This blog was originally posted to the Piraeus Consulting blog on August 21st, 2014 and may contain out-of-date information.

As BI professionals, we rarely lack software to support our work, but we often do lack information relevant to helping us select the right software for the right need.

In its 2013 rollout of Power BI, Microsoft introduced a suite of self-service BI products integrating with existing analytics tools, and yet the rollout left some teams seeking to supplement Power BI with other products.

Piraeus Consulting, as a team of Seattle Business Intelligence professionals, is especially aware of the offerings of Seattle-based Tableau Software as another BI option, but we often field questions about the relative strengths of Power BI and Tableau.

In response, I’ve compiled the following cheat sheet outlining the advantages and disadvantages of Tableau and Power BI:

Tableau Software

Summary:

Tableau is a data visualization software which allows the user to quickly create live dashboards and reports, available across multiple platforms. The capabilities of Tableau for deep analytics and visualization is unmatched in the BI industry. Connections to data sources can be created live, or imported directly into Tableau.

Options for charts and dashboard creation include:

Tree charts
Bubble graphs
Heat maps
Background Geo mapping

Products Offered

Tableau Desktop
Tableau Server
Tableau Online
Tableau Reader
Tableau Public

Pricing:

First year entry level: Starts at $1000 for one desktop user or $3,000 for one desktop user with 5 cloud consumers
Three year pricing: One Desktop user: Starts at $2,000 One Desktop+5 Cloud: Starts at $8,000
Additional Cost for adding in connectivity to databases (beyond local files) $1,000 for first year and $2,000 for three years

Advantages:

Speed
Live or refreshable connection
Highly customizable, flexible analytics and visualization tools
Custom geocoding for advanced dashboards
Supported on multiple platforms
Front End calculations
Subscriptions for emailed dashboards
SharePoint Web part
Over 80 million data points on a chart

Disadvantages:

Cost
No ETL tool available
No Data modeling diagram view

Power BI

Summary:

PowerBI is a combination of robust business intelligence tools offered by Microsoft in conjunction with Office 365.

Tools Offered:

PowerMap – 3D mapping experience used for exploring and navigating geospatial data
PowerPivot – create sophisticated data models and calculations using excel and DAX formulas
PowerView – create reports and analytical views with interactive data visualizations
PowerQuery – discover and connect to data from public and corporate data sources

Pricing:

Purchased with Office 365, the Power BI package is $52 per user/month.

Advantages:

Q/A – a natural language question based query tool
Data Modeling Diagram View
Video recording and 3D mapping through PowerView
Up to 1,000 data points on a chart
Multiple platforms through App Store (limited)
O365 is included in PowerBI purchase

Disadvantages:

Slow
Minimal formatting and visualization in PowerView ability
Not very user friendly
Learning Curve for some features (e.g., DAX formulas, dimensional modeling)
Limited visualization for forecasting and statistical analysis
No SharePoint Web part yet available

The Bottom Line

PowerBI is best used for simple data visualizations or for Scorecards and Dashboards that will not change significantly over time. PowerBI, and the Q/A feature specifically, can be very valuable for users who are not interested in diving into data sets, but who are looking for specific analytics, quickly. Another benefit to PowerBI is the value add of Microsoft Suite in the purchase, making it a great value for businesses working with a smaller budget.

Tableau is a much faster and more flexible tool that works best for deeper analytics and enterprise dashboard solutions. The flexibility available for creating a wide variety of dashboards makes Tableau the optimal choice for business that need quick results from reporting and analysis. Tableau also offers customizable geo-mapping, background images and polygon maps for visualizing unordinary data models. Tableau would be most useful to analysts and organizations that require fast adaptation to changes in their business, and have multiple users who need constant access to this data.

Off course, the best BI work will be done by professionals who utilize PowerBI and Tableau in conjunction with one another, allowing each to lend its particular strengths to the specific needs of each challenge.

To see both tools in action check out some of the following links:
Destination Data Countdown: Favorite Things About Seattle—Craft Beer
Data Visualization for the 2014 World Cup results using Excel and Power BI
Destination Data—Viz as Art contest
Earths Rising Tempers: Unlocking Volcano Insights with Power BI

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