10 min read

Business professionals are on a constant look-out for a powerful yet cost-effective BI tool to ramp up the operational efficiency within organizations.

Two tools that are front-runners in the Self-Service Business Intelligence field currently are Tableau and Power BI. Both tools, although quite similar in nature, offer different features.

Most experts say that the right tool depends on the size, needs and the budget of an organization, but when compared closely, one of them clearly beats the other in terms of its features. Now, instead of comparing the two based on their pros and cons, we’ll let Tableau and Power BI take over from here to argue their case covering topics like features, usability, to pricing and job opportunities.

For those of you who aren’t interested in a good story, there is a summary of the key points at the end of the article comparing the two tools.

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The clock strikes 2’o’clock for a meeting on a regular Monday afternoon. Tableau, a market leader in Business Intelligence & data analytics and Power BI; another standout performer and Tableau’s opponent in the field of Business Intelligence head off for a meeting with the Vendor. The meeting where the vendor is finally expected to decide to which tool their organization should pick for their BI needs.

With Power BI and Tableau joining the Vendor, the conversation starts on a light note with both tools introducing themselves to the Vendor.

Tableau: Hi, I am Tableau, I make it easy for companies all around the world to see and understand their data. I provide different visualization tools, drag & drop features, metadata management, data notifications, etc, among other exciting features.

Power BI: Hello, I am Power BI, I am a cloud-based analytics and Business Intelligence platform. I provide a full overview of critical data to organizations across the globe. I allow companies to easily share data by connecting the data sources and helping them create reports. I also help create scalable dashboards for visualization.

The vendor nods convincingly in agreement while making notes about the two tools.

Vendor: May I know what each one of you offers in terms of visualization?

Tableau: Sure, I let users create 24 different types of baseline visualizations including heat maps, line charts and scatter plots. Not trying to brag, but you don’t need intense coding knowledge to develop high quality and complex visualizations with me. You can also ask me ‘what if’ questions regarding the data. I also provide unlimited data points for analysis.

The vendor seems noticeably pleased with Tableau’s reply.

Power BI: I allow users to create visualizations by asking questions in natural language using Cortana. Uploading data sets is quite easy with me. You can select a wide range of visualizations as blueprints. You can then insert data from the sidebar into the visualization.

Tableau passes a glittery infectious smirk and throws a question towards Power BI excitedly.

Tableau: Wait, what about data points? How many data points can you offer?

The Vendor looks at Power BI with a straight face, waiting for a reply.

Power BI: For now, I offer 3500 data points for data analysis.

Vendor: Umm, okay, but, won’t the 3500 data point limit the effectiveness for the users?

Tableau cuts off Power BI as it tries to answer and replies back to the vendor with a distinct sense of rush in its voice.

Tableau: It will! Due to the 3500 data point limit, many visuals can’t display a large amount of data, so filters are added. As the data gets filtered automatically, it leads to outliers getting missed.

Power BI looks visibly irritated after Tableau’s response and looks at the vendor for slight hope, while vendor seems more inclined towards Tableau.

Vendor: Okay. Noted. What can you tell me about your compatibility with data sources?

Tableau: I support hundreds of data connectors. This includes online analytical processing (OLAP), big data options (such as NoSQL, Hadoop) as well as cloud options. I am capable of automatically determining the relationship between data when added from multiple sources. I also let you modify data links or create them manually based on your company’s preferences.

Power BI: I help connect to users’ external sources including SAP HANA, JSON, MySQL, and more. When data is added from multiple sources, I can automatically determine the relationships between them. In fact, I let users connect to Microsoft Azure databases, third-party databases, files and online services like Salesforce and Google Analytics.

Vendor: Okay, that’s great! Can you tell me what your customer support is like?

Tableau jumps in to answer the question first yet again.

Tableau: I offer direct support by phone and email. Customers can also login to the customer portal to submit a support ticket. Subscriptions are provided based on three different categories namely desktop, server and online.

Also, there are support resources for different subscription version of the software namely Desktop, Server, and Online. Users are free to access the support resources depending upon the version of the software. I provide getting started guides, best practices as well as how to use the platform’s top features. A user can also access Tableau community forum along with attending training events.

The vendor seems highly pleased with Tableau’s answer and continues scribbling in his notebook.

Power BI: I offer faster customer support to users with a paid account. However, all users can submit a support ticket. I also provide robust support resources and documentation including learning guides, a user community forum and samples of how my partners use the platform.  Though customer support functionality is limited for users with a free Power BI account.

Vendor: Okay, got it! Can you tell me about your learning curves? Do you get along well with novice users too or just professionals?

Tableau: I am a very powerful tool and data analysts around the world are my largest customer base. I must confess, I am not quite intuitive in nature but given the powerful visualization features that I offer, I see no harm in people getting themselves acquainted with data science a bit before they decide to choose me.

In a nutshell, it can be a bit tricky to transform and clean visualizations with me for novices.

Tableau looks at the vendor for approval but he is just busy making notes.

Power BI: I am the citizen data scientists’ ally. From common stakeholders to data analysts, there are features for almost everyone on board as far as I am concerned. My interface is quite intuitive and depends more on drag and drop features to build visualizations. This makes it easy for the users to play around with the interface a bit. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a novice or pro, there’s space for everyone here.

A green monster of jealousy takes over Tableau as it scoffs at Power BI.

Tableau: You are only compatible with Windows. I, on the other hand, am compatible with both Windows and Mac OS. And let’s be real it’s tough to do even simple calculations with you, such as creating a percent-of-total variable, without learning the DAX language.

As the flood of anger rises in Power BI, Vendor interrupts them.

Vendor: May I just ask one last question before I get ready with the results? How heavy are you on my pockets?

Power BI: I offer three subscription plans namely desktop, pro, and premium. Desktop is the free version. Pro is for professionals and starts at $9.99 per user per month. You get additional features such as data governance, content packaging, and distribution. I also offer a 60 day trial with Pro.

Now, coming to Premium, it is built on a capacity pricing. What that means is that I charge you per node per month. You get even more powerful features such as premium version cost calculator for custom quote ranges. This is based on the number of pro, frequent and occasional users that are active on an account’s premium version.

The vendor seems a little dazed as he continues making notes.

Tableau: I offer three subscriptions as well, namely Desktop, Server, and Online. Prices are charged per user per month but billed annually. Desktop category comes with two options: Personal edition (starting at $35) and professional edition (starting at $70). The server option offers on-premises or public cloud capabilities, starting at $35 while the Online version is fully hosted and starts at $42.

I also offer a free version namely Tableau Public with which users can create visualizations, save them and share them on social media or their blog. There is a 10GB storage limit though. I also offer 14 days free trial for users so that they can get a demo before the purchase.

Tableau and Power BI both await anxiously for the Vendor’s reply as he continued scribbling in his notebook while making weird quizzical expressions.

Vendor: Thank you so much for attending this meeting. I’ll be right back with the results. I just need to check on a few things.

Tableau and power BI watch the vendor leave the room and heavy anticipation fills the room.

Tableau: Let’s be real, I will always be the preferred choice for data visualization.

Power BI: We shall see that. Don’t forget that I also offer data visualization tools along with predictive modeling and reporting.

Tableau: I have a better job market!

Power BI: What makes you say that? I think you need to re-check the Gartner’s Magic Quadrant as I am right beside you on that.

Power BI looks at Tableau with a hot rush of astonishment as the Vendor enters the room. The vendor smiles at Tableau as he continues the discussion which makes Power BI slightly uneasy.

Vendor: Tableau and Power BI, you both offer great features but as you know I can only pick one of you as my choice for the organizations.

An air of suspense surrounds the atmosphere.

Vendor: Tableau, you are a great data visualization tool with versatile built-in features such as user interface layout, visualization sharing, and intuitive data exploration.

Power BI, you offer real-time data access along with some pretty handy drag and drop features. You help create visualizations quickly and provide even the novice users an access to powerful data analytics without any prior knowledge.

The tension notched up even more as the Vendor kept talking.

Vendor: Tableau! You’re a great data visualization tool but the price point is quite high. This is one of the reasons why I choose Microsoft Power BI. Microsoft Power BI offers data visualization, connects to external data sources, lets you create reports, etc, all at low cost.

Hence, Power BI, welcome aboard!

A sense of infinite peace and pride emanates from Power BI. The meeting ends with Power BI and Vendor shaking hands as Tableau silently leaves the room. [/box]

We took a peek into the Vendor’s notebook and saw this comparison table.

Power BI Tableau
Visualization capabilities Good Very Good
Compatibility with multiple Data sources Good Good
Customer Support Quality Good Good
Learning Curve Very Good Good
System Compatibility Windows Windows & Mac OS
Cost Low Very high
Job Market Good Good
Analytics Very Good Good

Both the Business Intelligence tools are in demand by organizations all over the world.

Tableau is fast and agile. It provides a comprehensible interface along with visual analytics where users have the ability to ask and answer questions. Its versatility and success stories make it a good choice for organizations willing to invest in a higher budget Business Intelligence software.

Power BI, on the other hand, offers almost similar features as Tableau including data visualization, predictive modeling, reporting, data prep, etc, at one of the lowest subscription prices today in the market.

Nevertheless, there are upgrades being made to both of the Business Intelligence tools, and we can only wait to see what’s more to come in these technologies.

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Tech writer at the Packt Hub. Dreamer, book nerd, lover of scented candles, karaoke, and Gilmore Girls.


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