Which is Better... Tableau or Power BI?
A Bit of Tableau and Power BI History
For companies that are just now entering the world of analytics, I am frequently asked my opinion on whether to implement Tableau or Power BI as the corporate standard data visualization tool. For many years, I have regarded Tableau as the gold standard, but times have changed. I’m a long-time user of Tableau and I have watched the progression of this tool over time. Some parts of its progression have been excellent for its users and other changes have added to users’ frustrations.
After Microsoft released Power BI, I carefully watched its capabilities. I knew that the sheer size of Microsoft and its ability to invest in the development of this tool would rapidly progress its capabilities. Within my client base, Numerical Insights supports both Tableau and Power BI.
Tableau previously offered two different desktop versions. They dropped the lower offering and combined desktop Pro with Tableau Prep and an Online or Server license. Tableau Prep is a fairly new offering designed to assist in preparing data and it may have been a response to the data preparation tool that is built within Power BI. Tableau’s offering is called Tableau Creator.
I was excited when I received an email from Tableau announcing monthly pricing. That was a huge pain point for me since my multiple licenses all expire on different dates. Yes, they can align these dates, but the fact that it’s an annual payment is the pain point for those of us who were using Tableau Online to build a product for multiple clients. If Tableau doesn’t truly offer me monthly pricing, then I can’t truly offer my clients using that product monthly pricing. While Tableau publishes a monthly price, since you can only be billed annually, it's really an annual subscription just like it was before.
Compare that to Power BI. I can dial up or dial down the number of licenses I need for Power BI. I am billed monthly based on that number which gives my company a more flexible business model. In fact, the way Power BI licenses are constructed, I require far fewer licenses to share dashboards with multiple groups than I would have needed if I’d used Tableau.
The huge advantage Power BI has right now is the pricing. The price difference for a Power BI license and a Tableau license is substantial. When building dashboards for clients, I still offer both, but the project cost of each method has new clients leaning more in the direction of a Microsoft Power BI solution.
Most new users of data visualization tools will be happy with the basic features of Power BI and Tableau. When it comes to more advanced features like fine-tuning how a dashboard operates, Tableau has a few more features at the moment but, to be honest, most users will never use those features.
Both tools allow users to integrate R scripts and invoke a basic forecast. Both tools have only one forecasting method included. Users can certainly add custom scripts to expand that capability, but unless your work is heavily dependent on forecasting, the basic method is fine. Any work I’ve performed in the past on forecasting projects have been done in Minitab, not Tableau or Power BI.
Integration and the Ability to Share Dashboards
Since Tableau Creator includes a license to either Tableau Online or Tableau Server, this product lends itself well to larger enterprises who can afford to install Tableau Server or Tableau Online and benefit from the vast array of organizational tools inside these environments. Users also benefit from individualization features like marking your favourite dashboards, setting alerts and automatic notifications of updated dashboards. Visually, it's easier to understand the organization of dashboards inside Tableau Server/Online than inside Power BI.
The Integration of Tableau
One thing to watch out for though is that the features available in Tableau Server aren’t all available in Tableau Online. Finding those differences is often something discovered the hard way. Additionally, you will discover that you must stay several versions behind the latest Tableau Creator version since you must keep your desktop version of Tableau the same as your Server or Online version.
Tableau is Tableau is Tableau. What do I mean by that? Tableau is an independent company (or at least it was until June 2019 when Salesforce bought them), so it’s only really connected with itself. You’ll understand what this means after you read the next paragraph on Power BI integration.
The Integration of Power BI with Office 365
Numerical Insights operates on a daily basis with the business version of Office 365. This includes all of the basic programs of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, OneDrive and Teams (which now has Skype for Businesses embedded). When I create a group of people with whom I wish to share a Power BI dashboard, that group automatically appears as a team in the Microsoft Teams app. If I first create that team inside my Microsoft Teams app, it automatically becomes a group workspace inside my Power BI online. Additionally, it’s incredibly simple to integrate data files stored in my company’s OneDrive. These are all integrations that save users and dashboard builders a great deal of time. Tableau doesn’t have the access to create as many simplifying integrations.
Should I Choose Tableau or Power BI?
While Tableau wins the battle for having a few more dashboard features and better organization inside their Server product, most clients don’t need these features. If you have a larger budget to afford the high cost of Tableau, and you need extensive sharing of dashboards across the enterprise, then a Tableau solution might be for you.
For a more cost conscious creation of dashboards and sharing few reports/dashboards with colleagues, Power BI offers a great experience. It's positioned to be cheaper than Tableau and the integration with other Microsoft products is impressive. This product gets better with every release and new features are released monthly.
So, which should you choose? As a provider of dashboards for many clients, at Numerical Insights, we keep up to date on both Tableau and Power BI. If you’e a business or IT technology leader trying to select a corporate standard, your choice will depend on the following questions.
Do I need to share the dashboards that I create?
Do I need to share a large number of dashboards with many users?
Do I need multiple levels of dashboard organization online?
Do I have budget limitations?
Do I need any sophisticated visualization features? Which ones?
Can I benefit from integrating these products with other products?
No tool will meet your needs perfectly, but the questions above will provide substantial guidance on how to select a data visualization tool for your company or organization.