Power BI vs. Tableau debate finally settled

Data visualization has multiple applications, ranging from inventory and sales management, education, management dashboards, banking, and financial services. Implemented and used correctly, it can help your company operate more efficiently and profitably.

The primary drivers for your return on investment for data visualization-based applications are closely aligned to the way they are able to easily identify weak areas of business performance, help decision makers understand customer behavior, predict sales performance, and improve product placement. No, it cannot make you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you need to do that yourself!

Some of the biggest challenges faced by organizations related to big data and visualization include: meeting the need to process large volumes of data rapidly, producing descriptors that consolidate a deep understanding of the data, maintaining data quality, displaying results in a meaningful manner, and dealing with outliers.

The business intelligence (BI) market is mature and is marked by the presence of a number of vendors including Cognos, SAS, Microsoft Power BI, Oracle, GoodData, SAP, Tableau, and Microstrategy.

Power BI vs Tableau Debate Settled Finally

For this article, we will take a closer look at business intelligence products from Microsoft and Tableau.

A research report from Info-Tech Research Group analyzed business intelligence applications from various vendors and evaluated various aspects. This report categorizes Microsoft’s Power BI product as  Good Overall, Good on Usability, Exemplary on Affordability, and Adequate on Architecture. Microsoft as a vendor was rated Good Overall, Exemplary on Viability, Good in Terms of Focus, Good in Terms of Reach, and Good in Terms of the Channel.

The same report categorized the Tableau product as Good Overall, Exemplary on Usability, Good in Terms of Affordability, and Good in Terms of Architecture. It also categorized Tableau as a vendor as Good Overall, Good on Viability, Exemplary in Terms of Focus, Good on Reach, and Good in Terms of the Channel.

Power BI

Power BI dashboard

When it launched in 2013, the Power BI platform was nothing more than a bouquet of Excel add-ons combined with a cloud service for sharing datasets, reports, charts, and dashboards. Power Pivot supports the creation and modification of pivot tables, Power View permitting users to visualize and explore data and Power Query being a data manipulation tool used for joining and preparing data for analysis. It was not particularly user friendly either, given that it was not accessible to users without Excel skills.

Power BI became a full-blown offering in 2015 with Microsoft announcing what are now termed as the cloud Power BI service for sharing dashboards and charts, combined with the Power BI desktop, a desktop data visualization tool. Power BI represents an effort to take business intelligence mainstream and make it available to a new category of users. All the functionality embedded in Power Pivot, Power Query, and Power View are bundled into a Power BI desktop.

Power BI desktop is a data-visualization platform that combines all of the functionality earlier provided via Excel add-ons in a user friendly, drag-and-drop type environment. Power BI desktop also embraces a Q&A-based natural language interface and Cortana-driven speech capability.

With the latest features in place, Power BI is basically comparable with Tableau with regards to ease of use. The incredible aspect of Power BI is that it is just one element of a large business analytics service offering by Microsoft, being a part of Office 365.

The suite consists of connectors for SQL server analysis-related services, creation of real-time dashboards with Azure stream analytics, and support for multiple Azure database sources. Microsoft has also incorporated Revolution Analytics, which is an enterprise environment used for open-source analytics with the analytical language R.


Tableau smartsheet

Tableau provides the Tableau desktop in order to perform authoring. Tableau desktop is a standalone environment that allows you to perform analysis either against the in-memory database or external data sources such as cloud-based data sources, databases, and spreadsheets with the goal of bringing clarity from what can be a chaos of data. No, it cannot get you into Madison Square Garden for free. You will have to buy your own ticket to watch all the chaos at a Knicks game.

The Tableau server acts as a central facility for delivering visualizations, data access, managing user access, and enforcing security. The server is able to distribute visualizations through the browser to just about any device that supports a web browser. The Tableau server has a scalable architecture and the Tableau Public free service supports the serving up of millions of visualizations every day.

Tableau also provides integration with R, which gives advanced users the ability to add predictive analytics and statistical analysis. Tableau, however, is not a true enterprise business intelligence solution and is mostly used by several suppliers as a data-visualization front end. One significant weakness with Tableau is how it integrates data from multiple sources in preparation for analysis.

Some other points to note about Tableau:

  • It can visualize very large datasets. It is stronger on the visualization side rather than on the data manipulation side.
  • Once inside Tableau, a dashboard shows the basic values of the user’s data. From this dashboard, users can then download a worksheet to drill down into datasets. After that process, various visualizations can be applied to the data.
  • Tableau focuses more on the front end with regards to analysis of the data. It gives users methods to answer questions during investigation of data visualizations. The solution can display basic trends, use “what if” queries and perform dynamic visualizations of data components for comparison purposes.

Power BI vs. Tableau

Feature to feature, there is simply no comparison between Power BI and Tableau, as Power BI is more fully featured. Having said that, Tableau has its own specific advantages owing to the fact that it is a self-contained data-visualization platform with sophisticated visualization capabilities and marvelous scalability. While Power BI can also be used as a self-contained environment, it does generally employ the use of elements related to broader Microsoft architecture.

The most critical part of making a choice between Power BI and Tableau is whether data visualization is the prime focus of the analytics that your business seeks to run. If this is the case, Tableau is the right choice.

But if your business is looking for a platform that would provide broad analytic capabilities in terms of predictive modelling, optimization, and reporting, the Power BI suite would be a much better choice. Some other significant advantages of the Power BI suite are that it comes integrated with Microsoft products, has lower total cost of ownership, and has excellent usability.

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14 thoughts on “Power BI vs. Tableau debate finally settled”

  1. I find it interesting that you say Power Bi as lower total cost of ownership, considering the rating Gartner published last year (even before Power BI started to charge for sharing) on BI platoforms’ TCO – Tableau was rated the most cost-effective solution and by far – rated by customers…

    1. Benjamin Roussey

      Appreciate your comment. I have checked the 2017 Gartner Magic
      Quadrant copy for BI tools, and see Microsoft and Tableau closely
      placed. Power BI plans start from around $10 per month per use, and
      Tableau costs more than $35. Power BI offers 10 GB space compared to
      Tableau’s 100 GB, but even if a user needs some space, Power BI
      will still prove more affordable. Total cost of ownership, of course,
      would depend on the usage assumptions, which I could not find in the
      Gartner report summaries I checked.

      Have a terrific day.

  2. With Power BI having new releases monthly, I am curious if any of these items have been addressed and fixed with Power BI? Or for Tableau as well.

  3. Nice reading what I am missing here is the point of accessing multiple datasources and with that analyze them immediately. I have use both products in projects and can say that with Tableau I was fully flexible in terms of connecting and creating dashboards from multiple different sources.

    Also what is missing the collaboration part – with Tableau Server you the user have access and the flexibility to go deeper and even adjust the dashboards. Whereas Power BI is really powerful when you integrate into other MS solutions like MS Sharepoint or MS365.

    What are your thoughts?

    1. Benjamin Roussey

      Hello Bhagat,

      Thanks for your comment, particularly for adding to the comparison with your insights on multi-source dashboards in Tableau. I realize it’s a bit of a trouble managing such requirements in Tableau. Let’s see if 2018 brings an upgrade that can take care of this little gap.

      Again, thanks for your time.

  4. I suspect you are being paid by microsoft. Tableau is the much more stable and fully featured option. As a user of both I am astounded at your conclusion.

    1. Benjamin Roussey


      Credence is given to both. Tableau is garnered plenty of respect in my article a year ago. No, I am not paid by Microsoft.

      I hope your day is going well.

  5. I also use both and if I need to do any kind of deep analysis or data manipulation of large data sets I find Tableau to be slow and clunky, Power BI is a clear winner for me. Like the article says it all depends on what you want to accomplish if you want visuals as your main goal Tableau, if you want to deal with huge data sets and manipulate the data in the tool Power BI blows Tableau away. Power BI like the name implies is a business intelligence solution Tableau is not, nor do they even try to claim they are. SO while some aspects of the two are similar they really can’t be compared overall as they are meant to fill different needs, and too me Power BI fills more of my needs.

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