There is a degree of maturity coming to the data visualization software market. Tableau is seeing increased competition, most recently and notably from Qlik and Microsoft. Salesforce has also recently entered this market. For now Tableau reigns supreme for organizations looking to easily explore their data, and the software is still a leader in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant report.

BWF works with numerous clients who have either recently adopted or are considering adopting data visualization software. Some organizations are looking for data exploration options, some want assistance in automating dashboards, and others desire an enterprise reporting solution.

When considering the data visualization software field for fundraising, here are some important things to consider:

  • Ease of use. This is the category that usually draws people to seek data visualization initially. Easy-to-use software makes exploring your data fun and allows you to gain insights that you never would have thought to look for. The ease of using Tableau certainly accounts for some of its great success, but it is not alone. Most software platforms in this category will allow you to download the software for a trial period. Do so, and have fun!
  • Scale. Ask yourself what you ultimately hope to gain from the software. Is it enough for a couple of power users to have the software installed to provide insight and analysis? Or do you need to create interactive visualizations that can be accessed by multiple staff members? Most data visualization software platforms offer scalable licensing options that can meet both of these scenarios, including hosting visualizations on secure servers. However, increased scale can result in increased complexity.
  • Cost. Many people are pleasantly surprised to find that data visualization software can be quite affordable. However, the ultimate cost depends greatly on how you intend to use it. A single desktop license for a power user can be quite affordable, but the price can rise quickly if you are looking at bulk license purchases or interactive sharing capabilities. This is one area where Tableau garners criticism, as its enterprise server solutions can be quite costly. Regardless of the vendor, don’t forget to ask about nonprofit discounts!
  • Staff time and expertise. There’s no questioning that data visualization software can help your team gain insights into your data. However, these insights are dependent on staff having time to devote to exploration and the skill levels of those team members. For organizations that have talented staff members that lack basic data analysis skills, a training program can be helpful. Data visualization software can help organizations save time by automating analysis and dashboards, but expect to invest a good deal of time initially before getting to this point.
  • Support.The type of support available will vary from company to company. Larger companies, like Tableau, do offer classroom training options, but rely primarily on helpdesk support and pre-recorded videos. On the other end of the spectrum, companies like Advizor Solutions cater to the fundraising sector and can offer more individualized setup and technical support options. Understand the skill level and capacity of your team when deciding what kind of support may be necessary down the road.
  • Data source integration. The ability of the software to integrate with your data is of critical importance and relies primarily upon your database platform. While all software in this category will handle csv and Excel files, solutions like Qlik and Tableau offer native integration with a number of additional database formats such as SQL, Oracle, and even Salesforce. Your enterprise database will dictate much of your integration capabilities. Your desired level of integration can also impact licensing and cost.
  • Technical limitations. Software has its limitations. Research carefully the limitations for each platform you are considering. While Tableau is a heavyweight in the field, it has limitations when it comes to joining many different data sources. Additionally, Tableau can sacrifice advanced functionality in the name of ease of use. It is important to understand these restrictions before committing to a product.

Bentz Whaley Flessner’s systems and operations team works with organizations to assess their data needs and implement solutions. If you are considering purchasing or implementing a data visualization package, contact us to learn more about our services. Together, we transform philanthropy.

Copyright © 2016 Bentz Whaley Flessner & Associates, Inc.

Originally published March 2, 2016

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