Tableau v. Power BI

Today we’re examining a matchup between two of the top business intelligence tools, Tableau and Power BI. We care about data visualization because we as humans understand things best when they’re visually well descriptive and interesting. This extends to you, your clients, your boss or your coworkers – it doesn’t matter how good your data is if no one understands it. This is where Tableau and Power BI come in. 

What is Tableau?

Tableau is a data visualization software that is used for data science and business. Tableau can create wide ranges of different visuals, specifically ones engineered to be interactive. It comes with tools that can format data in the initial stage into pictorial representations that change as users drill down the data. The major work of Tableau is to connect and extract data that is stored in various places and from any platform including Excel, PDF, Oracle or Amazon Web Services.

The Tableau product suite includes:

  • Tableau Server
  • Tableau Desktop
  • Tableau Reader
  • Tableau Online
  • Tableau Public

The product suite can be split into Developer Tools, which include Tableau Public and Tableau Desktop, and focus on designing charts, dashboard reports and more. Sharing Tools, which are the other parts of the product suite, focuses on sharing the products created by the Developer Tools. A unique aspect of Tableau is its emphasis on collaboration – items from the Desktop can be published to the Server, which allows end-users to access the files from all locations. 

Strengths of Tableau:

Tableau is greatly used because it can analyze data quickly and generates data as dashboards or worksheets that make it easy to understand and work with. Tableau is lauded for its: 

  • Visualizations allow users to work with random data and present it in many different aesthetic ways and allow analysts to provide greater context, ways of drilling down data and exploring data at a minute level. Tableau also allows users to switch between visualizations for the same data sets to determine which conveys results better.
  • In-depth insights allow users to get hypothetical visualizations in response to “what if” queries, and add and remove components for comparison and analysis
  • Ability to work with diverse data sources such as Excel, G Suite, different data warehouses, or files within the cloud, big data, and more. This is one of the strongest selling points of Tableau – not many business intelligence tools have this capability to the extent that Tableau does. 

Weaknesses of Tableau

Despite Tableau’s power, it’s an investment in time and money (a lot of money). If you want to utilize Tableau to its fullest potential, you’re going to need a strong data warehouse, which can be a costly endeavor if you don’t already have one. So in summary, if you only want something to generate reports, Tableau can be overkill.

What is Power BI?

Microsoft Power BI facilitates user-generated, agile data analysis with business intelligence analytics that are managed in the cloud. The tools within Power BI include Power Query to extract and transform, Power Pivot to model and analyze and Power View and Map to visualize data. Power BI gets points for convenience by compiling separate tools into an all-in-one application and removes the need for programs like Excel and Office. 

Strengths of Power BI

Power BI puts business intelligence creation in the hands of data analysts, makes it easy to use and understand, and lauds itself as self-service BI. The dashboard visualizations are best in class and the software is updated monthly based on the needs of the Microsoft community, so problems can resolve themselves in real-time. Power BI is able to achieve a balance between performance and ease of use, and the scripting language DAX is relatively simple and similar to Excel. One of the biggest selling points of Power BI is that it's deeply rooted in the existing Microsoft Stack and can easily be connected to external sources. Power BI is also a smart software and remembers your data preparation steps and automatically repeats them during data refreshes, which eliminates the need for manual entry. It’s also easy to make appealing visuals with Power BI, regardless of your creativity and UX experience.  

Some quick selling points include: 

  • Quick Insights where powerful cloud algorithms can pull insights right out of your dataset and give you a thorough analysis of your data without you needing to even open it in Power BI desktop or build any other dashboards. 
  • Natural Language Query allows users to literally type a question and receive an answer either in a default or user-specific form. This is useful for executives with specific questions or users unfamiliar with Power BI who just need some additional assistance. 
  • Personalized Dashboards that can host individual visualizations from various different reports or entire reports at once that can be shared with other users. 
  • Alerts allow employees to track specific measures as a part of a trial process, to watch inventory or a variety of reasons. 

Overall, Power BI excels as software because it’s cheap and easy to use, making it the perfect tool for someone who needs a bare minimum data visualization program. 

Weaknesses of Power BI

There are a few weaknesses of Power BI, which I’ll list below. 

  • Power BI reports cannot be designed to be entry specific dashboards, like for one account. The dashboards are limited to only aggregate views of entity data.
  • Unlike Tableau, there are only a few limited stat sources that permit real-time connections to Power BI reports and dashboards. Additionally, dashboards and reports can only be shared with users within the same email domain or are included in your office 365 Tenant.
  • While a dataset can include multiple data types, one report or dashboard can only source data from a single dataset. 
  • There’s a 1 GB limit per dataset – an easy workaround is just to create multiple datasets, but still inconvenient if you need to aggregate large swaths of data at once.

As we continue in the comparison, now is where you see how the strengths and weaknesses of both Power BI and Tableau begin to reflect their scope as products.

Comparison

Neither Power BI nor Tableau is a bad product, it solely depends on if they fit your business’ needs or not. Both Tableau and Power BI create sophisticated visualizations that can help with a myriad of information, but the products vary in their ability to connect to different data sources and their customer service/digital resources for users with Tableau slightly edging out Power BI in both categories. However, there’s no doubt Power BI had Tableau beat when it comes to cost. 

With Tableau’s new subscription offerings, the most expensive full-access plan is $70 per user/month and the cheapest is $35 per user/month. There’s also a 14-day free trial for users who want to test the product before taking the plunge. Power BI also has subscription offerings, but their cheapest offering starts at $9.99 per user/month with a 60-day free trial. Interestingly, Power BI’s Premium package’s pricing is based on a capacity pricing so that you’re only getting charged for nodes you use per month. 

So, to juxtapose cost and price and to answer the question of which software reigns supreme… it really depends on what you need the software for. With Tableau, you’re paying for what you get (which is a LOT) and is the worthy investment if you have a team ready to take on such a high-powered Business Intelligence tool. However, if your business doesn’t have that budget or need to spend over an hour on data visualizations a day, Power BI will certainly meet and exceed those needs.