Looker 101: Benefits, Uses, and More

Business intelligence (BI) tools help companies organize and make sense of their data. Looker, acquired by Google in 2019 and now part of the Google Cloud Platform, has become a frontrunner among BI tools. But, if you’re coming from a popular BI platform like Power BI or Tableau, Looker can be a sharp departure from how they approach business data analytics.

Let’s jump right in.

What Is Looker?

Like other BI tools, Looker is a cloud-based platform that takes business data and visualizes it. However, Looker goes two steps further than other options. As a result, it gives companies a unified, single source of truth for all their business metrics, and enables these metrics to be used to drive business processes and actions.

We believe reports and pretty dashboards are a small subset of the ROI from investments in BI.

How Does Looker Work?

A unique feature of Looker is its modeling language called LookerML. This lightweight, flexible markup language gives teams the power to define the sources for their data and how it’s shared as well as how it’s combined with other data to compute business metrics as a single source of truth. As a result, anyone within the organization can create reports and dashboards and build upon this unified source of data and metrics.

Looker is compatible with transactional databases like Oracle and MySQL and the analytical data stores BigQuery, Snowflake, and Redshift. Add-ons for custom data applications and experiences are also available.

Looker vs. Tableau vs. Power BI: How Are They Different?

While we don’t list every difference and similarity here, understanding how Looker, Power BI, and Tableau approach data analytics is important for picking the right platform for your team.

Here’s a quick comparison:

Looker Power BI Tableau
  • Customizable based on company needs
  • Role-based licensing
  • Custom pricing for larger deployments
  • Role-based licensing. Costs depend on the number of users and access level
Cloud Capabilities
  • Can be deployed on-premises or through any public cloud environment
  • Multi-cloud friendly
  • The only public cloud service it can be deployed through is Microsoft Azure. A desktop component is sometimes required
  • On-premises solution available
  • Can be deployed on-premises or through any major public cloud environment or through their own cloud service. Like Power BI, a desktop component is sometimes required
  • Highly customizable & collaborative with parallel publishing
  • Requires a built-out semantic model for storing business logic and metrics during setup
  • Self-serve
  • No parallel publishing
  • Requires upfront technical setup & support
  • An intuitive, feature-rich interface
  • No parallel publishing
Modeling Layer
  • LookML code defines reusable metrics
  • Managed through GitOps like Application Code
  • Metrics are computed within reports, without governance for consistent definition and source of truth
  • Metrics are computed within reports, without governance for consistent definition and source of truth
  • Looker exposes metrics computed within LookML via REST API
  • Customers use the API to trigger automated actions and changes in how business processes function
  • REST API for managing reports, admin, and embedding reports in other contexts
  • No concept of using the API to access critical business metrics
  • REST API is used for managing reports and downloading them as spreadsheets
  • No concept of using the API to access critical business metrics

Why Use Looker?

Nowadays, companies need flexibility and the ability to customize for technical users and business users to collaborate. Looker provides both. Advantages include:

Multi-cloud friendly: Looker’s multi-cloud capabilities allow you to easily change where you choose to deploy Looker and which underlying cloud database with no impact on the end user’s experience.

Customizable: Developers can also use the Looker platform to build and deploy their own custom end-to-end applications. Or, they can start with Looker pre-built applications such as web analytics, marketing analytics, and sales analytics.

Metrics Governance and Action: BI tools have been around for multiple decades. They have all failed to live up to their promise to help businesses make data-driven decisions. Looker solves both the governance problem of where and how metrics are calculated AND provides the API necessary to do something with your data.

How to Get Started with Looker

Before adopting Looker, first look at where your company’s data is stored, how data is used, stakeholder needs, and address any compliance and data governance concerns. Connect with a 66degrees cloud expert to see if Looker is a good fit for your team and business.

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