September 9, 2015

Tableau vs. Spotfire: Business Intelligence for the Non-IT Guru

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Businesses in every industry are under increasing pressure to mine their data — to spot trends, patterns, outliers, and even predict the future — in order to maximize profits and beat competitors. That’s probably why the business intelligence software market is at $17.9 billion and counting.

Business intelligence (BI) tools pull in raw data and turn out actionable insight. They use advanced reporting and powerful visualization to help executives and analysts make better decisions, such as whether or not to launch a new customer experience initiative, give more employee feedback, or drill for oil in a third-world country.

ALSO READ: Domo vs. Tableau: Choosing the Right Business Intelligence Solution

Tableau and Spotfire are two of the biggest names in modern business intelligence. Unlike the usual big-box suspects (SAP, Oracle, IBM), they’re designed to make BI accessible to the non-IT-guru. But if you’re en route to purchasing BI for your business, you need to make a choice. Today we will look at Tableau vs. Spotfire to give you a better understanding of each platform.

Which Business Intelligence solution is right for your company?

Tableau vs. Spotfire: Which is better for your needs?

tableau vs. spotfire

In this post, we’ll help you answer that question by taking a detailed look at each product and comparing them based on systems and pricing, dashboards, analytics capabilities, and source integrations. First, let’s take a look at each company.

Tableau was founded in Mountain View, California in 2003. Since then, they’ve grown to 23,000 customers and about $413 million in revenue. Spotfire has been around since the early 90s but didn’t really take off until 2007, when the brand was acquired by TIBCO Software. An exact customer count is unavailable, but at $1 billion in revenue, it’s safe to say TIBCO has a larger product portfolio and a larger market share.

Both products target a wide swath of customers and industries, including:

  • Financial services
  • Science and agriculture
  • Healthcare
  • Manufacturing
  • HR
  • Media
  • Consumer goods
  • Education
  • Retail
  • Energy and utilities
  • IT
  • Telecommunications
  • Logistics/transportation
  • Public sector
  • Nonprofit

Tableau Power Users: SpaceX, Deloitte, Coca-Cola, Dell

Spotfire Power Users: Proctor and Gamble, Cisco, NetApp, Shell

Systems and Pricing

Tableau and Spotfire are available in several different configurations to match the number of users you have and whether you want the software locally installed or hosted online. If you plan to have more than a few users and deploy the solution across your company, you’ll need to request a custom price quote.

Both vendors use a three-tier pricing structure, but they differ on a few points. Tableau’s software is available in Desktop, Online, and Server editions. Here’s a quote from one of their sales reps explaining the differences:

“Tableau Desktop is used to visualize and analyze data, create workbooks, visualizations, dashboards, and stories. Desktop can then publish these to Tableau Server [or] Tableau Online.

Server and Online allow you to safely distribute [assets] to the right people. You can edit workbooks, visualizations, dashboards, and stories in Server or Online, but you can’t produce new ones. Server and Online can be used as high-performance data repositories for Desktop users.”

Spotfire is available in Desktop, Cloud, and Platform editions:

spotfire editions


Unlike Tableau’s Desktop edition, which requires an upfront license, Spotfire’s Desktop edition offers annual subscription pricing, even though it’s installed on-premise. Spotfire’s portfolio also offers more continuity between tiers —  you can actually build dashboards and analytics applications in each edition, whereas Tableau primarily uses its Online and Server editions to distribute and edit work created in Tableau Desktop.

Both products can scale access from a single power user to an entire company, and even stakeholders outside of the company (investors, customers, partners, etc.).


The dashboard is the linchpin of a BI platform. Dashboards give users the ability to organize data sources, reports, and objects in one central location that (ideally) stays updated in real time.  

Tableau lets users easily create interactive dashboards using custom filters and drag-and-drop functionality. Dashboards can be shared through Tableau Online or Server, or embedded into wikis, corporate portals, or web pages. Options include executive dashboards, operational dashboards, dashboard applications (e.g., a “home finder” web app), and ad-hoc dashboards. Here’s an example of a Tableau Customer Dashboard: 

tableau dashboard

Spotfire offers a similar dashboard experience: intuitive design and the ability to publish completed dashboards through a zero-footprint web client. For less experienced users, the Spotfire Recommendations wizard can suggest best-practice visualizations based on the data you select (an advantage over Tableau, which doesn’t offer much help with templates or default object placement). With the Spotfire 7 update, users can also apply visual themes and branding to dashboards:

spotfire dashboad

Reporting and Analytics Capabilities

Tableau and Spotfire are both incredibly powerful when it comes to processing raw data and spitting out clear business insight and visualizations. They both use a hybrid model that consists of in-memory and in-database (or “live connect,” as Tableau calls it) analytics architectures. Translation? They adapt to your local processing power and database size and sync data quickly under almost any circumstance.


Tableau covers data discovery, data visualization, geocoding, survey analysis, time-series analysis, social analytics, and more. It integrates with the R statistical programming language, and provides mobile BI access with touch-optimized features for tablets.

Unique Feature:

  • Data Preparation: Let’s you connect to “messy” spreadsheets and fix/configure data while you sync. Pivots cross-tab data back into normalized columns, removes extraneous titles, text, and images, and reconciles metadata fields.


Spotfire’s analytics capabilities include interactive data visualization, diagnostic analytics, data augmentation, predictive/prescriptive analytics, content analytics, real-time event analytics, location-based analytics, and other areas.

Unique Feature:

    • Content analytics: Decipher unstructured, text-based data from any source (e.g., CRM case notes, support tickets, weblogs, social media feeds, emails); mix unstructured content with other data to understand root cause and identify new opportunities.
spotfire content dashboard

Data Connectors

Business intelligence applications are built on the idea of aggregating and interpreting data from outside sources, so they’re only useful insomuch as they integrate with data sources and other business systems (like CRM or marketing automation), servers, and databases.

Each vendor provides a set of native data connectors, which means it can seamlessly pull data from those sources without custom configuration or coding.

Here’s what you’ll get from Spotfire:

spotfire data sources


A few of Spotfire’s connectors for the Platform edition aren’t specified on this list (which represents the Desktop edition): Apache Spark SQL, Cisco Information Server, and OData.

And here’s what you’ll get from Tableau:

tableau connectors list As you can see, both solutions provide a good mix of big data, relational database, and cloud integrations. Any databases or applications not listed would presumably require API integration and/or middleware to sync.

Tableau does offer a handful of native connectors that Spotfire does not: DataStax, EXASOL, Firebird, Google Analytics and BigQuery, Microsoft Azure, and SAP Sybase. 

* * *

In discovering what Tableau vs. Spotfire can offer, they both give businesses in any industry the ability to mine their databases for insight, visualize information, and make better strategic decisions. Both are scalable, widely-integrated, and available on-premise or in the cloud. Your decision will mostly depend on what databases and cloud applications support your business, and what kind of deployment is best for your team.  

But don’t forget to consider other business intelligence solutions. Tell TechnologyAdvice about your industry, goals, and desired features, and we’ll show you a list of custom recommendations.

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    • Aleks Peterson

      Mark, Thanks for taking the time to comment. We’ll take a look and update the post next week!

  1. Junjappa

    Having worked with both the tools, I have a difference of opinion, I felt Tableau show me feature is much better than Spotfire’s recommendation wizard
    in Spotfire you do not get WYSIWYG, when developing dashboard in Spotfire Desktop ( Analyst ) it looks perfect but when you publish the dashboard you get the scroll bar, that’s not the case with tableau
    in spotfire due to tool bar in the Tableau server the length of the dashboard gets adjusted as a result, as a result you will see scroll bar which is not the case in Tableau
    biggest draw back with Spotfire is its inability to create floating objects, example if we have limited space in the dashboard i want to create the color legends as floating objects to that it does not impact my visualization its not possible in spotfire we have to purchase additional 3rd party plugin
    tho we could use scripting, it limits the purpose of catering to self service BI

  2. Ricardo

    We have both tools experience, Tableau is a nice excel on steroids for non statistical background people that belive a any forecaste or trend is equals to a quadratic regression (tableau speech), whe we used with a lot of users (for instance with Teradata or Oracle) you need to create views to accelerate the results otherwise the core license does not performs, even when you haver basic dashboard; so yes, you are a Mac user you may get nice dashboarding for basic experience, but if you need to use any non basic analytics does not works as they mention and the support has no answer my customer has 1 year old request for support still unanswered; regardind spotfire, yes it is little less intuitive, but much more stable and when using analytics or other products it really scales and performs, much of the data integration and analytics on the fly works perfectly without using “views”, then makes it faster and cheaper for total cost of ownership; so it depends in our experience : basic dashboarding using mac go for tableau, want better analytics scope and performance ( you need to think a little, unless you only want regression or other basic stuff) definitely go for Spotfire. Actually Birst performs better than tableau and it is free…