Power BI vs Tableau: What to Consider When Choosing a Business Intelligence Platform

Increasingly, companies are using business intelligence (BI) platforms to make more accurate decisions based on business insights from operational data. In 2020, a study found that 54% of enterprises think Cloud BI is either critical or very important to their ongoing and future initiatives.

Any business wanting to achieve their ambitious goals is likely on the hunt for a business intelligence platform that can help. The two market-leading platforms are Microsoft Power BI and Tableau. But which is best suited for your organisation?

To help you evaluate which tool is right for you, we’ve gathered the top 4 factors to consider when making your decision.


Why use a business intelligence platform?

The need to be more ‘data-driven’ is spreading across industries in the current climate - from manufacturing to financial services. Using data allows you to monitor the performance of your business, learn your customers better, and gain a competitive advantage.

The two market leaders, Power BI and Tableau, both offer you the ability to:

  • Consolidate different data sources
  • Define and measure your key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Analyse data through the creation of intuitive visual dashboards
  • Save and share insights across your organisation

The tools have been around for many years, and have millions of users worldwide - making it a challenge to decide which is the best fit for your business. But while both platforms are very popular, ultimately your decision comes down to how appropriate each software is for your individual circumstances. 

As a starting point, you’ll need to think about:

  • Your company size
  • Your data sources
  • How easy the platform is to use
  • How much the platform costs

Let’s explore each of these factors in more detail. 


Your company size

When implementing a business intelligence platform, you should first consider whether or not it is suitable for your organisation size - both in terms of how big your company is and the amount of data you have.

Both Power BI and Tableau are suitable for many businesses. However, they differ ever so slightly.

Power BI is suitable for small, medium and large organisations. While Tableau is also great for medium and large organisations, smaller businesses may be priced out. We’ll talk more about pricing later, but it’s worth bearing this in mind if you are a smaller business.

In terms of data size, both business intelligence platforms are capable of managing a lot of data. Tableau is known for its ability to manage big data, hence why it’s typically used by large and enterprise organisations. 

Historically, Power BI is known to manage smaller volumes of data than Tableau. But the tool has come a long way since its launch, and can increasingly manage bigger volumes of data - making it equally suitable for larger organisations. 


See how Power BI stacks up against other leading analytics tools here.


Data sources

As the leaders in business intelligence platforms, Power BI and Tableau are capable of supporting multiple data sources, with both allowing you to connect to external sources via live connection or import. 

Power BI in particular is able to connect natively to a huge number of data sources - whether you’re using databases, flat files or web services. The advantage that Power BI has here is that it makes the process of accessing data from your source system much easier. Power BI is also flexible in its preparation of data, meaning it can work well with companies with less structured data.

A comprehensive list of Power BI data sources can be found here

Tableau is also able to connect to hundreds of data sources (live and in-memory), both on-premise or in the cloud. You can find the full list of supported connectors here.

However, unlike Power BI, Tableau requires more structured data, making it more suitable for companies that already have data and analytics strategy - and ideally those with a team and  robust delivery process in place.

Whether Power BI or Tableau is more appropriate in this case will depend on how advanced your team is. This isn’t to say that Power BI cannot be used by highly specialised teams - it can. But companies without a pre-existing strategy in place may struggle with Tableau. 

Need to review your data & analytics strategy to help your comparison? Take a look at our blog.


Ease of use

Both Power BI and Tableau will vary in complexity depending on what exactly you need either a tool for. To understand whether or not each tool is suitable, you’ll first need to understand who will be using it

Think about:

  • Is the tool being used by a team who are accustomed to data professional-focussed software?  
  • Or are you looking to utilise BI across your organisation? 

Answering these key questions will help you understand how easy the tool will be to use based on your organisation’s overall skill level. But let’s look at an overview of each.


How easy is it to use Power BI?

Regular users of other Microsoft products will appreciate the familiarity of Power BI’s user friendly interface - mostly because it is similar to that of Excel and PowerPoint. It’s also easy to generate reports, create dashboards and share both across your organisation.

There’s a low barrier to entry for Power BI, and Microsoft even offers extensive tutorials and training that are very useful to both less experienced users and seasoned professionals. As a result, user adoption of Power BI is high, making it one of the most user-friendly business intelligence platforms available.


How easy is it to use Tableau?

Tableau offers a range of different plans, meaning that usability varies at each level. Tableau’s particular strength is that it’s easy to create dashboards, with the drag and drop functionality being intuitive for even less experienced users.

The downside is that understanding the user interface (UI) is more difficult than that of Power BI. It doesn’t have the same familiarity, and the barrier to entry is increased as a result. 

However, it’s worth noting that both tools still require time and effort to master. It’s unlikely you’ll be up and running with either immediately, so it’s essential to consider what level of barrier to entry you can afford. 

Again, if the platform is predominantly used by professionals, this won’t be much of a problem. But if you’re looking to implement it across your business with lots of stakeholders involved, you’ll need the easier option.



Finally, when making the choice between Power BI and Tableau, cost is likely to be an underlying factor across everything mentioned above. Hopefully, pricing won’t be the number one issue, however, you’ll of course need to decide which is more realistic for your budget - both in the short and long term.


How much does Power BI cost?

Power BI has one of the most flexible pricing models of all business intelligence platforms on the market. For starters, you can design and create dashboards within the Power BI desktop application which is available as a free download. 

This is a great way to get a feel for the tool before committing to the investment. But if you want to share and publish your reports, you’ll need to get the paid version. 

A complete breakdown of exactly how much Power BI costs can be found in our blog.


How much does Tableau cost? 

Tableau’s immediate disadvantage is its pricing point. The platform does offer a free 14 day trial, which is a good way to get an understanding of the software before making a purchase. 

Like Power BI, to share and publish your data models and reports you’ll need to get the paid version. The pricing operates as a subscription model, where the price of different licenses varies depending on the rights users are granted. 

You can find a full Tableau pricing breakdown, as well as a more in-depth comparison in our free download


Power BI vs. Tableau: making your decision

Choosing between two major players is never an easy task, and both Tableau and Power BI have advantages and disadvantages that you’ll need to weigh up.

Where Tableau truly shines is data visualisation, but the low barrier to entry and user friendliness of Power BI has proved a key selling point for adopters across the globe. Either way, there’s much more to consider than what we’ve listed in this blog.

That’s why we’re offering a free download of our comparison guide, The best data visualisation tools for 2021, where we give you a breakdown of Power BI, Tableau and third key player Qlik Sense - taking core considerations and marking the successes and pitfalls of each. Download your free copy below to see which business intelligence tool comes out on top.

Free Download

The Best Visualisation Data Tools for 2021: A Comparison Guide

In our comparison guide we compare the top 3 key players: Power BI, Tableau & Qlik Sense, giving an overview of each tool to help you determine which is the best for you.

Free Download

Best data visualization tools for 2021