The Best Analytics and Data Science Tools to Use Depending Your Needs and Experience Level

How to Choose Which Tool is Most Suited for you?

There are three main ways to analyze and visualize data stored in a database. The optimal method depends on how you plan to analyze your data, your experience level, and your preference.

Analytics and data science tools overview

Spreadsheets

  • Spreadsheets are useful if you are looking to conduct ad-hoc analysis with tools that most people are familiar with. This method is collaboration-friendly and is a great way to convey large amounts of useful information quickly. Spreadsheets are used by beginners and pro users alike.

Business Intelligence Tools

  • BI tools allow you to connect to databases and easily create dashboards to manipulate and visualize large amounts of data. BI tools are good if you need well-defined dashboards that don't change often. BI tools are used by analysts and data scientists and typically requires writing SQL queries from time to time depending on the tool you use.

Developer Tools

  • Developer tools allow you to connect directly to your database, visualize and analyze data using programming languages like Python. It's mostly used by more advanced users, ranging from data analyst, to data scientists and data engineers.

Now, let's take a deeper dive into the three methods and discuss some popular tools used within each subset.

Overview of Top Analytics and Data Science Tools

Spreadsheets

Spreadsheets are the easiest tools to use for data analytics and reporting. Their interface is intuitive and most people learn to use them while in school.

1. Excel


Microsoft Excel

About Excel

Microsoft Excel is a spreadsheet tool that lets you build your charts and spreadsheets to meet your specific needs. It is an extremely versatile and popular tool that allows users to analyze data, build reports, calculate budgets, create lists, invoices, timesheets, and more.

Value Proposition

Microsoft Excel allows users to manipulate, evaluate, organize and analyze any volumes of data within minutes. With its numerous features (discussed below), Microsoft Excel gives you the right tools to enable you to accomplish all your needs.

Features

Microsoft Excel has powerful filtering, sorting, and search tools to easily assist the user in accomplishing a particular objective. Users can work with massive amounts of data, with spreadsheets that can support up to 1 million rows by 16,000 columns. In addition, Excel supports multicore processor platforms for faster calculation of larger datasets. These tools, coupled with graphs, tables, Vlookup, Pivot Tables, conditional formatting, data validation and more, allow information to be conducted efficiently.

Pros

The clearest advantage that Excel has over other competitors is the completeness of the tool offerings. It is also incredibly easy to edit and adapt data directly to Excel spreadsheets. When sharing files, users can share sheets with others and have the other user be able to open it, while other systems that compete with Excel still use Excel’s format as the gold standard.

Cons

The lack of sharing functionality is a downfall for Excel. Tool sharing requires additional software for users to install, which often becomes cumbersome. Users also lack the autonomy to fully customize graphs and diagrams. For such a powerful worksheet, this factor is a large disadvantage.

2. Google Sheets


About Google Sheets

Google Sheets is a cloud-based spreadsheet with functionality similar to Microsoft Excel. It is a collaborative, smart and secure tool that is easily accessible for an entire organization to create and edit data.

Value Proposition

The cloud-based architecture of Google Sheets enables collaboration anytime and anywhere. Users can access, create, and edit spreadsheets from their phone, tablet, or computer - even when there’s no connection. There is also no installation required, as Google Sheets is built on top of Google's infrastructure.

Features

Google Sheets makes it seamless for teams to collaborate in real-time. Users can easily add collaborators to projects, track changes as they occur, receive notifications for edits, and chat with colleagues in the same document. All changes are automatically saved, and offline access allows users to also create, edit and view files.

Pros

Google Sheets is completely free for consumers. You can simply create a spreadsheet through your browser, or download the app for your mobile device. You can also customize your spreadsheets with add-ons from the G Suite Marketplace. Google Sheets supports more than 400 spreadsheet functions that can be used to handle more use cases. For example, users can use a database connector tool to help process data from multiple sources - in CSV, Excel, or any other file format. Users can also begin analyzing rows by using SQL query through these add-ons.

Cons

For those who use spreadsheets for complicated data analysis or visualization, Google Sheets lacks the built-in formulas and functions that Excel offers. There is also no desktop feature, resulting in users occasionally experiencing internet latency for larger datasets.

Bonus: Extending Google Sheets with G Suite Marketplace

Cloud-based reporting tools such as Castodia available in the G Suite Marketplace allow users to connect internal databases to Google sheets, query data, create and automate reports. Check out our blog post on the top 10 Google Sheets Database Connectors.


Castodia Database Connector for Google Sheets

About Castodia

Castodia is a Google Sheets add-on that lets you connect to your database and pull data directly into Google Sheets. User can also auto-refresh data on a custom schedule, with a 1-minute frequency.

Value Proposition

The 1-minute auto-refresh frequency is available across all plans, starting at the basic level. Castodia's scheduler provides flexibility for users, allowing them to create nearly any kind of auto-refresh schedule.

Integrations

Castodia offers database and data warehouse integrations with PostgreSQL, MySQL, MariaDB, Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, Snowflake and Amazon Redshift. Check them out here.

Pros

Competitive pricing, great support, advanced scheduling, and down to 1 minute auto-refresh in all plans. Castodia has top notch support and help pages with video tutorials for every aspect of the product, which makes the process from installing the add-on to editing queries and building custom schedules extremely simple. There is also timely and helpful customer support available through the website, chat, email, video, or scheduled calls.

Cons

The product doesn't currently allow you to write data back to your database.


Auto-refresh

Business Intelligence Tools

Business intelligence tools make it easier to analyze larger amounts of data and data that's living in a database or data warehouse. They allow users to easily slice, filter, and visualize data through dashboards that can be shared with others.

1. Tableau


Tableau dashboard

About Tableau

Tableau is a powerful business intelligence tool for analytics and data visualization. This end-to-end data analytics platform makes organizing, managing, visualizing and understanding data extremely simple for users.

Value Proposition

Tableau is known as the "gold standard" in visual analytics. With its remarkable illustrations and design capabilities, this tool can create beautiful visualizations that update in real-time.

Features

Tableau offers various features to help smooth the user's visualization process. One of the key features is its diverse range of visualization types, ranging from bar and pie charts to bullet and Gantt charts. Tableau also provides pre-installed information for its map feature, including cities, regions, postal codes, and more.

Pros

The tool's user-friendly interface creates an adaptive and intuitive experience for the user. Non-dev users can easily utilize the application due to the short learning curve. To create dashboards, simply use the drag-and-drop feature, which eliminates the need for IT support. Tableau also has a thriving forum community, where you can read knowledgeable insights and receive help on data parsing and reporting from other members.

Cons

Users have reported a poor after-sales support system. Rather than addressing the root problem, the support team mainly advises the purchase of an additional feature. The Tableau server can also be slow to render dashboards with bigger datasets and calculated fields.

2. Looker


Looker Analytics

About Looker

Looker is a business intelligence and big data analytics tool that helps the user analyze real-time data. Looker is used company-wide as a hub for business intelligence data, allowing sales, finance, marketing, and engineering teams to work on their space and create reports and dashboards.

Value Proposition

Looker is the best BI tool for an enterprise-level company, due to its ability to manage large and complex data. Stakeholders across the organization can view and share customized, high and low-level metrics.

Features

The platform is committed to supporting multiple data sources and deployment methods. Looker connects directly to databases and data warehouses including PostgreSQL, MySQL, Oracle, SQL Server, Redshift, Snowflake, Google BigQuery and more. For companies that don't want to host their own back-end database, Looker allows users to connect application-specific data.

Pros

Looker is a user-friendly tool that utilizes a drag-and-drop feature to eliminate the need for advanced coding. This functionality allows all users to use the tool regardless of their experience with BI tools. Looker also allows users to customize visualizations and easily modify saved reports to highlight specific KPIs.

Cons

Users have reported a deep learning curve for the initial onboarding process. An internal data team is commonly needed to set up the platform and to get the rest of the team up to speed. The tool also tends to slow down when running large and complex queries.

3. Mode

Mode Analy

About Mode

Mode is a fully featured BI data analysis and reporting tool for data analysts and business stakeholders. Mode combines a cloud-based SQL editor, collaborative Python & R notebooks, interactive visualizations, and shareable live reports and dashboards.

Value Proposition

This platform is useful for any company with queryable data sources that need fast answers to new questions. The intuitive user interface makes it easy for users to go through the process of querying data to creating insightful dashboards.

Features

Mode connects to databases and data warehouses including PostgreSQL, MySQL, Oracle, MariaDB, Amazon Redshift, Aurora, Snowflake, and more. Mode also integrates internal tools and SaaS products such as Amplitude, Segment, and Airflow. Users can refresh dashboards based on custom schedules, distribute reports through Slack and Email sharing, filter data and use custom themes.

Pros

It is easy and efficient to pull data with Mode's integrated SQL editor and Python notebook to create data visualizations. Mode's HTML editor allows users to make custom tweaks to an existing dashboard. The platform is also easy to set up for non-technical staff, creating a smooth onboarding experience.

Cons

Final users with a lack of SQL background may find the tool difficult to use. Visualization options are harshly limited without R, Python, HTML, CSS and Javascript knowledge.

4. Sisense


About Sisense

Sisense is a business intelligence software and analytics platform. This tool is primarily for BI and data professionals, developers, product managers, and business leaders to help simplify complex data and transform it into powerful visualizations.

Value Proposition

Sisense is an excellent single-stack BI solution, allowing great flexibility for data-modelling within the Sisense platform itself. Users can combine multiple data sources into one centralized location with little to no help from an IT department.

Features

Sisense connects to on-premises and cloud data to power your dashboards. Integrations include Snowflake, Amazon Redshift, Google BigQuery, SQL Server, Google Analytics, Dropbox, Excel, Facebook, Intercom and more. When building interactive dashboards, Sisense provides pre-set themes and gives users the option to schedule and automate reports.

Pros

The platform has a very intuitive UI, resulting in a minimal learning curve for non-technical users. Sisense's drag-and-drop feature offers easy deployment and creation of interactive dashboards. It also allows reports to be shared and accessed across management and teams in the company.

Cons

However, its dashboard permissions system falls as one of Sisense's weak points. Only the owner of folders and dashboards can publish changes, leaving the admins unable to edit each others' dashboards. If an admin changes, the dashboard would need to be replicated in order for the new user to take over.

5. Metabase (open source)

Metabase screenshot

About Metabase

Metabase is an open-source business intelligence and data visualization tool. This tool helps users go through the process of extracting and presenting data in a few clicks. Metabase generates charts and dashboards, performs simple ad hoc queries and displays detailed information about database sets.

Value Proposition

This tool is highly recommended for startups because it is free to use and self deployable. It serves as a visualization tool for easy tracking of various KPIs in real-time, helping team members easily find answers and improve existing questions.

Features

Metabase connects with databases and data warehouses including PostgreSQL, MySQL, MongoDB, SQL Server, AWS Redshift, Google BigQuery and more. The tool allows users to ask questions, organize and filter data, and present the information in the form of charts and graphs. It has a drag-and-drop interface, as well as a SQL writer where queries can be written for advanced users. After setting up the dashboard, users can schedule and send charts or results to their team via email or Slack.

Pros

Metabase has a very intuitive interface to set up queries, as well as a custom interface for writing your own SQL queries. The product is also simple to set up as well, either in your own local environment or within cloud space. Metabase has a dynamic community, where users can help resolve issues and provide insights through the online discussion forum.

Cons

Users have reported low computing power as a limitation to Metabase's usage. Large and complex queries can take up to a few hours, with an occasional error message popping up after running for a long period of time.

6. Power BI

PowerBI screenshot

About Power BI

Power BI unifies data from many sources to create rich, interactive dashboards and reports that provide actionable insights and drive business results. With this BI tool, you can explore your data, find patterns, understand your findings, and create visual analytics for the people who need it.

Value Proposition

Power BI users can create stunning and engaging reports with interactive data visualizations. The drag-and-drop canvas, coupled with hundreds of pre-set data visual templates and custom options, allow users to easily convey and understand their data.

Features

Power BI integrates with a library of data connectors, including PostgreSQL, SQL Server, Azure, Google BigQuery, Salesforce, and more. This is a great tool for reporting, allowing users to create a number of different dashboards for different audiences. Users can also automate reports, eliminating the need for daily manual processes.

Pros

If you're familiar with Microsoft Excel, Power BI is easy to learn and use due to its similar terminology and usability. It has fantastic data visualization capabilities and a simplified user interface, which makes it simple to manipulate raw data and analyze real-time data.

Cons

If you lack experience with Excel, databases, and DAX, there might be a steeper learning curve. Data quality matters as well, as Power BI provides poor data visual suggestions when presented with uncleaned data. Users have also reported performance issues for large and complex data.

Developer Tools

Developer tools are much more powerful and flexible. However they are harder to use due to the higher learning curve. They typically require the ability to write code in Python, R, or other programming languages to manipulate and visualize data.

1. Jupyter Notebook

Jupiter notebook screenshot

About Jupyter Notebook

Jupyter Notebook is an open-source web-based computational notebook that allows users to create and share codes and documents anywhere. The program can be executed on a local desktop requiring no internet access or can be installed on a remote server and accessed through the internet.

Value Proposition

Jupyter Notebook provides an environment where you can document your code, run it, visualize data and see the results without leaving the environment. This makes it a handy tool for performing end-to-end data science workflows – data cleaning, statistical modelling, training ML models, visualizing data, and many other uses.

Features

Jupyter Notebook is a very flexible tool that allows you to create readable analyses. Users can create code, images, videos, LaTex, custom MIME types, and plots within the same notebook. The program also supports 40+ programming languages, including Python, R and SQL, allowing users to have a consistent developer workflow. Notebooks can be shared with teams via email, Dropbox, GitHub, or through the Jupyter notebook viewer.

Pros

This is a great tool if you are looking to conduct fast prototyping and visualize your work. Jupyter Notebook combines codes and explanations with the interactivity of the application, allowing for powerful visual results and shareable insights.

Cons

However, users report that the first time set up is more difficult for Jupyter Notebook than other IDEs. Jupyter notebooks are also hard to maintain. It lacks an effective tool to track changes, making projects that use many notebooks error-prone.

2. Google Colab


Google Colab screenshot

About Google Colab

Colaboratory is a free Jupyter notebook environment that requires no infrastructure setup, and runs entirely (writing, running, and sharing code) on the cloud.

Value Proposition

One major factor in why users love using Colab is the availability of free GPUs and TPUs, which can run continuously for 12 hours. This is sufficient to meet a typical data scientist's computation needs. The ability to choose different types of runtimes is also what makes Colab so popular and powerful. Lastly, there is a low learning curve due to the tool being hosted on Google.

Features

Google Colab is essentially a Jupyter notebook that leverages Google Docs collaboration features. It runs on Google servers so no infrastructure setup is required. Moreover, the notebooks are saved in Google Drive account, allowing for simplicity when sharing, scrolling, and organizing code.

Pros

The tool is easy to use and pre-built with lots of python libraries, allowing developers to run and develop python code. Google Colab allows users to execute codes for 12 hours without interruptions as well.

Cons

Occasionally, there are issues when calling in modules that are not already pre-built into Colab. It is also difficult to work with larger datasets, as you would need to download and store them in Google Drive. The basic plan has 15 GB of free space, but any additional storage would require monthly or annual payments towards Google. There is also no live editing, so two users cannot write code at the same time. This leads to a lot of up and back sharing for teams.

Conclusion

And there you have it! Three types of reporting tools to help users analyze, visualize and share data across various business functions.

Make sure to check out our product, Castodia, one of the options discussed above. The Google Sheets add-on allows you to analyze pull data from your local database, run and schedule queries, and auto-refresh data down to a 1-minute frequency. It is compatible with MySQL, PostgreSQL, SQL Server, MariaDB, and Oracle databases and Redshift and Snowflake data warehouses.

Feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions!

Jimmy E Chan profile picture blog
Nicole Fu
Marketing
nicole@castodia.com

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