1. Cloud-based services for consuming reports
Both tools’ front-ends for distribution and consumption of reports are web-based services. This means there is no investment needed in on-premise or hosted servers to host an application, and maintenance and upgrade of complex software is kept to a minimum.
The cloud-based nature of the products means that users can access reports from wherever they have internet access, and via almost any platform: PC, laptop, tablet or phone. Single sign-on with Azure AD or other identity providers can be set up to make both tools even quicker to access.
2. Subscription licences
SAP Analytics Cloud and Microsoft Power BI both offer their users flexibility and value via subscription licencing that can be flexed and expanded as necessary. No longer are large investments required up front, with maintenance fees to pay afterwards – simple subscription models allow for transparent costs to the business.
SAP’s licences come in both named users and concurrent models, and Microsoft’s licences can come as part of your Office 365 package – indeed most companies will have access to a free version of Power BI already via this route.
3. Both import data to the cloud, but can also connect directly
Most companies have yet to move all of their data and applications to the cloud and so have lots of databases and other sources within their own network. To make this information available to the reports in SAP Analytics Cloud or Microsoft Power BI the default behaviour of both products is to import the data to the cloud environment.
This import would be scheduled to occur when required, out of hours or regularly throughout the day. It does mean that extra care has to be taken with very sensitive data as it is leaving your network and being stored elsewhere.
In cases where the data cannot or should not be moved both tools have methods of directly querying on-premise sources, though this can affect performance of the reports.
Both tools require the installation of a data gateway to enable communication between the cloud and the local data, which is secure and controlled by your own IT department.
4. Interactive, visual reporting is the focus
Both Microsoft Power BI and SAP Analytics Cloud prioritise visualisations and interactivity, with a bias towards graphical, dashboard style reports. There are a wealth of graphical options in both tools: waterfall charts, maps, gauges etc are available, and users with the skill can create their own with R or Python programming.
Tables and lists can be produced in their interfaces, but printing them out or producing multi-page PDF documents requires additional tools. Neither copes as well or as easily as SAP Crystal Reports or even Web Intelligence would do with this task.
Both Power BI and SAC make creating their visualisations easy and intuitive, with live filtering, drill down and interactivity a given on each report. These reports are displayed online in the web portal, where security and sharing rules ensure that those who need the information can easily access it, while it is shielded and hidden from those who do not need to.
5. Machine learning, automated analysis, applied to your data
The power of the cloud and Microsoft’s and SAP’s respective datacentres allows both tools to make use of machine learning and ‘AI’ algorithms to find statistical anomalies and patterns in your data that your own analysis may not have uncovered. Smart insights achieve quick results with even the largest datasets to uncover trends and illuminate the causes of variances.
This kind of application of machine learning and AI is only going to improve over the coming years, with all major BI providers looking to invest in the functionality. In the future we will all be data scientists!