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Periscope Data vs. Looker: How Each Builds a BI Platform

Periscope Data and Looker are both tools meant to turn raw data into business intelligence and help organizations answer questions with data. However, the two tools differ considerably in their approach, with distinct benefits, limitations and best-fit use cases. In this blog, I want to go over the core problem that each tool solves and discuss which users benefit the most from each data platform. For more details on the specific features of each tool, you can reference our Periscope Data vs. Looker webpage.

Routine Reporting vs. Ad Hoc Analysis

Looker is designed to help nontechnical users explore and report on KPIs that answer routine business questions — an important task that BI tools have been solving for more than 15 years. Its data-modeling setup is built for teams that have business professionals with regular, predictable data needs.

For example, consider a company that has a recurring meeting where team leads gather to share decks with historical data about sales and marketing. To support that meeting, data analysts first use LookML to define a data model that reports key information from their CRM and marketing automation systems. Then, leaders who need to present that data can use the model to drag and drop their way to dashboards without further help from an analyst. As long as the business team doesn’t ask new questions or add any new sources of data, this modeling approach gets the job done and scales pretty efficiently to handle lots of line-of-business professionals.

Similar to Looker, Periscope Data is designed to answer business questions with data. But unlike Looker, our solution is also built to answer new, unanticipated business questions — the kind that usually have major impacts on the company and that generally require help from data experts to answer. We support common analytics languages — SQL, Python and R — to get answers as well as build models. With Looker, you can't get answers immediately if your data hasn't been modeled in LookML yet.

Why is this such a big deal? In short, it’s all about time to insight. Consider a subscription SaaS product whose business team is thinking through a switch from annual billing to pay-as-you-go. Will they have a healthier business if they make the switch? Can they survive any cash flow reductions during the transition? Will the change expose a lurking underutilization problem?

These kinds of question are really hard to answer by simply pulling metrics from an existing data model, because it’s unlikely the model’s reporting tables were structured to address those questions. Instead, the business team will need to pull information from intermediate sources — staging tables, reporting tables and raw data — all of which would require new or reworked data models in Looker.

Periscope Data, by design, is closer to a query environment than a model explorer. Focused on answering these kinds of unanticipated questions, we built an approach to data that leverages the best aspects of models — groomed, pre-aggregated data using SQL Snippets, Views and templating — as well as the flexibility of joining that modeled data instantly to other tables without the limitations of a semantic layer. And we’ve added ways of making the rarefied analytics skills of the data team more accessible to business professionals with a familiar drag-and-drop query builder and powerful filtering capabilities.

Our goal is to allow data teams to move quickly and answer new questions as soon as possible while also addressing everyday, run-the-business reporting and dashboarding needs. Our platform still offers tools to allow data teams to construct reusable pieces and definitions for regular reporting, but the focus is on empowering data analysts to ask new questions and perform ad hoc investigations without having to build a new data model for every hunch. That’s why we allow the data analysts to query data in the same language they use to model it: SQL.

As data teams scale to dive into more serious questions and connect data from more parts of their company, Periscope Data scales with them. Those predictable, routine data questions aren’t the ones that give you an advantage anymore. We know that answers to the most valuable questions can’t wait for a data model to be built. Customers like Flexport are using our platform to make big decisions in real time and maximize revenue.

Backward-Looking Data vs. Forward-Looking Data

An important consideration regarding the two data platforms is which roles are asking the questions that data is answering. With Looker, the focus is on using data experts to prepare data with LookML so business professionals can drag and drop answers to their own questions. The data team is used exclusively to enable their line-of-business coworkers in sales, marketing, customer success and more to explore data on their own.

With Periscope, the data team is empowered to explore their own analysis at deeper levels, using the advanced analysis capabilities that come with R and Python. Those experts can still prepare datasets for business professionals to self service with Data Discovery for business, but what makes Periscope Data unique is that the data team can also ask deeper questions that are only answered with complex analysis.

Their line-of-business colleagues still gets access to those insights and can still ask their own questions, but there are also questions that come from the best data minds at the organization and span across teams. Instead of continuing to answer the questions of what last month’s sales were, you can focus on finding levers to pull to maximize next month's’ sales. With growing exploration around predictive analytics, AI and machine learning, it’s vital to start letting the data analysts and data scientists take the lead.

As your team plans for growth and expansion of data usage, consider who is driving the data strategy. Looker lets you answer more of the same old questions, but Periscope Data opens up new lines of analysis that will continue to add more value as the data industry matures.

Will Data Be Your Differentiator?

If you are satisfied with the current depth of your BI insights, then any basic reporting tool should be sufficient. If you want to invest in data analysis and use data to build a competitive advantage in your industry, Periscope Data is the most powerful modern BI option.

While both Looker and Periscope Data enable business professionals to self-service, Periscope Data equips data experts with much more powerful tools to perform far more complex analysis, including predictive analytics, natural language processing and more to propel their company forward.

Data is only valuable if you can access, analyze and find answers quickly. Today’s best businesses move fast and data insights that aren’t up-to-date aren’t worth acting on. If you have to wait for weeks or months for a model to deliver an insight, the value of that insight begins to disappear. The best BI tools deliver deeper insights at real-time speed. That’s what we’re building at Periscope Data.

If you want to learn more about Looker and Periscope Data, download our free Convince Your Boss Periscope Data is Best For Your Business guide.


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Scott Castle
Scott is the head of product at Pericope Data. He brings over 20 years of experience in software development and product management at leading technology companies including Adobe, Electric Cloud, and FileNet.