This year I succeeded in becoming a Tableau Desktop Certified Associate. When I was thinking about how to prepare for the exam, I came across e-learning courses from Tableau that turned out to be free for 90 days.
I decided not to waste such an opportunity and complete all the 3 modules in Fundamentals at a fast pace. When I got certified, I was wondering which programs are offered by other producers of BI tools. First things first, I decided to study training materials on PowerBI. In this small article, I would like to compare Tableau and PowerBI training programs.
Disclaimer: in the end, I have formed an unfairly prejudiced and positive attitude towards Tableau, so PowerBI supporters may not like this article and find it biased (in all fairness, there are also words of praise for PowerBI).
After having studied the training materials, I can finally state the reasons why I am definitely in favor of Tableau as a tool for data analysis and visualization.
First of all, there is a huge gap in the approach to materials and the assessment of their understanding. Although Tableau training materials are more technical and pay less attention to design, by studying through their videos you can do excellent visualization. After completing all three steps of Tableau training, a strong desire to create new stunning reports with the use of LOD Expressions, Filter Actions, and make convenient interfaces arises. However, after watching all the materials on Power BI the only question that remains is why did I waste my time?
Emotions aside, there are several key points that turned out to be important after having studied the material.
The quality of content and training examples
If you consider the way training videos are presented in Tableau and the questions in a quiz format that are posed at the end of the covered material, you start understanding the idea of the software. But in the case of Power BI, you will be totally disappointed. Have a look for instance at the material for identifying outliers, here Microsoft suggests building a scatter plot and visually identifying all the outliers.
Design of reports and dashboards
There is some objective criticism towards Tableau training materials on the topic of graph design and control elements, but they are still neatly and beautifully made. Now have a look at the dreadful thing that Microsoft suggests as the result of the analyst’s work. And this is a well-built dashboard according to Microsoft.
Assessment of the knowledge gained during the training
During the training at Tableau, immediately after a small lecture, you learn by applying the part of the studied material in practice. You need to click certain buttons in the interface to solve a problem. Power BI offers “labs” that are supposed to be launched from a remote machine. I didn’t manage to start a single lab; I wrote to the support 3 times and the support couldn’t solve my problem so I didn’t manage to experiment over the PowerBI tasks.
Other points are mostly related to the software rather than the training program.
I have been working with Tableau for a long time and 4 years ago I switched to Mac. After the transition from Windows, my experience of using Tableau did not change. In fact, Tableau was developing and I was developing with it, but the team did not change the key elements of the interface. I have been experimenting with building reports in PowerBI, but I was uncomfortable with different Microsoft archaisms like publications through some share-portal where you need to have an MS account and configure something through the administrator. All of this was a terrible headache.
However, what struck me so much was that I could not use PowerBI on a Mac. There is absolutely no way and this is a principled stance of Microsoft which is not expected to change in the future. From my point of view, such software belongs to a B2B segment in the field of analytics, assumes the connection to all kinds of DBMS, but denies the existence of an alternative operating system which could be used by a number of potential consultants that could use and promote PowerBI as an analytical tool.
Most certainly, there are some rational reasons why any software from Microsoft doesn’t work very well on Mac, but the simple truth is that for me the software remains inaccessible. Nevertheless, I wasn’t looking for an easy way out and installed PowerBI through Parallels in order to honestly consider the tools again taking into account the training materials.
Both Tableau and PowerBI offer stunning visualization options. In fact, in this regard, PowerBI offers a video with a little more information than usual. So, on this matter, the tools are presented equally well.
Here I want to give credits to the functionality of PowerBI. In fact, the variety of tools is extremely wide even without connecting third party libraries. For example, automatic clustering, decomposition tree, data profiler and setting filters on a graph.
Internal language syntax
To work with PowerBI you need to learn DAX. It is not a programming language, but a functional language. You won’t be able to write your own code, however, you won’t even need it – all the functions are already implemented, so you should only learn how to use them. Microsoft tells about DAX quite well in the manual. Definition of a new measure in DAX looks like this:
Revenue YoY % = DIVIDE( [Revenue] - CALCULATE( [Revenue], SAMEPERIODLASTYEAR('Date'[Date]) ), CALCULATE( [Revenue], SAMEPERIODLASTYEAR('Date'[Date]) ) )
Preparing data for the analysis
Inside PowerBI there is a Unpivot feature that allows bringing the data in columns with time periods into the form that is convenient to use in pivot tables.
However, an ETL tool for data cleaning and wrangling in Tableau Prep also has this feature implemented.
1) The training programs are built in completely different ways, the methodology of immersion into Tableau tools is more elaborate and efficient. There is an opportunity to get practical experience of solving problems and get feedback (albeit automatic).
2) Reports and dashboards design in training materials from Microsoft hardly look professional while Tableau’s implementation is much better.
3) Knowledge assessment at Microsoft is implemented at the abysmal level (absolutely perfunctory tests like in a bad school) while at Tableau it’s much better implemented, you dive into the problem, think about the answer and solve it.
4) Cross-platform support is not PowerBI’s strongest point, however in the case of Tableau it’s an excellent competitive advantage.
5) The functionality and capabilities of the tools are certainly at the highest level, and in some points, PowerBI wins.