In the past, most business decisions were based on highly limited data sets combined with gut instincts.

This began to change in 1865 when Richard Miller Devens coined the term “business intelligence” (BI) in his Cyclopaedia of Commercial and Business Anecdotes. In it, he proposed using a wider view for decision making which included market tendencies, possible instabilities, and political issues.

Technology became integrated into BI with the publication of Hans Peter Luhn’s “A Business Intelligence System” in 1958. In the past twenty years, BI software has come into its own with products such as Tableau and Domo.

A less well-known player in this arena is Sisense, who is making a push to become the go-to BI option. It boasts the ability to create easily customizable dashboards, link multiple data sources, and utilize different data visualizations.

In addition, Sisense’s goal is to combine ease of use by non-programmer users with the capacity to work with incredibly large data sets.

So, does Sisense succeed? Is it a viable choice for your business? We’ll look at the key factors in our review below to help you make this decision.

How Does Sisense Work?

Sisense was founded in 2004 in Tel Aviv, Israel. The company concentrated solely on research and development for six years until it received $4 million in Series A financing.

Since then, it’s had three additional rounds of funding, raising almost $100 million.

Sisense software, available with both on-premise and cloud-based options, is used in 49 countries and customers include Wix, GE, and the Salvation Army.

Custom Analytics Dashboards

From the Sisense homepage, you can choose to work with an existing dashboard or create a new one. For a new one, you’ll choose a dataset to work with. Then, you select drag-and-drop widgets to break out this dataset in a variety of different ways on the customized dashboard. After you’ve created a dashboard, you can also share it with other users.

For example, you could use a widget to show the number of orders for an entire year. This would be, however, a single number, so you could use a second widget to break out orders by month in a line chart. The different product types making up these orders can be shown in a pie chart using a third widget, and you can add a fourth widget to show orders by sales rep.

Data Visualization & Drilling Down

One key function is the ability to easily change data visualizations. With just a couple of mouse clicks, a line chart can be changed to a pie chart to a bar graph.

Or, with the advanced features, you can add specific sales figures to each point on the monthly chart.

Plus, it’s easy to select any piece of visualized data to drill down even further.

For example, on your product pie chart, let’s say Product A made up 10% of sales in one month. You can right click on that product in the pie chart to see sales by sales rep or sales by country.

Pulse Reports

The Pulse feature allows you to set up different types of notifications based on key performance indicators (KPIs).

The first option is a threshold alert if a number falls outside of a custom range you’ve defined: orders in a certain country, orders by sales rep, and so on.

The automatic option will notify you when KPI anomalies are detected.

Finally, the always function will send you a report every time there is a data refresh.

Sisense’s Unique Features

While Sisense’s customizable dashboards and reporting features form the core of user experience, there are additional behind-the-scenes features which add to its functionality.

Large Datasets

Sisense can simultaneously access millions of columns of information from multiple data sources and still respond to queries in seconds. This is thanks to a columnar approach in building a unified database where each field is individually indexed.

For example, in 2013 CrunchBase began using Sisense for CrunchAnalytics, an interactive public investment dashboard. Using the CrunchBase database, CrunchAnalytics allows anyone to access years – and terabytes! – of data from around 100,000 companies.

Even without prior programming or data analysis experience, users can easily submit different queries for categories of data to filter and track investment activity.

Multiple Data Sources

As noted earlier, Sisense can access multiple data sources and create one comprehensive database out of them. In fact, its process to do this is so efficient that in many cases data marts or online analytical processing (OLAP) cubes will be unnecessary. Not only can this information come from different applications, data is seamlessly integrated from multiple physical locations too.

ElastiCube Database

This high degree of flexibility in database management and data crunching is due to Sisense’s ElastiCube database system.

Relational database management systems (RDBMSs) such as Access and MySQL store data row-by-row which is not well suited for aggregated or multiple-source data.

In contrast, the ElastiCube uses a columnar database management system (CDBMS) where each data field is individually memory-mapped in a file. This allows for a variety of benefits relating to speed and storage.

When a query is executed, the only information loaded into memory is the queried fields, which allows remaining memory to be utilized by the search without having to use the hard drive. Even on desktop computers, large dataset queries will be returned in seconds.

ElastiCube queries do not require previously generated indexes like OLAP cubes or data marts.

This also shortens response time.

In addition, columnar storage allows for a high degree of compression with no data loss. There is also native 64-bit processing support which increases the amount of memory available. Finally, the smart cache system only loads data when needed into the memory.

Pricing

Determining the pricing for Sisense is problematic as you must request a quote directly from the company.

On one hand, we understand every license for Sisense will have its own set of parameters. On the other hand, it would be helpful to supply at least a general price range so potential users can know immediately if it’s in their BI budget.

The only information we could find was anecdotal evidence from 2016 about a license for five users costing around $21,000.

In comparison, we’ll look at pricing options for two of Sisense’s competitors.

Tableau

Users can choose from one of three plans: Tableau Creator, Tableau Explorer, and Tableau Viewer. Prices below are the same for public cloud or on-premise deployment.

  • Tableau Creator: This top-tier option includes all Tableau features and functionality for $70 per month per user.
  • Tableau Explorer: This option is for users who want to generate their own analytics without any data cleaning or prepping for $35 per month per user.
  • Tableau Viewer: Only allows users to access visualizations which have already been created for $12 per month per user. To avoid sticker shock, know that you’ll have to have a minimum of 100 viewers to take advantage of this plan.

Domo

Domo offers a free trial as well as three paid plans: Starter, Professional, and Enterprise.

  • Free: This 30-day trial allows up to 5 users, 5 million rows of data, and an hourly data refresh.
  • Starter: Allows up to 20 users, 5 million rows of data, hourly data refresh, and available consulting for $83 per month per user.
  • Professional: Allows unlimited users, 250 million rows of data, on-demand data refresh, and available premium support for $160 per month per user.
  • Enterprise: Allows both unlimited users and data plus advanced governance and security for $190 per month per user. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance is also available.

What Do People Think?

In its review, PCMag was impressed by Sisense’s data visualizations and easily customizable dashboards. Plus, the in-chip processing eliminates data slowdowns and allows for faster query response times. The natural language query option via third-party applications was also seen as a real plus.

On the other hand, another reviewer noted Sisense doesn’t quite live up to its claim of code-free data analysis and reporting. While coding isn’t required for its powerful dashboard creation, the ElastiCube isn’t as user friendly. You’ll still need an experienced SQL programmer to build your ElastiCube, and some complex workarounds will likely be needed as data join types are limited. You’ll have to make sure your cube is built correctly because without it the system will not function.

In addition, dashboards are only accessible via the web. Sisense delivers flattened reports such as PDFs which have limited data interaction and functionality for recipients. While there is a mobile Sisense app, its navigation and filtering capabilities are also limited right now.

One user also noted limitations with the geographic filtering. Yes, you can break down data by state, but it would be even more informative to access data at an increasingly granular level such as by county or zip code. Another user pointed out the learning curve to access all Sisense features is a bit steep and taking advantage of the numerous tutorials available is a must.

How It Compares

Sisense is highly rated with 99% user satisfaction and a 9.7/10 score at FinancesOnline which reviews the best business-to business (B2B) and software as a service (SaaS) applications.

Tableau, a primary competitor, more easily connects to different data sources in just minutes, has group collaboration features which allow everyone to share and access the same data, and offers a variety of different ways – via dashboards and cloud-based queries – to analyze data. In contrast, Sisense will allow data to be exported in Excel, PDF, CSV, and other formats. Plus, Sisense’s query response time is incredibly fast due to the single commodity server and ElastiCube.

Domo, another competitor, offers more flexible data connections, includes additional social features, and offers both affordable and flexible pricing plans. Still, in comparison, Sisense has more robust features, is better equipped to handle massive amounts of data, and the quote-based pricing system means you’ll pay only for the features you need.

What We Think

Sisense offers big BI capabilities for big companies, and if your business doesn’t need analysis of millions of columns of data, it won’t be cost effective.

If your company is at the level where it could effectively use Sisense, however, its data visualization abilities and ElastiCube database offer powerful analytical options to crunch all your relevant data.

Plus, Pulse reporting will allow you to receive automatic KPI alerts based on your own defined terms.

Be aware, though, that while its custom dashboards are easily created, you’ll need high-level SQL programming help to set up the ElastiCube and make sure all your data sources are correctly connected. Plus, email reports as well as exported reports have limited functionality in drilling down into data.

You’ll also want to set aside plenty of time to work through the extensive Sisense tutorials to access all its capabilities.

Want to try out Sisense to see if it’s right for you? You can easily request a fully functional, free trial.

Want to learn more about data visualization? Check out this guide to the five most influential data visualizations of all time.

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