September 25, 2019

Community in action: BI Without The BS

by Lawrence Hill.

A night of open, honest discussion around the art of the possible.

There’s a lot of excitement about Business Intelligence (BI) tools for empowering evidence-based decision making. But it’s often the case that the decision on which one to use is far from easy, and often lost amongst conflicting business priorities and a myriad of confusing market “advice”.

We joined up with Matt and Kelly from Xudu Data, who are part of our Practicus Community, to host an open, solution-focused and entirely independent discussion on what current BI tools can do for you – and what else you need to consider other than just the tool!

We brought together some leading proponents of Power BI, Qlik and Tableau to provide a practical demonstration of the capabilities of each tool as they went head to head to build the most insightful visualisation, utilising the same data set… in just 20 minutes!

We asked the audience at the beginning of the evening whether they had a preferred BI tool. The results were interesting in that most opted for ‘No Preference’, with Tableau being the favoured of the three on show, Power BI second and Qlik the least favoured.

We will come back to this later to see whether the audience’s voting changed over the course of the event.

The format of the evening was simple: the 3 experts had 20 minutes to produce an insightful piece of BI from scratch, using only the tool they were showcasing and all had exactly the same data set (sent 4 weeks in advance so they could think about what they wanted to produce on the night). After the 20 minutes they would each have a few minutes to explain what they had done, how they’d done it and what story they were trying to communicate. At the conclusion of this a panel of four judges would score them on data prep, viz quality, story line and ‘so what?’. The audience would also then vote for their favourite and the combined scores would lead to a winner.

It is important to add here that the data set was on a topic none of the experts, judges or most of the audience were familiar with – eSports. This was chosen so that there was no bias on previous knowledge of a subject and it was a level playing field to really focus on the expertise in front of us.

Our experts were:

Our panel was:

Watching Chris, Jen and Nick go from nothing to insightful and powerful visualisations in just 20 minutes was inspiring. Their skill was very clear for all to see and not only did they all manage to pick out key elements of the tools to showcase, their ability to find interesting (and very different) insights in the data was fascinating.

Shots of Chris, Jen and Nick presenting their work are below for you to see:

I said we would come back to the vote we did with the audience at the start of the evening to see how it changed, if at all. Here is the result of the audience voting after the presentations (and before the panel’s votes had been collated).

In the end, both the panel and the audience voted for Nick’s work with Qlik as the winner for the night, but in truth they were all fantastic and the real value was to see the three of them side by side and be able to have a really open discussion about more than just the tools on the market.

This brings me nicely on to the discussion we had at the end of the evening between the audience, experts and panel. There was a lot discussed and differences of opinions challenged, but I have highlighted a few key points from that discussion which were particularly well received and drove ‘healthy’ debate.

The fact that the audience contained a diverse mix of BI experts and company execs meant that the discussion was really constructive and challenged some current issues and practices people are seeing in businesses across all sectors.

“Be insights driven, not tool driven”.

“Understand your outcome in order to inform what questions you are asking of your data teams”.

“Use data to inform and support strategy, rather than try to get the data to support strategy too late in the day”.

“Communication is key to success. Activity and awareness will help empower your business and its data”.

“Value first. Technology second”.

“Don’t separate data teams from the rest of the business”.

“Data accuracy needs to be addressed as a priority”.

Ultimately, the theme of the evening ended up being that no matter which tool you chose for your business intelligence, make sure you:

We had some great feedback from people who attended on the night. A testament to the calibre of the experts, the Practicus Community who helped make it happen and the audience who were involved. Some of this is below:

“I had never seen a viz tech / hackathon type event before where tools are compared against each other. It was really powerful.”

“It really demonstrated what is possible in terms of how you can get insight quickly if you have clarity on the question you want to answer.”

“Because there were different skill sets in the room, it got people talking about challenges they had rather than things they are good at.”

For those of you who would like to see more from the night, a film of the event will be going up on our website (practicus.com) in the next few days, and we will add a link to that here when it is available.

If you would like to see more from any of the competitors then each of them have posted follow up information on what they did on the night.

Tableau (Chris Love) – https://medium.com/@chrisluv/how-do-you-choose-a-bi-tool-2550874875ab

Power BI (Jen Stirrup) – https://jenstirrup.com/2018/11/16/be-insights-driven-why-we-should-not-just-be-data-driven-and-definitely-not-tool-driven-powerbi-tableau-qlik/

Qlik (Nick Blewden) – https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6470732757889802240/

Finally, a HUGE thank you to our Community and everyone who came together to pull this event off, including RocketSpace for a great venue and the audience who provided a brilliant atmosphere and engaging debate.

If you would like to be part of a similar event in the future or have a business problem that you’d like to explore, please do get in touch – we’d love to see if we can find innovative ways to help!


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