The market for innovative data visualization tools is quickly expanding. Those in the data analytics field, or adjacent industries that utilize business intelligence like data science and digital marketing often use these suites of products to develop forecasting models, derive insights from data subsets and create visually appealing views for clients. The two market leaders in the data visualization space are Microsoft’s Power BI software and Salesforce’s Tableau. While both tools offer a range of capabilities to turn raw data into beautiful visualizations, they differ in the depth of their features and various product offerings. Below, we’ve broken down the use cases and pros and cons of both products, as well as the key differences you might find as an individual or within a corporation working with Power BI or Tableau. Read on to learn more about these popular business tools or if you’re looking to decide which one you should learn to best serve your career!
What is Power BI?
Power BI is a business intelligence tool launched by Microsoft in 2015. The unified scalable platform integrates with existing Microsoft systems like Azure, SQL and Excel to convert data into interactive dashboards and reports. The company can boast of a 14-year reign as Gartner “Magic Quadrant Leader” in analytics and business intelligence platforms, and the product is widely used across industries.
Features of Power BI
For teams who work within Microsoft’s Office 365 suite of products, one of Power BI’s key strengths is its seamless integration across these existing products. The tool offers extensive database connectivity capabilities and sets itself apart with real-time dashboard updates for cloud-based live data connections.
For amateur users, Power BI offers several pre-built visualizations users can treat as a learning tool and expand upon with their own data. Users can also access builds that pair with some of the most popular third-party data collection tools like Salesforce and Google Analytics. Additionally, the software supports data exploration using natural language query and also integrates with both Python and R coding, to allow for additional customizations.
Finally, a differentiator for Power BI is Microsoft’s heavy investment in machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities. The A.I. insights feature powered by Azure can perform sentiment analysis, key phrase extraction, language detection, and image tagging on various data sets. As part of their mission to make PowerBI as easy to use for non-coders as possible, new A.I powered features include the ability for users to write in natural language to describe what they are trying to accomplish and have Power BI automatically create a DAX expression for them and the ability to automatically create aggregations of any data source.
Reporting in Power BI
Users in Power BI can create reports or dashboards as presentation tools. The primary difference between the two is the data source: Each report consists of a single dataset, while dashboards can accommodate multiple sources. This doesn’t mean reports are only less versatile; the opposite is true. Unlike dashboards, users can filter, highlight and slice their data and customize content by exporting related content, adding bookmarks, generating QR codes, analyzing in Excel, and more. Report visualizations are live and updated as the underlying data changes.
Power BI products and Pricing
Microsoft offers a number of different products, depending on the intended use for individuals and organizations. Power BI Desktop is the primary authoring and publishing tool, with additional features available in the Pro and Premium versions, like Mobile access. Complementary products include Power BI Service which is an online Software as a Service (SaaS) that hosts models, reports and dashboards and Power BI Data Gateway, which preps data and acts as a bridge between the service and source.
A free basic version of Power BI is available to all users. For those looking to access advanced features and publish reports, Power BI Pro plans start at $9.99/month per user and Premium plans are either $20/month per user or $4,995/month for an organization.
What is Tableau?
Tableau software was created in 2003 by three Stanford post-grads looking to improve their experience with data visualization. The tool, designed “for nerds by nerds” allows for powerful data and visual exploration and visual analysis, and was acquired by Salesforce in 2019. Tableau bills itself as the leading analytics platform, and is widely used across the corporate landscape.
Features of Tableau
Transforming raw data into easily understandable visualizations and generating insights is Tableau’s primary feature. Tableau prep connects to almost any data source and allows users to prep, clean and blend raw data, resulting in consistent output. The query-based software aims to be intuitive to experienced and amateur users alike and provides built-in recommended visual best practices for different types of data sets.
The Tableau interface relies on a series of “drag and drop” table views to answer questions using data. Users insert different metrics into X and Y axes and Tableau responds with a custom visualization. In this way, data can be used to forecast revenue based on past behaviors, illuminate purchasing patterns and more. The software also allows for the employment of calculations to alter existing data and create new metrics, with minimal coding knowledge needed.
Similar to Power BI, Tableau also offers some real-time functionality, with the ability to work with data extracts that update live, with no need to re-query. Users have virtually no limits to the size and range of data they can import, with easy integration with big data, SQL databases, spreadsheets, and cloud apps like Google Analytics and Salesforce.
Reporting in Tableau
In Tableau, users can combine visualizations created in individual worksheets to a client-ready dashboard. These reports created in the desktop version of Tableau can then be shared out via the Tableau Online and Tableau Server products. Once again, the types of visualizations can be created and combined in endless combinations, from all types of basic charts and line graphs to more complicated forecasting tools and geographical visuals. Just like in workbooks, users can apply filters of their choosing, to be applied to parts of or all of a dashboard view.
Tableau Products and Pricing
Tableau also offers a wide range of products for different use cases across the business community. The core product, Tableau Desktop offers all the base features for creating dashboards and workbooks. Businesses can host their data in-house with Tableau Server or opt for a cloud-based analytics solution with Tableau Online. Tableau Prep is the company’s tool for joining and editing raw data from multiple sources to work with and a newer product in the line, Tableau CRM integrates with Salesforce to create actionable insights and AI-driven analytics in existing workflows. Finally, Tableau Public is a free tool that any individual can use to learn the basics of the software and create and share visualizations to a public cloud.
Other than the free Tableau Public tool, access to the software will cost you. Individual plans run $70/month for access to desktop, prep and either server or online. Pricing is the same for organizations at $70/month per user for a plan including desktop prep and either server or online, but drops to $12/month per user for base access to Tableau Server. Additional add-ons for features like data management and embedded analytics are also available.
Key Differences Between Power BI and Tableau
Below, we’ve summarized some of the core features and differences between the two business intelligence products.
Power BI Features
Convert data from multiple sources into interactive dashboards and reports
-Desktop, Pro, Premium and Mobile versions of Software
-Power BI Service
-Power BI Data Gateway
$9.99/Month for Pro or $/20/month for Premium
Plans begin at $4,995/month for Premium license
Free Tier Available?
YES, desktop software is free, but you cannot share reports externally
-Extensive integration with Microsoft 365 Suite
-Library of pre-built visualizations
-Utilizes natural language queries
-Real-time dashboard updates for cloud-based live data connections
-Advanced A.I. and Machine learning capabilities
-Pro plan has 1GB model limit
-Inability to mix imported data
-Dashboards and reports only shared with users having the same email domains.
-Fewer options when configuring visuals
Answer data-based questions with custom visualizations
$70/Month, includes access to Desktop, Prep and Server or Online
Plans begin at $12/month per user and increase to $35 or $70 depending on range of features/products
Free Tier Available?
YES, Tableau Public is free, but there is no ability to save files to personal desktop
-Ability to combine data from multiple sources
-Industry leader in amount of data visualization capabilities
-Large online community and forums for assistance and templates
-Offers recommended visualizations to answer questions with data
-Higher cost with inflexible individual pricing plans
-Poor AI business intelligence capabilities
-Can be time and resource-intensive to master
-Doesn’t offer easy methods for embedding reports to other applications.
Power BI vs Tableau: Which Should You Learn?
With these tools sharing many similarities, you might be wondering which software you should attain to advance your data career. We recommend doing some research here and considering your daily use case(s). Power BI has a slightly more intuitive interface. This, combined with its lower cost, makes it the better choice for individuals or organizations looking to upgrade their analytical capabilities, without necessarily possessing expertise in data analytics. Meanwhile, analytics-forward companies who regularly work with big data might be best suited for the additional speed and capabilities of Tableau.
The good news is that both software offers a free tier that will allow you to get comfortable with the platforms, and form a preference before making a purchase decision. You can also turn to community forums for both softwares as another great resource for accessing information and advice about the tools.
Careers that use Power BI and Tableau
Power BI and Tableau are gaining popularity across a full spectrum of industries that collect large swaths of data, including ecommerce, healthcare and financial services. Roles at these organizations that might encounter these business intelligence platforms include data analyst, data scientist, digital marketing, or even specialized positions like Tableau Developer. A number of bootcamp programs provide instruction in one or both of these industry-standard tools. Check out our listings of bootcamps that teach Tableau or visit our compare bootcamps page if you’re interested in learning more about different areas of expertise!