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Power BI vs Tableau: What's the difference?

In the era of digital transformation and cloud-based scalability, modern data analytics solutions and BI platforms have rapidly evolved to meet enterprise demand for bigger and better data-driven decisions.

While the past was dominated by the likes of technology behemoths like Oracle, there has been a significant drive towards self-service BI tools that both business users and data scientists can leverage to the fullest. As a result, Microsoft Power BI and Tableau now lead the conversation around data analysis transformation.

The success of these tools has made data analytics platforms a mainstream purchase - and world leading research firms like Gartner recognise both services as market leaders across business intelligence (BI) and data visualisation solutions.

In this post, we list key differences between Power BI and Tableau in the current world of user-friendly analytics, to help you quickly determine which best suits your needs.

Power BI vs Tableau: Best Analytics and BI Solutions 

2019 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Analytics and Business Intelligence Platforms - Power BI and Tableau

The 2019 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Analytics and Business Intelligence Platforms list both Microsoft Power BI and Tableau as two of the four market leaders out today, by a long way.

The world’s leading research firm classifies the ideal business intelligence solution as one that’s easy-to-use and can support the entire analytic workflow - that’s data preparation, ingestion, visualisation and insight generation - and both Power BI and Tableau more than fit the bill.

However, what the report doesn’t necessarily focus on is the key differences between each market-leading service - and which one best suits your business’s unique needs.

Before we examine differentiation in areas like cost, setup, and data integrations, here is an easy and simple comparison summary for your convenience in the table below.

Power BI vs Tableau: High-Level Comparison 

The best business intelligence platform for data analytics all comes down to your particular objectives and data maturity. At a high-level, here are the key considerations.



Microsoft Power BI


Who it’s best for

Business users who can leverage accessible, drag-and-drop data reporting and visualisation capabilities without needing technical.

Great for business users, even better for advanced analysts with experience exploring and transforming data to produce deeper visualisations for all users.

What it does

Power BI offers augmented analytics, data preparation, interactive dashboards, visual-based data discovery in one self-service business intelligence platform.

Tableau offers interactive, visual-based data exploration capabilities and more robust visualisation options that advanced analysts can leverage to the fullest.

When it’s best used

When business users across an organisation need ease-of-use above all else when it comes to greater data exploration, reporting and visualisation.

When users need to rapidly ingest data from multiple data sources (on-premises or in the cloud) and elevate data insights with robust visualisation tools.

Where it’s deployed

Power BI can be deployed in Microsoft Azure public cloud via Power BI Desktop, Pro and Premium (Software as a Service), or on-premises via Power BI Report Server. 

Tableau can be deployed on-premises and public cloud via Tableau Server on Azure, AWS and Google Cloud, or fully-managed SaaS via Tableau Online hosting. 

Why it’s essential

Power BI is currently in top-third of ratings across all aspects of ease-of-use, as per Gartner Research. With additional and evolving support for complex data models with integrated advanced analytics (predictive, augmented), it’s only getting harder for companies to ignore - especially if you need a cost-effective, cloud-based BI platform fast.

Tableau’s more flexible deployment options suit many types of businesses and their unique data needs. Tableau Server can be deployed on-premises or in the cloud, or standalone app via Tableau Online, or integrated with a server for sharing reports. Its advanced visualisation capabilities are versatile and invaluable for both high-level and deeper analysis.

How it benefits you

Power BI offers a fast and full overview of your most important data while simplifying the overall sharing and reporting process via scalable dashboards enhanced with approachable, at-a-glance visualisation options on a drag-and-drop interface. It’s also a familiar interface for Office (Excel) users, with seamless integration with many other Office 365 toolsets. If you’re invested in the Microsoft ecosystem, it’s invaluable for user-friendly analysis.

Tableau Desktop is great for high-level analysis for regular business users, while Tableau Server is perfect for enterprises that can leverage self-service analytics at scale and extend the value of their data across the organisation. With tons of data connectors, powerful governance tools, strong security and flexible deployment in-built, it can empower everyone in the business to see and understand key data better - improving decisions on a large-scale.


Power BI vs Tableau: Ease-of-use

Power BI’s user interface has its roots in the Microsoft Office 365 suite of software, particularly MS Excel.

For business users already invested in Microsoft stack, ease of adoption is generally much higher.

In general, it’s safe to say most organisations use Office 365 today, making Power BI generally much easier to get a handle of for first-time users especially.

Tableau is firmly in the “easy to learn, difficult to master” bucket. Basic visualisations and its similar drag-and-drop interface make it possible to build visualisations fast, and its nifty “Show Me” menu offers automatic visuals for whatever data you have and is great as a learning tool. Most of the advanced visualisations take much more effort to learn.

If you want to get business users taking advantage of better reporting and visualisations, Power BI is faster and more adaptable for the greater business users.


Power BI vs Tableau: Price point

Power BI currently offers three different versions. The free version (Power BI Desktop) for authoring reports, a subscription-based offering (Power BI Pro) at AU$13.70 monthly price per user with full capabilities, and a premium version (Power BI Premium) for large-scale user bases based on capacity pricing, which charges per node per month.

Power BI is very competitively priced in Australia (and globally) and the way it’s currently set up is particularly beneficial for large-scale companies already invested in Microsoft’s ecosystem. If your organisation has certain versions of Microsoft Office 365 Enterprise, you will get Power BI Pro for each licensed user in your organisation automatically.

Tableau recently shifted from bulk purchase to subscription-based pricing and annual billing, resulting in three main plans that cater to individual users. It’s $70 per user, per month for Tableau Creator which is best for the full suite, while self-service analytics with Tableau Explorer is $35 per user, per month - or $42 if you deploy with Tableau Online. Embedded Analytics and hardware-based licensing models are also offered, but prices aren’t public. It's less complex than before, but still more expensive per user.


Power BI vs Tableau: Data Integration

Because Power BI is a Microsoft SaaS product hosted in the cloud, it’s seamlessly integrated Office 365 applications and other Microsoft Azure services currently supports up to 70+ connectors out-of-the-box. This is particularly advantageous for companies that want greater analytics capabilities, but need their data from the same source as their Power BI-based reporting. Everything’s kept in one platform leveraging the Microsoft common data services (CDS).

Tableau supports over 65+ native connections for real-time insights, including Azure SQL Data Warehouse, Dropbox, Google Cloud SQL, MSQL, OneDrive, and Oracle. You can also use several data connectivity tools such as Web Data Connector (WDC), which is a collection of APIs that let developers connect Tableau to any data source on the Web.

Power BI vs Tableau: Data Visualisation


Power BI’s visualisations get the job done and can look just as pretty, but one of its differentiators in this space lies in its heavier focus for predictive modelling and reporting. It also lets you create your own custom visualisations, add more visuals via the Office store made by the community, or implement d3.js and R visuals for more advanced users .

Tableau contains a far more robust set of data visualisation features which scales better with larger data-sets and gives all users better drill down capabilities - all the while retaining drag and drop features, which doesn’t prevent less advanced users from visual-based discovery. 

Power BI vs Tableau: The Verdict

It’s clear both Power BI and Tableau have extensive data analysis and visualisation capabilities, and in the end there’s a good reason research companies like Gartner has Power BI as the clear leader. It's overall integration and ease of use, leveraging the popular Microsoft ecosystem and security models makes Power BI a leading solution. In addition, more citizen users of Power BI, can leverage the tool easier and the adoption requires less training.

Tableau is a leading solution for large-scale companies that have the internal expertise to take full advantage of the deeper visualisation feature set it provides. It’s important to note Tableau Server lets you deploy on-premises, in public cloud (AWS and Azure) or have it fully managed via Tableau Online, rather than being SaaS-only. In this modern error, most organisations are focus on the Cloud, so this is no longer a issue.

Conclusion: Power BI vs Tableau

With the need for greater BI, more visible reporting capabilities and visual-based data exploration growing more urgent in the past five years, a closer look at the top analytics tool-sets is key to make time for if your business wants to derive greater value from your data.

The appropriate analytics tool is dependent on your business needs. Let our free-to-download BI whitepaper guide you further on your data analytics transformation journey.

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Tags: Power BI, Data & AI, Tableau