Why would I use Shiny instead of Tableau, Spotfire, Qlikview or similar BI tools?


There are many ways to create interactive visualizations, dashboards, and applications for business users who may not have the programming skills or interest to work in R.

Before Shiny, data analysts and scientists would write algorithms / build models in R and then work with web developers to create data visualizations for websites or with BI tool experts to convert their work into proprietary GUI experiences. These choices came with some understandable lossiness, delay, and expense (for development and/or tools), as well as BI tool visualization limitations. However, once in place, these environments could provide rich, useful data exploration experiences with drag/drop and point/click interfaces for business users.

Shiny lets R developers generate interactive data visualizations for the web directly, with as much or as little GUI richness as they choose to invest. It dis-intermediates the relationship between data scientist and business user, resulting in high fidelity iterations and a timely, high quality interactive data experience without (or with much less) web development and without the limitations or cost of proprietary BI tools.

The Shiny web application framework presumes that you will be writing code, and as such, you have the flexibility of pulling in whatever package in R that you want to solve your problem. There are no limits to the types of applications you can build, and no constraint on the visualizations that you can use. You get the benefit of an open source ecosystem for R, along with the open source ecosystem for Javascript visualization libraries, thereby allowing you to create highly custom applications. To our customers, the fact that this whole stack is open source and extensible by their own engineers is an important selling point.

You can host Shiny apps behind your firewall with RStudio Connect or Shiny Server Pro. These professional offerings are horizontally scalable and can support thousands of concurrent users. These products also come with security, support, and many other professional features. Alternatively, you can host Shiny apps on the cloud with shinyapps.io, which offers both free and paid plans. Finally, you can host Shiny apps with open source Shiny Server.

To be clear, Shiny is not a direct substitute for Tableau, Spotfire, Qlikview or other robust BI platforms. However, for the data scientist already familiar with R, the ability to create interactive web applications rapidly from their models is unrivaled with Shiny.