Tableau and IBM Cognos are two well-respected business intelligence (BI) and data analytics platforms. Both were scored well by Gartner in its latest “Magic Quadrant (MQ) for Analytics and Business Intelligence Platforms.” Gartner graded Tableau as a leader and Cognos as a Visionary.
Data analytics applications like Tableau and IBM Cognos are becoming ever more crucial as companies seek to data mine huge repositories of data, using the advanced data mining and data visualization techniques available. In the age of digital transformation, using data effectively is now understood to be crucial for competitive advantage.
As two popular data analytics platforms, users often are forced to choose between Cognos and Tableau. There are arguments for and against each. It is hard to say that you could go wrong with either selection. But which business intelligence tool is best for your business?
Tableau vs. Cognos: Key Features Comparison
Tableau is very much focused on delivering analytics with artificial intelligence, data management, and collaboration. At the heart of Tableau is a proprietary technology called VizQL that makes interactive data visualization an integral part of understanding data. It differs sharply from traditional tools that require the user to analyze data in rows and columns, choose the data to present, and then create a chart from that table. VizQL simply creates a visual representation right away, providing visual feedback as you analyze.
Like Tableau, Cognos is a mature product. Cognos Analytics supports data analytics from discovery to operations and is available in cloud and enterprise editions. It can be hosted onsite or in the cloud.
Cognos enables users to connect, verify, and combine data, and offers plenty of dashboard and visualization options. Cognos is particularly good at pulling and analyzing corporate data, providing detailed reports, and assisting in corporate governance. It is built on a strong data science foundation and is supported by heavy duty analytics, courtesy of IBM Watson.
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The Cognos user interface.
Latest Features and Updates
Tableau, of late, has been adding features like Ask Data in Slack (ask questions using natural language and automatically get data visualizations), Einstein Discovery in Slack (predictions in the flow of work), and Model Builder (collaboratively build and consume predictive models using Einstein).
Cognos, too, has been upgrading its home screen to simplify the experience and give it a more modern look and feel. Onboarding for new users has been streamlined with new video tutorials and accelerator content organized in an easily consumable format. Improved search capabilities, too, and enhancements to Cognos AI Assistant help generate dashboards automatically, recommend the best visualization, and suggest questions to ask (via Natural Language Query) to dive deeper into data exploration.
Who wins on features? Tableau is stronger on general cloud and mobility features while Cognos wins on reporting, governance, and security. But Tableau, overall, is the broadest and deepest end-to-end data and analytics platform and helped pioneer the democratization of data with self-service analytics.
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The Tableau user interface.
Tableau vs. Cognos: Comparing Ease of Use
Both Tableau and Cognos have a definite learning curve. Users of Tableau should be well-versed in working with the R programming language, which is used heavily in statistical programming and data analysis. But Tableau has been working to become easier to use. Its VizQL technology enables people of all skill levels to analyze data to gain deeper insights.
Tableau’s depth of analytics goes beyond just building charts. It facilitates an exploratory approach and customization capabilities help to unearth insights from data. Tableau also works well when Excel and statistical data is being used as the raw material. For other formats, ease of use can suffer.
Similarly, the AI-powered and Watson-backed analytics of Cognos lower the barrier to the use of advanced data science techniques. Its sophisticated AI-driven backend can digest data in powerful way to fuel the creation of advanced visual displays.
The conclusion: Both platforms cater to beginning and advanced users, and both require some technical knowledge. Like Tableau, IBM produces visualizations, but it’s a templated visualization approach where the visuals may not always be configurable. Tableau wins here.
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Tableau vs. Cognos: Analytics Capabilities Comparison
Tableau tries to differentiate itself with what it describes as an intuitive analytics experience, with richer capabilities based on its patented VizQL engine. It can connect to data live (performing queries in-database and returning results in real-time) or in-memory (ingesting data from source systems into Tableau).
This allows users to control performance, cost, and data freshness. Tableau also scores very well on live query capabilities and extracts, helping analysts to query faster. Its use of the R language makes it the winner on statistical capabilities.
Cognos has excellent analytics qualities, too. It has tools to bring together a multitude of data sources as well as an AI Assistant tool that can communicate in plain English to get fast recommendations that are easy to understand. It also generates an extensive collection of visualizations. This includes geospatial mapping and dashboards that enable the user to drill down, rise up, or move horizontally through visuals that are updated in real time. Some users say it takes technical aptitude to perform more complex analysis.
There is little to distinguish between Cognos and Tableau on analytics – both are top performers. Yet Tableau wins on broad analytics capabilities and the fact that it works well regardless of the technology platform used by the customer, whereas Cognos is focused on the IBM user base. It integrates nicely, for example, with the IBM Cloud Pak for Data platform.
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Tableau vs. Cognos: Cloud vs. On Premises Comparison
Cognos offers cloud and on-prem versions. But its DNA is rooted in on-prem, as is the case with Tableau.
While Tableau offers cloud-hosted solutions such as Tableau Online and Tableau CRM, its strength lies in on-premises deployments and this is where much of its massive installed base resides. Thus, it can be challenging to scale out Tableau workloads in the cloud.
Neither platform is graded highly in the cloud as yet, thought both are working on it. At this point, Cognos wins.
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Tableau vs. Cognos: CRM Comparison
CRM and BI often work in collaboration. With Tableau now owned by Salesforce, it offers excellent marketing and enterprise product capabilities. It is in the process of being integrated with Salesforce Einstein Analytics (known as Tableau CRM). An Einstein Discovery dashboard extension, for example, brings predictive modeling capabilities from Einstein to Tableau.
IBM Cognos doesn’t venture much into the CRM territory, although IBM is more than happy to integrate Cognos with other CRM platforms. Tableau is the clear winner when a business wants a unified BI/CRM package. But for those not part of the Salesforce universe, Cognos offers a good alternative as it can be paired up with other CRM solutions.
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Tableau vs. Cognos: Integration Challenges Comparison
Tableau has its hands full in integrating with Salesforce. This creates a somewhat fragmented experience between Einstein Analytics and Tableau, but steady progress is being made to bring both together. It likely won’t be long until those issues are resolved. As a result, Salesforce customers will be upsold to Tableau and vice versa.
Cognos connects to a large number of data sources, including spreadsheets. It is quite well integrated into some parts of the vast IBM portfolio. Cognos wins here but expect Tableau to catch up and overtake Cognos in this category once its marriage with Salesforce takes shape.
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Tableau vs. Cognos: Comparing Prices
Tableau has a reputation for being expensive. By some estimates, it works out about $75 per month per user for decent analytics functionality. But those who only want to interact with some basic dashboards can get it much cheaper. That said, the addition of Tableau CRM for a list price of up to $150 per user per month means newer functionality and Salesforce integration doesn’t come cheap.
Cognos Analytics comes out cheaper than Tableau. Pricing starts at $10 per month per user for the on-demand version, with the premium version going up to $40. Cloud and on-premises pricing starts at $5 per month.
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Tableau vs. Cognos: Conclusion
Like all analytics and business intelligence vendors, both companies enable customers to create interactive dashboards, leverage AI to make data analysis easier, and offer data management capabilities.
Both BI tools excel with high-end, data science-type features. Tableau boasts a fanatical user base and a very loyal user community. Its user conferences attract large crowds. Its popularity is growing, too, partially through the distribution of a free platform known as Tableau Public. This is where people can share and explore data visualizations online. It contains over 3 million interactive visualizations. But it is in the data scientist, analytics specialist, and power user markets where its feature set wins the most plaudits.
IBM boasts a massive sales and services team, and global reach into large enterprise markets. Cognos, then, is likely to do well against Tableau within the existing IBM customer base. And right now, it appears to lead slightly in the cloud. But Tableau is ahead on overall features and is graded higher by Gartner.