MicroStrategy vs Power BI (Report builder tools for desktop)

October 3, 2018

 

In this article, I'll go over some of the pros and cons of Power BI and MicroStrategy's report builder tools (free desktop versions). Each software offers business intelligence, advanced analytics, and cloud and mobile platform availability in some degree. But in this article I'll focus on the UI elements and customization of the visuals.

 

MicroStrategy

MicroStrategy was founded in 1989 by Michael J. Saylor and Sanju Bansal. It offers a business intelligence tool for desktop, mobile and cloud platforms. You can download a free desktop version from their website, Microstrategy.com.

 

 

- Pros -

 

+ Detailed UI

Almost immediately MicroStrategy puts you in the drivers seat. The developer has the option to put all the tools on screen at the same time for quick and easy access. This can make the screen look quite cramped but it feels like a typical developers environment, which some will find comforting. The icons are nice and big which makes them easily noticeable, and the colors make them easy to find as well. Having everything on screen at the same time makes adding and formatting your visuals straightforward.

 

 

+ Fluid Grid System

Each visual is automatically inserted into the grid. This makes for a nice, clean, and organized layout every time. You can easily click and drag any visual to any other part of the grid as well. Resizing a single visual will automatically resize other widgets on your dashboard to accommodate the new size. However, this can cause a few issues as I'll describe below.

 

+ Easy to Connect to Data

MicroStrategy makes it fairly straightforward to add your data sources. If you are connecting to files on your machine or local network, you can simply choose all the files you need at the same time. From there, you can load it to the model, or do a bit of data wrangling for any needed ETL. It's a quick and easy process.

 

 

+ Great Filter Options

The customization of the filter widgets is quite wide. MicroStrategy gives you a number of styles and types to choose from. You can select individual visuals that you want the filters to affect, which gives you a nice amount of control over your dashboard.

 

 

 

- Cons -

 

- Visuals

The visuals can be slow when setting them up. When creating visuals, you insert attributes and metrics. Each time you do this the visual refreshes itself by loading the data in. This was slow for me and really made the process of building each visual a time consuming process. 

 

- Limited Formatting Options

MicroStrategy desktop has formatting options, but there were some places where I thought it fell short. For example, the legend can only be set in one place - on the right side. There is an option to change the layout to a "manual mode" where you can adjust this, but it is not available on desktop. 

 

 

 

The grid system is great for placing your visuals in an orderly way, but it can get in the way when trying to resize a single element. Because all widgets are locked in together, they all resize when any one of them is adjusted and it becomes difficult and frustrating to get it just they way you want it.

 

Power BI

Power BI was released in 2015, and was originally developed as an extension to Excel before that. It offers cloud based analytical services with desktop and mobile solutions. You can download the desktop version at PowerBI.com.

 

 

- Pros -

 

+ Familiar UI

Frequent users of Excel and other Microsoft products are welcomed by a familiar UI experience. This makes it easy to adjust to a new software environment. 

 

 

+ Overall Dashboard Customization

Power BI gives you a good amount of flexibility in terms of what you want to do with your dashboard. The visuals are not bound to a grid which allows you to place them anywhere you want - although there is an option to use a grid. You can change the background to any color you wish, or even use an image as the background.

 

+ Great Visuals

All standard visuals have a sleek and modern look to them and are quick to respond to user inputs. 

 

 

+ Hierarchies

Power BI automatically creates hierarchies for dates. This means that when inserting a date field in a graph, it groups them into years, quarters, months, and days. This is great for diving into your data for exploration, and can save a lot of time setting up. You also have the option to remove the hierarchies if you don't need them. 

 

- Cons -

 

- Confusing Layout

The Layout can become confusing at times. For example, Power BI uses Power Query, a separate tool that allows you to connect with your data. The UI style is very similar and the datasheet views in both can get mixed up easily even though their purpose is quite different. 

 

- User Input Options Menu for Visuals get in the Way

There is a separate menu for each visual that allows the user to perform some actions like sorting and expanding. It's nice to have but it can be frustrating sometimes as it pops / hides when the user has their cursor over the visual. If you have multiple visuals stacked on each other in a column, these menus can get in the way of the others.

Conclusion

This was only a look at the UI elements of each software for their desktop versions, so you'll need to consider the requirements of your business to determine which one is best for you. I think MicroStrategy makes it easier / quicker to produce a professional looking dashboard with its grid system. However, I felt that Power BI's visuals looked a little bit better.

 

MicroStrategy and Power BI both of online tools and upgraded versions which further expand upon their capabilities. This usually requires a subscription, but what I've gone over in this article are the free versions. If you have any input, please feel free to let me know in the comments!

 

You can easily improve your visual designs by using simple concepts. Check out Storytelling with Data!

 

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About the Author

Brent Jones loves spending time with his wife and trying out new activities together.  They traveled as digital nomads to many countries in South America, Europe and Asia. He can also speak Japanese!

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