Reports

Business Intelligence Tools We Recommend 1/4 – Metabase

BI is useful. It’s pretty. But it never really matters unless you’re getting real value out of it.

In this 4-part series, we’ll briefly explore some the tools we believe are best suited towards helping you get value out of your data. In this first of our series on “Business Intelligence Tools We Recommend” we’re going to cover Metabase – a popular open-source BI tool you can find on GitHub.

In this series we will cover the four following applications:

Overview

Metabase is our favorite business intelligence tool to get up-and-running within a small amount of time relative to other open-source alternatives. It does require some level of technical proficiency to both install, set up a database connection, and then configure the database table relationships between the various tables (ie: one of the major steps you need to do is set up the proper foreign keys between tables which you can do via the Metabase interface but you still need to know what table keys link to what other table keys).

There are many ways to install Metabase, but if you’re looking simply to test it out, have a Mac computer, and don’t want to spend too much time doing installation and configuration you can install Metabase directly on your computer. In this case, Metabase won’t be accessible via a public URL via an internet browser like Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox since it’ll only live on your local machine.

 

You can install Metabase in the following ways using a wide array of cloud platforms:

  • Docker
  • AWS Elastic Beanstalk
  • Heroku
  • Cloud66
  • Kubernetes
  • Metabase for Mac
  • Jar File

 

There are multiple databases that you can connect with Metabase. It’s unfortunate there aren’t any “plug-and-play” connections you can create with SaaS services such as LinkedIn, Google Drive, Twitter..etc but that is usually the case with the open-source business intelligence offerings. Usually, commercial offerings will have multiple integrations with the more popular web applications, one of these is Domo, which we will cover later on in this series.

The following are all the database types Metabase supports and can connect to:

  • BigQuery
  • Crate
  • Druid
  • Google Analytics
  • H2
  • MongoDB
  • MySQL
  • PostgreSQL
  • Amazon Redshift
  • SQLite
  • SQL Server

One of the best features of Metabase is its stunning visualizations and the fact that non-technical users can create them. They can serve to convey data in a simple and fast way, especially when you take a collection of these and group them in a dashboard as you can see below.

Bar Charts

Maps

Once Metabase is set up users can access the Metabase question creator and intuitively create questions without the use of any programming. More technology-savyy users can use basic MySQL to create more complex queries. One of the downsides of Metabase is that it doesn’t possess the level of granularity in creating questions (ie: queries) that Domo, or particularly Tableau, have.

 

Metabase also has the ability to send out updates on specific queries (Metabase calls them “questions”) on a repeating frequency or whenever that particular question changes to either Slack or e-mail. These are called “pulses” in Metabase.

Pros

  1. Free and open-source with an active developer community
  2. Multiple ways by which you can set up Metabase on cloud platforms
  3. Variety of databases you can connect to
  4. Beautiful and intuitive visualizations
  5. Reminders, or “pulses”, that can be programmatically sent out.

Cons

  1. Local version to quickly get up and running is only available for Mac
  2. Inability to create complex questions without the use of MySQL
  3. Need to do some data mapping to get started
  4. No”plug-and-play” connectors you can easily use to integrate data from a SaaS system

 

Overall, We believe that Metabase is one of the best available open-source BI tools currently available on the web. It’s ease of use, great user interface, and strong community support make it a business intelligence tool that can rival, if not outdo, many commercial options available in the market.

 

Do you like Metabase? Dislike it? Is there some other BI application you’d like for us to cover in this series? Drop us a line at solutions@anant.us!

 

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash