The analytics landscape is an ever-shifting ecosystem. It evolves rapidly with a Darwinian ruthlessness abandoning those who are unable to adapt. In recent years, the market has become flooded with competing products and the battle to remain relevant is fiercer than ever. With the rise of the new age “self-service” data management and analytics platforms, we have seen a disruptive force tsunami through the domain of Business Intelligence (BI). The traditional enterprise BI platforms of the world (IBM, SAP, Oracle, MicroStrategy, etc.) suddenly find themselves slugging toe-to-toe with a new breed of opponent effecting a whole new style of attack. An opponent that is fast, agile and draws in the crowds.
Tableau, a pioneer in this movement, shimmied its way through the masses to lead the charge of these self-service platforms, largely unscathed by those who rivalled it. The vehicle driving the success of Tableau revenue generation is its “land and expand” sales model - Land a licence at low cost entry point in an organisation, demonstrate value and then leverage that value to justify further spend. The highly aesthetic reports, ease of use and rapid time to analytical value swiftly drives the proliferation of Tableau.
Enter Power BI...
PowerBI is Microsoft’s answer to Tableau and other comparable Data Visualisation tools. It is self-service, builds some neat dashboards and has been priced at an audacious $152.40 per annum for a professional user, or free for a ‘light’ user. As Microsoft announces this to the world, Tableau sellers sigh a heavy breath and begin to sharpen their battle axes…
But a year has passed since Microsoft released PowerBI with its shiny price tag. In spite of numerous upgrades and a strong positioning in the 2016 Gartner Magic Quadrant, organisations continue to allocate their budget to Tableau. Interestingly, it is not just the Tableau custodians who continue to invest in the tool, Tableau continues to see the rapid acquisition of net new customers.
So, why are people still buying Tableau if Power BI costs so little? I speak to customers every week who are exploring and evaluating both Tableau and PowerBI - some technical, some line of business. Of this mix, a number of them belong to start-ups and others to some of the most high-profile organisations in Australia. Whilst there is a clear-cut pricing distinction and both products bask in favourable reviews, customers keep spending on Tableau. There are a few recurring themes that echo in the feedback of customers.
Be it Tableau or PowerBI, both yield some awesome dashboards. However, before reaching Emerald City, one must embark on a journey in order to get there. The user experience and time spent developing these dashboards carries great significance the users. When a customer tells me they are going forward with Tableau, I ask “what were the deciding factors?”, the customer often talks about useability and the receptiveness to which the users embrace Tableau. Simply put, users find Tableau more intuitive and engage more proactively with the tool. This user experience fuels adoption and in turn drives ROI.
Bolstering this is a myriad of short, succinct training videos (hundreds of them), whitepapers and webinars, all of which prompt learning and the swift embracement of the tool. If a user needs guidance, the chances are that you can Google it and someone will have posted directions. Whilst PowerBI has its share of content, it does not exist in such abundance.
Customers talk about a need to manipulate their data and explore insight and opportunities. Tableau does this very well. It is feedback I hear time and time again. Once a dashboard is built in PowerBI, a cluster of imperfections become apparent - clucky processes or fiddly workarounds. This becomes especially apparent when the customer is performing a like for like evaluation against Tableau. For example, comparing more than one category of one’s data in PowerBI suddenly proves very challenging, inputting new data to answer “what-if” questions is cumbersome and many calculations require the user to learn a formula writing and query syntax called “DAX”.
Once again, this ties back to ROI. Users have more capability to unearth actionable insight from their data. This breadth of function affording intuitive ad hoc analysis keeps the users glued to Tableau. It talks to one’s intellectual curiosity – the desire to explore and know more.
There is also the function "storytelling" that Tableau pioneered within the industry. It allows a user to create a narrative around their visualisations and it’s a big crowd pleaser.
This may seem an odd observation, but it’s a recurring theme in customer feedback nonetheless. There is no doubt that both technologies have their enthusiasts, online groups and share of events, but there appears to be something in the air of Tableau events that wins people over. Perhaps it’s the hype of a thousand people in one room, complimentary training, the talk of innovation, change and the future. When I speak to customers following events – particularly net new customers – they suddenly feel incredibly supported and confident in a decision to move forward with Tableau.
Whilst PowerBI still hosts similar events, they don’t seem to bring in the crowds like Tableau does. The passion simply isn’t of the same magnitude. This may partly be due to the fact that the Tableau team is so proactive in driving its these events. This sense of community and assurance of support goes along way.
The price difference between Tableau and PowerBI is unmistakeable, but customers are willing to invest in the value they perceive in Tableau. High adoption coupled with more available functionality facilitates customers in solving their business challenges and delivers better ROI. Plus, Tableau visualisations are still best of breed. Now, here’s something really interesting. Bing Ads, which is part of Microsoft, uses Tableau to analyse their ad spend instead of Power BI. Have a look: https://advertise.bingads.microsoft.com/en-us/insights/planning-tools/use-location-targeting-trends-to-focus-on-relevant-customers