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BI Bake Off and Battling the Opioid Epidemic

by Cindi Howson  |  March 13, 2018  |  2 Comments

Last week we hosted the fourth annual Gartner BI Bake Off in Dallas, Texas. Over 3800 people attended the summit with about 800 arriving early on Sunday for the Bake Off, record attendance for both!

We have tried to use this session as part of the Data for Good movement, using public data sets that support a social cause. We put a call out to the community in January, with so many great ideas. A team of analysts voted on the final topic:  the opioid crisis.  To be honest, the topic made me nervous. Is it too gloomy? Should we just use sales data or more light-hearted, football stats?  And yet, the data and analytics community is a powerful force and these vendors have powerful voices. If we can’t use our talents and expertise to shine a light on this problem, who can?  (In previous years, we have analyzed traffic fatalities, college costs, and homelessness.)

I have to thank the vendors on the panel (Microsoft, MicroStrategy, Qlik, and Tableau) as well as some exhibitors who rose to the challenge. Arguably, these data sets were messier than in prior years. For example, overdoses are captured as a point-in-time (similar in nature to account balances and inventory).  Medicare payouts, meanwhile, are aggregated over time.  And product names have multiple flavors of opioid labeling and descriptions.  For sure, it allowed the vendors to showcase their growing data preparation capabilities.

The Bake Off Behind the Smoke and Mirrors

The Bake Off is equal parts fun and grueling. I mean, seriously, which vendor in their right mind would ever demo in front of arch rivals? And for me, as a moderator, it feels mean to use a timer and interrupt a presenter mid sentence. It’s uncomfortable, too, to challenge a vendor in such a public way on claims or capabilities I think they have glossed over. But that’s my job, just as it is their job to convince you they are the best. There is a high degree of professional respect among all who have ever participated.

2018 Bake Off Panel

Andy Cotgreave (Tableau), Josh Good (Qlik), Cindi Howson (Gartner), Will Thompson (Microsoft), Chris McNabney (MicroStrategy)

We frequently tell you to align your analytics and BI initiatives to the business outcome, so in that spirit, I want to focus first on some of the findings related to the Opioid crisis.

Insights on Opioid Epidemic

There were some consistent findings in all the demos on the descriptive side:

  • The opioid crisis is getting worse, not better.
  • New York had the most over dose deaths associated with opioids specifically.
  • When taking into account population density, West Virginia had the most over dose deaths due to overdoses. It’s hard to say for sure if Opioids are the highest cause as the particular drug is not always captured.

Some insights and demos from the vendors:

  • Microsoft demonstrated its integration of multi-media data to incorporate news articles that detail how some states are suing on manufacturer, Purdue Pharmaceuticals – I also liked the integrated call to action. Access their interactive dashboard here with a blog and videos here.

Microsoft Power BI

  • MicroStrategy found that Purdue Pharmaceutical’s patent on OxyContin expired in 2013; shortly after that was when the huge spike occurred in oxycodone prescriptions and related overdoses. Their dashboard also showed an inverse relationship in GDP and education levels and overdoses.  I find this heart breaking, really.  You can access the video here.

bake off mstr Visual Data Discovery

  • Qlik found that opioid deaths are declining in the state of Washington. What are they doing right that others can learn from? Check out their video demo here. Using their new augmented analytics capabilities, they also discovered that Mississippi had better outcomes, but also that there were no hand-related surgeries with Opioids (a difference with other states). So is this a data quality issue or a difference in treatment approaches?

Qlik Sense


  • Tableau used its scatter chart to identify high prescribers, such as Dr. Mark Murphy, a pain management doctor in Alabama whose opioid claims accounted for greater than 66% of his Medicare claims. He is being investigated. Perhaps some of these other outliers should also be investigated? You can access Tableau’s video here and the interactive dashboard here.


A number of exhibitors also analyzed this data:

  • Tellius found that overdoses in Maryland due to opioid and synthetic opioids are growing at the fastest rate.
  • TIBCO used Spotfire to analyze specialties that most often prescribe opioids. ( I never knew it was hand surgery.)  Further, specialty practitioners such as Acupuncturist in theory can only prescribe drugless medication, and yet they show up as the 5th highest specialty providing prescriptions.  Read more about their analysis here, with embedded videos.

The Best Analytics and BI Tool

When we create the scripted demo, we try to structure it to reveal the strengths and weaknesses of each platform.  We do not expect one clear overall winner, and that was again the case last week. However, I will say, both vendors and attendees threw me some curve balls with unexpected voting results and newly released features.   It is amazing and exciting to see how far some of these products have come in such a short time. It’s a fiercely competitive space with gaps narrowing quickly.

We always end with each vendor showcasing what they think is most cool and innovative.  MicroStrategy demonstrated integration with Amazon Alexa. Both Microsoft and Qlik showed their augmented analytics capabilities, and Tableau demonstrated their new self-service data preparation in project Maestro.

And the MQ

It’s been a busy few weeks at Gartner – with summits in Sydney, Dallas, and next week London. The Analytics and BI Magic Quadrant published in the midst of this. In case you missed it, we did a webinar , now available on demand, to describe the evaluation criteria, key trends, and highlights per Quadrant.  I hope you will avoid these common mistakes when reading any of the Magic Quadrants!



Cindi Howson




Additional Resources

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Cindi Howson
Research VP
1 years at Gartner
25 years IT Industry

Cindi Howson is a Research Vice President at Gartner, where she focuses on business intelligence (BI) and analytics. Her work includes writing about market trends, vendors and best practices and advising organizations on these subjects. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on BI Bake Off and Battling the Opioid Epidemic

  1. […] Good, of BI Bake Off fame, once again showcased his five favorite things from the February to June […]

  2. […] for Good: We use a Data for Good theme in the bake offs (in past years we have analyzed the Opioid epidemic, traffic fatalities, college value, and homelessness).  I would love your ideas on possible data […]

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