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Comparison of BI Tools: Power BI vs Cognos vs Crystal Reports vs SSRS

Which is the best Business Intelligence (BI) tool available? Why is it the best and what distinguishable features makes it the best one? What are the alternatives? What is the current client base of this tool? Is this BI tool the right one for your business as well? What should you be looking for when evaluating BI tools? Will your business analyst or end users be capable enough to extract desired information from this tool?

In this blog, we evaluated some of the most popular BI tools out there, provided an overview and compared features, hopefully helping you to make the right choice of BI tool to meet your business requirements. A first step to finding the best tool for your company.

Evaluating BI tools against each other is not easy, especially when there are so many available on the market, each promising that it can meet all sorts of business requirements and provide ways to present the information in all possible ways. Naturally, companies searching for a new business intelligence software tool can become overwhelmed with all the choices and promises from vendors.

While evaluating different BI tools, we need to ensure that we evaluate all aspects that are relevant to the business and the users. Major features that we looked at are:

  • Data Discovery
  • Extensive, Customizable Dashboards
  • Production and Operational Reporting Support
  • Projection and Forecasting
  • Ad Hoc Query
  • OLAP Support
  • Usability
  • Learning Curve


Comparison of BI tools: Overview
Power BIIBM CognosSAP Crystal ReportMicrosoft SSRS
Microsoft Power BI is not a solitary BI tool rather than a suite of business analytics tools which are crafted to help organisations efficiently examine information and share insights.

Microsoft Power BI transforms organisation’s data into very attractive and conceivable visuals, making it simple for you and your company to accumulate information, unify and devise effective business strategies.

The framework is designed with the goad that you remain aware of everything, to distinguish drifts as they happen, and to steer your business towards success. The platform allows users to track their business and derive performance indicators quickly and efficiently from comprehensive dashboards which can be viewed on all types of devices.

Recently, Microsoft has launched Power BI Embedded which is a new version with additional reporting capabilities that lets you to easily embed the reports into custom developers’ apps.

IBM Cognos Analytics gives businesses with a very intelligent and intuitive smarter self-service that directs them in creating insights from data for impressive and effective presentation.
With experience in delivering mission-critical analytics, Cognos Analytics ensures that you meet all your organisation’s requirements in one integrated solution that is deployed on premise or in cloud. Cognos Analytics comes with unified experience that can be achieved from a web-based interface or mobile devices, allowing you to immediately find, evaluate, generate, and share insight.

Users can instantly share insights by amplifying and incorporating them into daily processes.

With an interactive and intuitive web experience, users can easily add their personal touch to the content and make dashboards from anywhere, anytime, whether from a desktop or mobile device.

SAP Crystal Reports is a framework that is designed to work seamlessly with all types of databases and let users to do thorough and detailed analysis and interpretation.
It radically simplifies the process of creating simple and even complicated or specialised reports and dashboards with its rich set of features and comprehensive tools.

Representing data in different ways via reports is a breeze. It allows users to create detailed reports from virtually any data source.

For beginner users, it comes with built-in report wizards which guide users in every step-in building report and completing common reporting tasks.
Reports can be generated in various ways.

You can use formulas, cross-tabs, sub-reports, and conditional formatting letting you discover various relationships within data that may be hidden. You can use geographic maps and graphs too. It lets you to explore data residing in databases with queries, and then present it in any number of drillable, multi-page reports. It offers a high degree of flexibility and adaptability.

Often, it is integrated into a larger business intelligence ecosystem like the SAP BusinessObjects stack. It can be hosted locally or offered in the SaaS model.

With the ability to create and design professional reports that can be embedded with interactive charts and what-if scenario models, and then distribute these reports via multiple channels such as the Web, email, in PDF or even integrated into enterprise systems.

SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) could be a server-based report generating software package from Microsoft.
It’s a part of a collection of Microsoft SQL Server services, as well as SSAS (SQL Server Analysis Services) and SSIS (SQL Server Integration Services).

Administered via a web interface, it makes it easy to build and deliver a spread of interactive and written reports.

It provides an interface into Microsoft Visual Studio so developers yet as SQL directors will hook up with SQL databases and use SSRS tools to format SQL reports in sophisticated ways.

Reporting from SharePoint data

As more and more business data is stored in SharePoint, reporting on that data, and integrating it with existing systems, becomes essential. Most existing solutions are limited on that front.

AxioWorks SQList allows you to export SharePoint lists & libraries as normalised SQL Server tables, and build powerful reports on SharePoint data using SSRS, Crystal Reports, Power BI, on an other reporting tool.

Comparison of BI tools: Reporting from SharePoint data
Power BIIBM CognosSAP Crystal ReportMicrosoft SSRS

Power BI is one of the latest offerings from Microsoft and has good support with its ecosystem and henceforth, with SharePoint too.
It provides SharePoint Online as a data source within: GetData → Online Services. You can select the option and specify the site URL and authenticate yourself.

Once authenticated, you can select the intended list from the display and Click on ‘Load’. Now, if required, you can configure the desired columns of the list. Select the type of visualisation you need to use for the report and save the report file (*.pbix).

IBM Cognos Framework Manager supports a wide range of relational and dimensional data sources, but it can be challenging to set up non-traditional, but widely used, data sources such as Microsoft SharePoint.

Framework Manager supports XML as a valid data source. SharePoint, which is a web server, supports RSS (Really Simple Syndication) which allows for syndication of content in XML format. Therein lies the solution. To access SharePoint content, you need to set up an RSS feed of the List you would like to access and access those XML feeds as a data source in Framework Manager.

The other way around is to use ODBC data source and use the ODBC driver to connect to SharePoint list.
You need to use Microsoft ODBC Data Source Administrator to create and configure ODBC data source name. Then specify the site URL, authenticate yourself.

Now you can integrate with the SharePoint site by creating a new Data source connection. Select the ODBC option, specify the name of the data source and then click retrieve objects and choose the CData SharePoint database object.
Now you can create visualisations of your choice against the data set created above.

Crystal Reports has many options for offloading data processing to remote data; this enables real-time reporting. This can be achieved using the JDBC driver.

Firstly, you need to install the JDBC driver by including the driver JAR in the Crystal Reports classpath: Add the full file path, including the .jar, to the paths in the classPath element, under the DataDriver CommonElement. After you have added the JAR to the ClassPath, restart Crystal Reports.

Now, you can use the Report Wizard to add SharePoint data to a new report:

  1. Click File -> New -> Standard Report.
  2. Expand the JDBC node under Create New Connection and double-click Make a New Connection. Enter the JDBC connection URL.
  3. Specify the driver class name: cdata.jdbc .sharepoint .SharePointDriver
  4. Now, select the desired fields to be part of report. You can also specify the required grouping, sorting on fields if any.
  5. Now you can add create charts using the data set.

SSRS being a part of Microsoft stack, offers integration capabilities with SharePoint.

SQL Server Report builder offers SharePoint as a data source.

You can choose “Microsoft SharePoint List” from the options in the connection type while setting up the data source and provide the URL.

Then you need to authenticate yourself with the type of authentication your site is set up.

Now you can use the newly created data set in the report. You can select the desired set of columns from the data set using the query designer. Then save the data set.

Now the data set can be used as any other normal data set in your reports.


Comparison of BI tools: Pros
Power BIIBM CognosSAP Crystal ReportMicrosoft SSRS

Highly customisable dashboards

Huge datasets

Reports & sub-reports

Drag and Drop feature

Intuitive navigation pane

Ad Hoc reporting

Ad Hoc analysis

Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) Support

Modern UI

Extensive Charting

Trend indicators

Interactive reports authoring

Complete reporting & data visualisation tools

Good support for event handling and drill-down

Excellent Questions and answer feature. Questions are answered in visuals

Excellent print support

Excellent API support

Artificial Intelligence and Predictive analysis support

Simple, intuitive interface
Smart search works in context

Personalised experience

Scheduling and alerts

Interactive content available online or offline

Effortlessly use varied data sources

Data model generation based on keywords

Drag and drop

Best automatic visualisations

Various reporting templates and styles

Data protected with layers of permissions, authentication, and history

Intuitive design environment

Powerful data mash-ups

Wizards and experts for report creation

Database expert for graphical table linking

Field explorer to manage report fields

Drill down in runtime


Editable preview window

Browse field data

Move, resize, and multiselect objects

Custom templates

Repository for component reuse

Workbench tool for managing projects

Automatic patch notification and installation

Varied deployment options

Excellent external application integration

Easy access to report formats

Drilldown action

Chart options

Customised Filtering

Flexible report views


Table view


Comparison of BI tools: Cons
Power BIIBM CognosSAP Crystal ReportMicrosoft SSRS

Need to use Live connection for handling huge data set
Need to master DAX for complex features and KPI

Minimal developer tools

Sharing is not intuitive and could have been better

Need to regenerate the visualization when data refresh is done

Cannot create dashboard on Mobile app view

Still few integrations are missing

Interface is outdated and needs update
Auditing available only on Report studio not on Query editor

Feeble forecast capability

Doesn’t work smoothly with huge data sets and many parameters

Required professionals for maintenance and support

Filtering in reports and scheduling set up is complex

Cross browser compatibility

Not Business User-friendly
Advanced features only available with Crystal Reports Server

Complex Licensing model and expensive

Scheduler is missing

Ad-hoc Reporting is difficult to build

Formatting is not easy

Set-up is not easy

Not for non-technical users, suitable for developers
Platform dependent, available only on Windows

Mobile view requires extra effort
Interface is outdated

Backwards Compatibility to previous SQL versions is not good

Not enough charting options

Formatting capability is limited


Comparison of BI tools: Pricing
Power BIIBM CognosSAP Crystal ReportMicrosoft SSRS
Microsoft Power BI offers two enterprise pricing plans to choose from, one of which can be acquired for free (1 GB data capacity limit) and other one is Power BI Pro – $9.99/user/month

It comes in different licensing models:
– Workgroup: $,1990/month onward;

– Standard: $10,100/month onward;

– Enterprise: $19,950/month onward.

SAP Crystal Reports is available in the following payment plans:
– SAP Crystal Reports 2016 Full Product is available for $495

– SAP Crystal Reports 2016 Version Upgrade is available for $295

– Previous version is still available. SAP Crystal Reports 2013 Full Product costs $495.

It comes in different pricing models as well. It comes with developer license which is free.

Standard license starting from $931 and ranging up to $14,256 for enterprise license.


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