BusinessObjects Web Intelligence vs. PowerBI – The Truth from the Trenches Part 1

One of the most frequent questions I have been asked lately is what do I think about PowerBI and can it really replace BusinessObjects?

My stock answer has been along the lines of “PowerBI is a Business Intelligence solution from Microsoft oriented towards I.T. and, no, it cannot properly replace BusinessObjects although many in the BI Analyst community and Microsoft themselves might lead you to believe that it can.”

However, I do not feel that I am adequately qualified to compare the two solutions and so I asked two experienced independent BI consultants who have worked with both solutions for a number of years to give me their opinions.

Firstly I asked them to list the 5 Main Differentiators between BusinessObjects Web Intelligence (Webi) and PowerBI

Consultant 1 Responses:

  1. No Universe in PowerBI.  It’s hard to build more complex reports in Power BI. If you want to combine two different data sources into one view/metric, you will need some advanced skills.  Webi has a very powerful semantic layer – the Universe. A user can build a report against multiple universes, but with PowerBI you are only able to connect to a single dataset. If the dataset does not contain everything required to build the report, the user will need to build one from scratch. To do this, the user should know the underlying data sources, structure, and relationships. For someone with no SQL or data modelling knowledge, this could get very daunting.   
  2. PowerBI is harder for ad-hoc reporting, creating basic reports with tables, and overall, the ‘look and feel’ is not that intuitive and takes a lot of effort to change look and feel settings of the elements and the dashboard. It can become quite time consuming quickly if you have a lot of visuals.
  3. In PowerBI, there are many features not available unless you pay for the expensive premium capacity.  Sharing dashboards and reports in PowerBI is easy and it has a lot of options. However, the requirement that all users must have a Pro Account to view dashboards created in Pro can make the cost go up quickly.  You can also upgrade to Premium Capacity license to allow free accounts to access the App and view dashboards but that is an expensive option as well. Depending on the type of license you have, the daily refreshes may also be limited to 8 per day, etc.
  4. PowerBI is more technical especially when writing DAX scripts and when linking several tables for relationships. Since its mainly used for Dashboards and visualizations, the presentations can be crowded considering a lot of information is supposed to be squeezed on one page. PowerBI may also require complex formulas in DAX which sometimes can give wrong results. It also takes a lot of time to prepare data and create visuals.
  5.  PowerBI is more overwhelming in the back end. Sometimes you just cannot get the data to display the way you want. There are so many options, features, methods. It gets to be too much for a lot of users. The back end is not as user friendly as Webi. The built in “forecasting” in PowerBI is useless.  You must know the workarounds for this and use DAX.  Not a good IDE for Python / R.  


Consultant 2 Responses:

  1. Webi has a more robust and flexible formula language. The formulas are simple, vastly documented, and do not need to be “modeled”, like they do in PowerBI. Simply put DAX can hold you back. 
  2. Webi has many “shareable” elements to it. For example, complex chart designs or table sets can be saved as a shared element on the central repository and used by anyone with access to the folder. Webi can also be used now as a data source for other Webi Reports. Let’s not also forget the CROWN JEWEL, the UNIVERSE — we can ensure that we are all working off of the same models here, eliminating a very important and confusing step for PowerBI users.
  3. Webi has a vast partner ecosystem that is unrivaled with its competitors, particularly Microsoft. 
  4. PAGINATED REPORTING OUT OF THE BOX. Need I say more? The inability to do simple, yet mission critical, paginated reporting with the ability to spread the information across the organization is a KILLER for those that want to use PowerBI as an all-encompassing BI solution. 
  5. Webi is just a more flexible tool. The user can use the tool in so many different ways, it’s incredible. It can be an extractor. It can be a paginated reporting tool. It can be an interactive reporting tool. It can be a dashboarding tool. It can be used as a lite ETL tool to pump your other tools or Webi, itself. It can be used for guided Self-Service BI (ad hoc analysis). The linking between charts and tables is much more easily managed, from the developer and end user perspective. Webi has the ability to let the user write HTML, JS, CSS, right into the report for enhancements, and finally it’s ability to take advantage of the SDK (custom extensions, etc..) makes it the most powerful and popular tool on the market.

To anyone truly wanting to compare Web Intelligence and PowerBI, this information is gold because it came from experienced consultants working with both tools in the trenches every day.

In Part 2 of this blog, I will aske the same two consultants to list their 5 top reasons why you should not convert Web Intelligence reports to PowerBI. Stay tuned.

In Part 3 of this blog, I jumped on a Teams call with a customer working at a large organization who is currently using both solutions who was kind enough to spend some time with me to expand further on his experience and assessment.

About pgrill

Paul Grill started his career in Information Technology in the U.K. in 1978, as an Executive Data Processing Trainee for Honeywell. More than thirty years later, he still has a voracious appetite for learning as Information Technology continues to advance at an ever accelerating pace. He was first introduced to the world of Business Intelligence in 1991, in France, when he saw a demonstration of an early version of BusinessObjects on Windows 2.1. He returned to the U.S. to rave about this phenomenal product, but it was many years before BusinessObjects made it into the mainstream. Paul founded InfoSol in 1997, and made Business Intelligence one of the key solutions offered by the company. Today, InfoSol is a leading SAP BusinessObjects solutions partner, known for its expert consulting, education and innovative add-on solutions. Paul is well known within the SAP BusinessObjects community for his extensive knowledge of Business Intelligence, and he has lectured and written many articles on the subject. Paul enjoys writing, running and coaching kids soccer, and is passionate about Ancient Egyptology.

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  1. Mike McErlain, CBIP

    Nice comparison of the two tools. I also have found PowerBI more difficult to adapt to as i’m looking for “the PowerBI version” of a key WEBI feature. Clearly not a 1 to 1 scenario! I’ll continue to favor WEBi for overall ease of usage.

  2. Good point Mike about the 1 for 1 scenario. Web Intelligence is much more mature and richer in functionality compared to PowerBI.

  3. Webi is soooo difficult and unfrendly for user… Simple tables and visuals are ok, but as you need something more difficult, PBi is so mach better for me as user.

  4. I miss my Universes! Also not as user friendly it seems like the current Power BI is a good BETA version but we are still waiting for the final product. A solid semantic layer is much needed especially one that just deals with metadata.

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