The world of data visualization and analytics is moving fast with new players hitting the market and established brands absorbing smaller up and comers every day. To stay at the forefront of the data analytics field, a tool must have that special mix of power, ease of use, brand recognition, and price. Both of these tools have this secret sauce, which is why many teams find themselves comparing Microsoft Power BI vs Tableau when looking for the perfect data analytics tool.
Power BI uses the existing Microsoft systems like Azure, SQL, and Excel to build data visualizations that don’t break the bank. This is a great choice for those who already work within the Microsoft products like Azure, Office 365, and Excel. It’s also a fairly good low-price option for SMBs and startups that need data visualization but don’t have a lot of extra capital.
Tableau specializes in making beautiful visualizations, but much of their advertising is focused on corporate environments with data engineers and bigger budgets. There’s a public (free) version of the tool, but with limited capabilities. The more you pay the more you can access with Tableau, including benchmarked data from third parties. Also has a non-profit tool and versions for academic settings.
Overall, Power BI sits at a lower price point than Tableau, with a free version, a monthly subscription, and a scalable premium version with a higher price. Although it’s a Microsoft product, Power BI users don’t have to pay directly for Office365 to gain access to the tool’s admin center interface. However, there will be charges for subscription and users. The way Power BI is set up within the Microsoft ecosystem makes it pretty affordable, especially for those companies who are already deeply invested in Microsoft software.
Tableau’s pricing is a little more confusing, likely because they just moved from a bulk purchase to subscription model. The current pricing is a tiered system that distinguishes between connections to files vs. third party apps. If you already have a lot of data on spreadsheets and want to spend the time exporting your data from third party tools before uploading to Tableau, the pricing per user is fairly reasonable but still higher than what you get with Power BI. However, if you want direct connections to your third party apps like Marketo, Google Analytics, Hadoop, or any Microsoft product, you’ll need to pay for the Professional edition.
Power BI comes in three forms: desktop, mobile, and service. Depending on your role and needs you might use one or all of these services to build and publish visualizations. The most basic set up is an Azure tenant (which you can keep even after your trial is over) that you connect to your Power BI through an Office365 Admin interface. Although that sounds daunting, most companies who use the software will already have the framework in place to get up and running quickly. Power BI has fairly easy to use, and you can quickly connect existing spreadsheets, data sources, and apps via built-in connections and APIs.
Tableau lets you set up your initial instance through the free trial, which gives you full access to the parts of the tool. From there opening dashboard you’ll see a list of all of your available connections. Start connecting your data sources, and then you can start building a worksheet where your visualizations will live. If you’ve built your visualizations in Tableau Desktop, you can share them with your team via Tableau Server or Tableau Online.
Power BI has API access and pre-built dashboards for speedy insights for some of the most-used technology out there like salesforce, Google Analytics, email marketing, and of course Microsoft products. You can also connect to services within your organization or download files to build your visualizations. In order to connect any data to Power BI, use the “Get Data” button. You’ll need to go through a short authorization process in order to get fully connected.
Tableau really invested heavily in integrations and connections to big tools and widely-used connections. You can view all of the connections included with your account level right when you log into the tool. Tableau’s connection is a little more involved, because you’ll need to identify which data to pull into the tool when you make the connection. Because of this it might be helpful to understand what data you want to look at and why before you start making those connections.
Power BI has real-time data access and some pretty handy drag and drop features. The whole tool is built to speed up time to visualizations, and it gives even the most novice users access to powerful data analytics and discovery without a whole lot of prior knowledge and experience. The real-time data access means that teams can react instantly to business changes fed to Power BI from the CRM, project management, sales, and financial tools. Considering live data access is where most SaaS products and especially most dashboard products are moving toward, Power BI certainly has the leg up here.
Tableau’s features are just as powerful, but some of them a little less intuitive, being hidden behind menus. Forecasting based off of past behavior, calculations to transform existing data based on your requirements. Tableau gives you live query capabilities and extracts, which is particularly helpful for data analysts who are used to stopping all work for the query process.
The interface uses a drag and drop table view to ask questions of the data. You put your data types in the x and y axes, and then Tableau instantly builds your visualization. The company line is that they “keep the focus on your questions,” but this really feels like Tableau lives somewhere in between query-based (and developer-dependent) data visualization and drag and drop. They balance it nicely, however, because despite the UX’s somewhat cluttered appearance, Tableau is fairly easy to use, as long as you’re familiar with your data sets or are willing to spend some time studying.
Power BI has native apps so you can access data from anywhere, alerts about changes. You can also use the publish to web feature that lets you add your visualizations directly to your blog or website. And don’t worry if the tool doesn’t make sense at first: there’s extensive online support with guided learning and documentation including the Power BI YouTube channel, webinars.
One of the coolest features included in Power BI is the natural language query tool. This is like Google for your data. You can literally ask questions of the data like “how much do we invest in each customer?” or “where do our highest value customers live” and the natural language query tool will
Tableau also has extensive support tools that teach you everything from the basics of setting up the software through initial data analysis. You can access and manipulate data via the mobile app, and whole teams can collaborate around shared dashboards. Tableau doesn’t have a natural language query, but the company did introduce Hyper in early 2018 with the release of Tableau 10.5, which claims to than other query tools.
When comparing Microsoft Power BI vs. Tableau, you really have to think about who will be using these tools. Power BI is built for the common stakeholder, not necessarily a data analyst. The interface relies more on drag and drop and intuitive features to help teams build their visualizations. It’s a great addition to any team that needs data analysis but without getting a degree in data analysis first.
Tableau is similarly powerful, but the interface isn’t quite as intuitive, which makes it a more difficult to use and learn. Those with data analysis experience will have less trouble cleaning and transforming data into visualizations, but those just getting their feet wet will likely feel overwhelmed with the uphill battle to learn some data science before making visualizations.
Overall, we call this Power BI vs Tableau duel a draw. Power BI wins for ease of use, but Tableau wins in speed and capabilities. Small businesses with limited financial and human resources should start out with Power BI, especially if they already invest in Microsoft products. However, medium and enterprise companies that prioritize data analytics and have the human capital to support them will be better off with Tableau.
Power BI vs. Tableau aren’t your only options for data visualization and data analysis tools. If you’re ready to search for your next business intelligence tool, fill out our Product Selection Tool or contact us directly for a free, 5-minute consultation.