article on that topic. The enterprise-readiness comments also seemed unfair when I look at how immature the other leader is in that area.

I was glad to see this group got credit for providing excellent customer experience and support. The cheap vendors don’t provide much support – it does not exist. You get pop up bot chat windows or shown a link to a community forum where you might or might not get help. In a commodity market, these things become key differentiation points. I’d personally pay more to get a human on the phone when I need them. I can’t stand waiting in a chat window…maybe that is generational.

Microsoft always ranked a Leader

Microsoft has never dropped out of the Gartner BI MQ Leader spot even when it was losing market share to IBM Cognos, SAP Business Objects, Microstrategy, Qlik, and more recently Tableau over the past 10 years. It is a fascinating phenomenon.

As the technical lead for Microsoft’s BI MQ response last year, I was not surprised by their performance this year. There were minimal changes in requirements. This year we saw the addition of Visual Appeal, Smart Data Discovery and Workflow Integration – the last one was likely influenced by Microsoft. What might not be apparent when you look at the results is Microsoft has many different offerings that factor in here. It is not just Power BI. There is an entire family of Azure Cloud Services, Office 365, Excel pinning, and so on.

Microsoft is a massive force in tech.
Last year they participated in
45 Gartner Magic Quadrants.

The Vision placement made sense to me both years now. Natural language query, automated insights, real-time streaming and pre-packaged “easy button” solutions are fantastic. I also love Power BI Desktop – notably I am biased since I was on that team. The cloud part of Power BI was buggy and rarely worked for my live demos so I have mixed opinions of it.

I do respect James Phillips vision and what he made happen to turn that program around from 2014 to 2015. The “All you need is Excel” direction from 2012 to 2014 undermined Microsoft BI prior to his arrival. Unfortunately, the Power BI brand still gets mixed up with the prior failed design. The newer iteration is much better. Things like direct query for a big data world are now part of the current version that were gross omissions in the first design. Since I provided a lot of input on the current design, I am obviously biased. For unbiased feedback, Ken Black’s in-depth real-world evaluations of Power BI analytical capabilities are stellar.

The mention of Dynamics reminded me of Old Microsoft sneaking back into BI. At Old Microsoft, motivations of other products (SharePoint, Office) pulled BI in the wrong directions. The note on seeding Power BI with Office 365 is even more telling. Just like Old Microsoft, expect the same C-level, top-down, market pressure motions that you saw in the past with SharePoint BI and Office BI. The sales pitch is usually “don’t buy solution X, you already own our stuff and should start using it”.

New Microsoft plays the same
Old Microsoft games.

I was shocked both last year and this year with high Microsoft’s Ability to Execute placement. The caution comments this year include:

  • “Product immaturity and cloud-only: The two biggest concerns that Microsoft’s reference customers cited relate to absent or weak functionality and an inability to handle required data volumes.”
  • “While Microsoft offers scale-up options, the path is not clear and is further complicated by differing strategies for Analysis Services on-premises versus in the cloud”.
  • “Not the only standard: Microsoft Power BI is often used in combination with other BI tools, which is not surprising for a newer product to market and one with gaps in functionality”

Those cautions seem to contradict a strong Ability to Execute score. That infers the business criteria of market reach, market buzz and so on pulled up the score.

All in all, Microsoft BI is thriving. I see that in my peer network every single day. I am happy that my friends are happy. I do miss them even though I love exploring all the other vendor offerings. We all grew up together in a truly special, vibrant community = thanks to PASS.

July 2014

Although I no longer work with Microsoft in any capacity, I will say that they have come a loooooooong way from the depressing situation that they were in when I started advising them as an industry expert back in July 2014. At that time, I provided a presentation and blueprint of recommendations called “How to WIN Hearts and Minds with Power BI”. The image above is from my actual presentation to the Microsoft Power BI leadership team. I can’t share what I proposed but I will share that they did it. The community and partner ecosystem that left Microsoft BI in 2011-2015 is back. Now they need to stay on track.

Qlik takes a Slight Step Back

The placement of Qlik seemed a little generous. Qlik is a nice solution and it does have an avid fan base. The addition of reporting, better embedded, cool bubbly data prep, better mapping and other ecosystem enhancements are good moves. I also appreciate that they went private to prepare for the cloud move.

I completely agree with Gartner that juggling QlikView and less mature Qlik Sense hurts them right now. I heard that in conversations for two years in a row. Qlik has been slow to cloud and I have not seen any smart data discovery, predictive or “wow” features like I do in other modern BI offerings. That is not to say they don’t have them…I simply have not seen any this year.

Update 2/23/2017: Qlik just reached out to me and shared a video of demos showcasing virtual reality data viz, real-time streaming analytics, SOLR search and predictive integration that will be shown at the Qlik booth in the expo hall during the Gartner Data & Analytics event.

Salesforce = One to Watch

In the past I have written about my infatuation with BeyondCore. When I think of actionable, intelligent analytics…BeyondCore is top of mind. BeyondCore analyzes millions of data combinations in minutes, for unbiased answers, explanations and recommendations. Unlike manual data analysis, BeyondCore “smart data discovery” automatically finds and explains statistically significant key metric drivers that truly matter. It also explains what happened in natural language, why it happened, what will happen and how you can improve it.

Prescriptive recommendations that can make an impact on chosen outcomes is a game changer.

Although I have not reviewed Salesforce Wave recently, I do like what I saw in the Spring 2017 release. In my “The Buyer” series, a spoof on analytics vendor selection, Salesforce Wave won the first impression rose. That decision was based on demos from Dreamforce. Today Salesforce Wave is mostly used within the Salesforce customer base. Over time, that might change.

Pyramid Analytics

Pyramid Analytics is essentially the best-in-class, on-premises offering for Microsoft BI today and tomorrow. In an unprecedented move two years ago, Microsoft announced a special partnership with them to fulfill on-premises BI needs. Although Microsoft has talked about updating on-premises BI capabilities for several years now, we have not seen them deliver much yet. Microsoft delivers minimal on-premises functionality, very slowly. They do that to push you faster towards the cloud.

I believe limited Power BI Desktop rendering in Microsoft Reporting Services is still in beta. When it does release, it will only connect via direct query to IT-built Analysis Services cubes. Microsoft Reporting Services does not have the depth or breadth of features that Pyramid Analytics or other on-premises self-service BI vendors offer. If you like Microsoft on-premises BI and still need an enterprise self-service BI solution, Pyramid Analytics is the go-to solution.

Pyramid Analytics has had Power BI Desktop on-premises rendering released for almost one year. They have strong security, governance, full life-cycle workflow, versioning, metadata management, data lineage and a wide array of other common enterprise self-service BI features.

During my recent Pyramid Analytics project, I was given a rare sneak peek at their vNext solution. I suspect the Gartner BI MQ reviewers did not see it yet but they did mention it when referring to “platform-agnostic and available to any enterprise data warehouse”. The vNext Pyramid Analytics release is a huge move for them…in the right direction. Thus the commentary about reliance on Microsoft and viability did not make sense to me. I do agree that Pyramid Analytics needs to increase market awareness outside of the Microsoft community where I usually see them.

TIBCO Spotfire

Just like last year… and the year before… and the year before that, I feel TIBCO Spotfire does not get ranked as high as it should be scoring. TIBCO Spotfire has strong on-premises and cloud offerings. They were the first with baked-in predictive analytics, great R (TERR) story, automated recommended charts aka “smart data discovery”, streaming analytics and sophisticated location analytics and so on. I have worked “hands-on” with this solution in the past and always had success with it. I found TIBCO Spotfire to be powerful and fun. I suspect the lower scores are related to Gartner BI MQ business criteria again – market buzz, sales, reach, etc.

I have personally noticed an improvement in resources, community site and the availability of books. TIBCO Spotfire books used to be impossible to find! However, TIBCO just doesn’t seem to keep the marketing engine running. Something is always missing. For example, I could not find an updated overview demo video for my “The Buyer” series. The easy things seem to get overlooked. Why? So much potential…

IBM Watson Analytics

While on that so much potential note, IBM Watson Analytics is another smart data discovery offering with integration into IBM Cognos Analytics that should be doing better than it is today. I was an early adopter of IBM Watson Analytics and continue to follow them closely. I suspect the IBM Watson Analytics user experience is still not quite right yet.

IBM Watson Analytics natural-language query capability combined with automated analytics, data prep, storyboards and vertical solutions is slick. You can also cook in cognitive analytics API results from IBM Watson Explorer, Bluemix Cloud and IBM Data Science Experience (DSX) that I totally love. IBM is the leader in the predictive analytics, also delivers traditional BI via IBM Cognos and covers planning.

When I think about vendors that don’t give to get market momentum, IBM is one of them. I was fortunate and ecstatic to be invited to cover the IBM World of Watson event. After that event, I went home, created a IBM Bluemix account and invested a zillion hours freely of my time to learn the vast IBM analytics ecosystem. I showcased IBM Watson Analytics and DSX at several industry events and even highlighted IBM Watson Explorer in my Industry Pulse magazine. I know I likely recruited more peers to give DSX a try. The solution is splendid.

In my learning process, I asked several times about any kind of IBM Bluemix or partner portal discounts that could be applied just to learn about these solutions to showcase them at events or in articles. Crickets…I heard nothing back. For analytics pros that want to get up to speed on IBM offerings, that door is expensive to open. There are several freemium cloud SaaS options but the really cool IBM solutions are not accessible unless you pay several thousand dollars on a premium partner portal fee.

If IBM is listening, open the door for learning and kill the Twitter bots.


SAS is another vendor to watch this coming year. They are a market leader in statistics and predictive analytics. I have to imagine the next generation of SAS Viya and SAS Visual Analytics 8.1 coming soon will be compelling. SAS already has easy forecasting, text analytics and decision trees for the masses. Last month I did enjoy building visualizations with SAS Visual Analytics for a storytelling article. I’ll be covering SAS Global Forum in early April. At that time, I’ll share detailed news and updates.

ClearStory Data

ClearStory Data smart data discovery sounds amazing. I have not had an invitation to review that solution yet. I do hope someone reaches out to me while we are at the Gartner event. I noticed them a year or two ago but was distracted. Now they have my attention.


Welcome back to Oracle. Last year was a nightmare for them. I felt sorry for the team and don’t know what happened but I’m glad to see they are included once again. This is another vendor that has not briefed me since I went back on my own. I’d be curious to see what they cooked up.

Other Vendors

I’d love to write a snippet on each one of the vendors but I don’t have enough time to do it! I did agree with Gartner’s notes on SAP, Sisense, DOMO, Logi Analytics, Thoughtspot, Microstrategy, Zoomdata, Pentaho, and Alteryx…but I still feel Alteryx doesn’t truly fit into this mix.

I thought Amazon QuickSight, Looker, and Dundas should have been in the Gartner BI MQ this year. I’m curious why they did not make the cut. Other relevant vendors are listed in Table 3. I saw numerous excellent smart data discovery and search solutions buried in that long list. It was missing at least three vendors that I am tracking – Tellius smart data discovery, Klipfolio data visualization and ZoomCharts for embedded BI.

Predicting Gartner BI MQ 2020

Chatting with Bruno Aziza earlier this year, he was guestimating future vendor placement. He thinks the big cloud vendors will have matured and will dominate Gartner BI MQs. He is likely right…but you just never know.

In 2020 I expect Microsoft to be battling Amazon QuickSight, Google Data Studio, Salesforce Wave, IBM Watson, SAS Viya, and ???. Birst, TIBCO Spotfire, Tableau, YellowFin, Microstrategy and dare I say DOMO are already viable cloud players. Birst is top ranked in cloud today. Several others need to meet with me.

Tableau Virtual Reality

Tableau Virtual Reality

In the next year, I expect to see more natural language search, automation, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, bots and others areas of analytics blending all together. That is what I see when reviewing next generation analytics vendors right now. I do like the end-to-end solutions that can service data scientists to general business users with persona level feature offerings. More to come on that in another article.

Gartner Data & Analytics Conference

If you are heading to the Gartner Data & Analytics Conference in Texas, please let me know if you’d like to catch up. My email is the best way to reach me. I’m looking forward to seeing rather than being in the BI Bake-Off this year. After that treat, I’ll be catching up with wonderful clients, friends and peers.

BI Bake-Off

Gartner BI Bake-Off 2016

My favorite part of the annual Gartner event is trying to find a truly innovative, disruptive vendor in the Expo that is still under the radar but will be the “next big thing”. Anyone could swoop on in to rock this little blue polka dot chart at any time.

Cloud makes anything possible.

ZZZZZZZZ…falling asleep on my laptop. It is time to log off, take the pup outside for a lovely Florida evening walk and then get some rest.