Best Business Intelligence Tools: Qlik vs Tableau vs Sisense vs Birst vs IBM Watson Analytics

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Person reviewing reports and tabletWant to get an edge on your competition, grow your customer base, or improve the internal workings of your small business? Nearly endless sources of ripe data are out there to help you achieve your goals. But how do you cherry pick the most relevant data and analyze it in a cost-effective way that grows your business? That’s where the best business intelligence tools come in handy.

Business intelligence (BI) software used to be mainly for the big guns in business, but a rapidly growing number of small businesses have jumped on the BI bandwagon to remain relevant in today’s competitive marketplace. The market, however, is flooded with BI software products — where do you start your search? And what products are ideal for your small business needs? Keep reading to see our recommendations for the best business intelligence software for small businesses and to learn how to narrow down your field of choices.

What Is Business Intelligence?

Business intelligence is a blanket term that covers a variety of data analysis software applications that can include such activities as data mining, querying, reporting and online analytical processing. Think of BI software as Excel on steroids! Business intelligence tools can help you improve your internal processes, get ahead in the marketplace and give you a critical edge over your competitors.

There are three categories of business intelligence tools:

  • Guided analysis and reporting, which includes tools such as reporting, dashboards, spreadsheet integration and corporate performance management.
  • Self-service BI and analysis tools include ad-hoc reporting and analysis, data discovery and visualization, and online analytical processing (OLAP cubes).
  • Advanced analytics include tool styles such as data mining, predictive analytics, statistical modeling, and big data analytics software.

What to Consider as a Small Biz

More than 100 companies offer BI software, with multiple platform and tool style choices. It’s overwhelming for sure. Here are some basic questions to help you wrap your head around what your particular business might need.

  • What type(s) of data analysis does your business need? Different applications analyze different types of data related to customers or prospects, competitors, suppliers, internal business processes and more.
  • How will you deploy your BI software? Consider how you want your employees to access the software (front-end) and where the application should reside (back-end). There are a wide variety of platforms available.
  • What kind of workforce and resources do you have in place? Many BI tools require a dedicated IT person to build and manage your system.

Tip: Don’t just go for the software that has the most features and biggest name. This is especially important for small businesses. If you go too big, you’ll pay an arm and a leg for tools you likely won’t use — and you’ll need more manpower to build and manage the software.

Best Business Intelligence Tools for Small Business

We’ve based our best business intelligence tools reviews on several factors, including ease of use, speed, scalability, price, customer service, online tools and resources, and more.

Best Overall | Best Value | Best for Beginners

Best Overall: Tableau Review

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Tableau’s suite of products specializes in data analysis and advanced visualization to help your company’s analysts see data connections in ways they wouldn’t necessarily be able to visualize with conventional tools like simple tables and graphs. Tableau is one of the most popular BI software providers for its ease of use, amazing graphic visualizations, shareable dashboards, and scalability. Due to its higher price point, however, Tableau is probably best suited for larger-end small businesses and medium- and enterprise-level businesses.



  • Easy-to-use drag-and-drop interface (once you get past the initial learning curve)
  • Wide variety of data sources available
  • Excellent data visualization capabilities
  • Integrates well with web pages, CMS and more
  • Windows and Mac versions
  • Excellent 24/7 customer support
  • Plethora of online resources, tutorials, etc.
  • Somewhat steep learning curve for laypeople upon initial set up
  • On the pricey side for small business
  • Reporting capabilities need improvement
  • Requires a lot of data cleansing

Pricing & Tech Specs

Tableau offers a 14-day free trial on most of its software, and they offer a free Tableau Public option. Below are the standard products, but you also have add-on options like Tableau Mobile and Embedded Analytics.

Tableau Desktop

  • $999 Personal Edition
  • $1,999 Professional Edition
  • Licensed software
  • Windows 7 or later

Tableau Online

  • $500 per user per year
  • Tableau Desktop required to author
  • Cloud-based (hosted version of Tableau Server)

Tableau Server

  • $10,000 for 10 users
  • Future annual upgrades and support are 25% per year

Best Value: Qlik Sense Review

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Qlik Sense is another cloud-based, self-service BI software that’s geared more toward small- to medium-sized businesses. Once you get set up and used to maneuvering all the features, Qlik Sense is a fast, robust platform where you can run analytics, reports, snazzy data visualization and more. A huge benefit of Qlik is its smart data load feature, which all but eliminates the need for SQL query knowledge. Qlik Sense is also optimized to work on any device. They offer a free forever cloud version, so you can test the waters for as long as you’d like. But you can’t access Qlik’s full data warehouse unless you upgrade to its Cloud Plus version at $20 per user per month. For most small businesses, Cloud Plus has all the features and generous data access you’ll need at an affordable price.



  • User-friendly drag-and-drop interface (once you get set up)
  • Free version and affordable monthly priced version
  • Excellent visualization capability
  • Automated smart data load feature (no SQL coding skills needed)
  • Excellent data governance, as well as access rules and user role management
  • Connectors with Salesforce, SAP, Hive, Cloudera and more
  • 24/7 customer service
  • Helpful online knowledge base with tutorials, webinars and active community forums
  • No Mac version (Windows only)
  • Can be slow with large data sets (likely only a problem for Enterprise level users)
  • Data connectors not as sophisticated as Tableau
  • Some limitations in customizing graphics compared to similar products


Qlik Sense offers a Desktop Version for individuals that’s entirely free.

Qlik Sense Cloud Basic

  • Free forever
  • Share with 5 users
  • Max Application Size 25MB
  • Max Storage 250MB
  • Access to Qlik DataMarket Free Package

Qlik Sense Cloud Plus

  • $20 per user per month
  • Share with unlimited users
  • Max Application Size 50MB
  • Max Storage 10GB
  • Access to Qlik DataMarket Essentials Package

Qlik Sense Enterprise

  • $1,500 per token (1 token = unlimited use for 1 user OR 10 timed login passes)
  • Licensed version
  • Better for medium to large size companies

Best for Beginners: IBM Watson Analytics Review

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IBM Watson Analytics platform is a newcomer to the BI industry, but IBM is no stranger to BI — its Cognos BI software is an industry leader for enterprise-level businesses. IBM Cognos, however, is out of most small businesses’ price range (starting at $12,000). But Watson Analytics is geared toward small business needs. A cloud-based, self-service platform, Watson Analytics guides data exploration, automates predictive analytics and makes dashboard and infographic creation a breeze. No coding skills required! You’re not going to get the level of data access you would with some of the bigger players in our reviews, but you still get a powerful and easy-to-use set of BI tools that should be more than enough for most small businesses. Try IBM Watson Analytics Professional Edition for free for 30 days to see if it’s the solution for your business!



  • Intuitive, easy-to-use interface
  • Free edition and affordable monthly pricing
  • Unifies sales, marketing, finance, internal operations, human resources in a single platform
  • Automated data mining and predictive analytics (no coding skills required)
  • Mac and Windows; mobile friendly
  • Good customer service via phone, email ticket
  • Extensive online knowledge center, blog and community forums
  • Data sources limited compared to more powerful business intelligence systems
  • Lacks Html integration
  • Infographic customization is more limited than many other BI software
  • Connectors a bit more limited (but does include Salesforce, Hive, Cloudera and more)
  • No automated scheduled reporting


IBM Watson Analytics offers a free forever edition, but it’s very limited in what you can do. But if you sign up for the free plan you get a 30-day free trial of its Professional edition.

 Free EditionPlus EditionProfessional Edition
Price Per MonthFree$30$80
Number of Users111+
Storage Limit1 MB2 GB*100 GB*
IBM Analytics Exchange AccessLimitedFullFull
Number of Data ConnectorsNone1819 (Includes Cognos)

* Can add storage for an incremental fee

Other Business Intelligence Tools Reviewed

Birst and Sisense are powerful BI tools that you can scale down to small business. They’re both on the expensive side compared to the other BI software we’ve reviewed. In case you have the budget, they’re certainly worthy of consideration.

Birst Review

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Want to improve your sales, marketing and financial analytics in one simple platform? Birst could be your answer. Birst is an up-and-coming self-service BI software that’s especially suitable for beginners. A SaaS platform, Birst is feature rich but very user-friendly. Its cloud-based architecture makes file and data sharing a breeze. One of Birst’s best features is its automated data warehouse that’s easier and speedier to set up with minimal IT guidance compared to many other BI platforms. Birst also releases improvements every couple of weeks and is very reactive to customer suggestions.



  • Intuitive and user-friendly platform
  • Allows for networked top-down, bottom-up blending of governed data
  • Wide variety of visualization options
  • Point-and-click analytics and report generation
  • Multiple connectors including Salesforce, SAP, Hive, Tableau, Marketo, Amazon and more
  • Excellent customer support
  • Highly active online user community
  • Pricey for smaller businesses
  • Lacking advanced reporting capabilities
  • Some consumers report mobile performance problems
  • Querying language isn’t traditional SQL


Must contact Birst for pricing or to request a demo.

Sisense Review

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Sisense is an extremely popular cloud based BI software solution for businesses that work with large or diverse data sets. What sets them apart? The marriage between Sisense’s ability to handle complex data and its user-friendly automated features that require little to no data crunching experience. Sisense masterfully unifies data into a single location with an easy drag-and-drop data blending tool that eliminates the need for IT departments or hardware. And it makes creating dashboards and infographics a breeze. Sisense offers a free trial and a unique “test drive on your data” offer, so you can see exactly how Sisense can help with your own data.



  • Easy drag-and-drop tool blends data from multiple/diverse sources
  • Very fast platform
  • Variety of dashboard widgets allows for easy dashboard and infographic creation
  • Rich and customizable data visualization tools
  • Interactive BI reporting
  • Good connectors including Hive, Salesforce, Zendesk, Google Analytics and more
  • Excellent customer support
  • Extensive online user manuals, tutorials, and community and developer forums
  • A slight learning curve to get started
  • On the pricey side for small business
  • Some customers report difficulty in sharing dashboards and collaborating on shared dashboards
  • Mobile versions limited in functionality


Must contact Sisense for its annual licensing pricing.

Want to See Sisense in Action?

Check out the video below to visualize how Sisense (and other best business intelligence tools) work to improve your business’ data analysis.

Is a Cloud-Based BI Solution Better for Small Business?

A 2014 Intuit study predicts that 80 percent of small businesses will have migrated to cloud computing by 2020. Cloud-based solutions, including business intelligence software, are especially beneficial for small businesses for many reasons. The most obvious benefit is major cost savings — going with a cloud solution saves you a ton of money on hardware, IT support, expensive licensing and maintenance. But there are many other benefits, including faster and cheaper deployment, enhanced mobility, multi-tenant environment (more users and easier sharing of data), cheaper and better access to integrations, and much more. For these reasons, the majority of companies in our BI tools comparison are cloud-based. It just makes sense to get your small business intelligence in the cloud!

How does your small business plan to use BI tools to get ahead of the competition?

Sally has coupled her passion for writing with her (slight) obsession for the latest high tech gadgets. While she’s not daydreaming about the beach, she’s taking advantage of all the activities her hometown has to offer in the Blue Ridge foothills.

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1 Comment on "Best Business Intelligence Tools: Qlik vs Tableau vs Sisense vs Birst vs IBM Watson Analytics"


Great review Sally, we don’t currently use BI but have been wanting to try it out as we head into the new year for our small business. We don’t have a big budget so Qlick sounds like it might be a good fit although we’re on a Mac so that’s unfortunate. Maybe they’ll update that feature soon if not I’ll probably go with Watson…


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