Choosing a Data Visualization Platform

We recently took on a data analytics and visualization project. The goals were to unlock the value sitting inside the organization’s relational database, to free up engineers from having to create ad hoc queries, and to make the business folks as self-sufficient as possible going forward.

This was an ideal use case for an analytics as a service platform. In our analysis, we looked at Domo, Looker, Periscope, Chartio, and Holistics. We also briefly considered, but dismissed Zoho Reports and Ubiq because they were too limited in their options for data security connecting to the database.

Domo

Domo was the most unique of the bunch. Their model is to be your data warehouse. All the other options work with your data in your own relational database. With Domo, you transfer your data to Domo and report on it from there. This has the advantage of being agnostic to the source of the data. At the same time, they have hundreds of connectors to make getting your data into Domo easy.

Domo is clearly the leader in the analytics as a service space. The tools are easy to use and they have unique features like an app store of third party plug-ins and industry-specific solutions to help you build sophisticated analytics quickly.

However, we dismissed Domo as an option early on because those best-in-class features come with one of the highest price tags (starting at $20,000 per year), and like the old-fashioned ERP systems, there is an expectation that you will be spending on implementation services (upwards of $7,500). For example, they support SSH tunneling to access a data source, but there is no self-service way to set that up. That is a “contact your Domo representative” action.

Looker

Looker (and the rest of the tools in this review) operate on your data while it sits in your database. This means your data must be in a relational store they support. If your data is in a non-relational store, like MongoDB, you’ll have to ETL to a supported relational store for reporting.

Looker took an interesting approach. They have you describe your data in their database-independent schema language called LookML. That is a fairly straightforward step that can be initially build by Looker reflecting over your database schema. Once you have the LookML, the visual tools for building simple to complex reports and charts are very powerful. So powerful, in fact, that to test out some of the less powerful platforms, we would copy the SQL that Looker generated from the work we did in its designer.

However, we dismissed Looker on price as well. They have a $7,500 initial fee and start at $36,000 per year. That was out of our price range.

Periscope

Periscope was very much like Looker, but without the intermediate language and without the visual design tools. It is very much a SQL-first tool. If you think in SQL, Periscope may be the tool for you. We found it to be much more tedious for creating new reports. However, the price was better at $12,000 per year (or $6,000 if we could live without the caching feature that speeds things up).

At the time of this writing, we were hearing that Periscope was working on an interactive designer. Had that feature been ready in time, Periscope would have been a stronger consideration for us.

Chartio

Chartio hit the sweet spot for us. It’s priced more like Periscope ($1800 per user with a minimum of one user), but with a visual designer. The designer is not as powerful as Looker’s but still much better (for us) than writing all the SQL by hand. We found that we could accomplish at least two-thirds of what we needed without having to drop into SQL. We would hand-write the SQL whenever we were doing something complicated that required a database-specific feature.

After using Chartio for a month or so, we are very pleased with the experience.

Holistics

We looked at Holistics as a potential cost saver. It doesn’t have the nice interactive designer features of Domo, Looker, or Chartio, but it can produce nice charts and graphs at a fraction of the price of those tools. At the time of this writing, their entry plan was $600 per year, and their standard plan was $2400 per year. If you like writing SQL and want to keep your costs down, then take a look at this lesser known player in the space.

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