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Tableau vs Power BI vs Qlik Sense | Comparison of Top 3 BI Tools

8 August 2023

Tableau vs Power BI vs Qlik Sense | Comparison of Top 3 BI Tools

Business intelligence (BI) platforms empower organizations to gain meaningful insights from their data. With intuitive visualizations, self-service analytics, and scalable architectures, modern BI tools have become must-have solutions.

Three leading options dominate the BI landscape - Tableau, Microsoft Power BI, and Qlik Sense. Each offers robust capabilities for interactive dashboards, ad-hoc analysis, and data discovery. However, navigating their similarities and differences can be challenging.

This detailed feature comparison provides a holistic perspective on Tableau, Power BI, and Qlik Sense. We evaluate their key strengths and limitations across factors like usability, visualization, AI, scalability, and mobile access. Let's explore how the top three BI platforms stack up.

An Overview of Leading Business Intelligence Vendors

Before diving into the comparison, here is a quick overview of each platform:

Tableau - Founded in 2003, Tableau pioneered self-service analytics accessible to every business user. Tableau's intuitive drag-and-drop interface minimizes prep work, allowing faster insights. Tableau is popular across departments like sales, marketing, and operations.

Microsoft Power BI - Released in 2015, Power BI builds on Microsoft's trusted Excel and SQL Server platforms. Power BI offers tight integration with Office 365 and deeper capabilities for enterprise-grade governance. It excels in scalability and AI insights.

Qlik Sense - Originating from QlikView, Qlik Sense emphasizes associative exploration and user mobility. Its modern UI and associative engine empower users of all skill levels to freely uncover hidden connections. It leads in flexible self-service.

Now that we've set the stage, let's compare how these solutions stack up across key evaluation criteria:

Connecting to Data Sources

A BI platform is only as capable as the data it can access. We evaluated how the tools handle connections to vital sources:

  • Relational databases - All three connect to SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL and more. Power BI has the closest integration with SQL Server and Azure data.
  • Excel and CSVs - They can import Excel and CSVs with flexibility like incremental refresh. Tableau and Power BI also link live spreadsheets.
  • Cloud apps - Tableau and Power BI have connectors for apps like Salesforce, Google Analytics, and Marketo. Power BI integrates deepest with Microsoft cloud services.
  • Big data - They can connect to Hadoop, Spark, NoSQL databases. Tableau uses data extract model. Power BI and Qlik Sense offer live querying.
  • Web-based data - Power BI and Qlik Sense have web data connectors to scrape dynamic sites. Tableau leverages the Tableau connector.

Overall, the tools demonstrate extensive and comparable data connectivity. Power BI holds an edge with tighter Microsoft cloud integration. Tableau's in-memory engine imposes some limits like single-user Web authoring. But all three deliver flexibility to unify enterprise data.

Ease of Adoption for Business Users

Self-service analytics hinges on an intuitive user experience (UX) that empowers business teams. Here is how the platforms compare for usability:

  • Initial onboarding - All three offer getting started tutorials. Tableau and Qlik Sense have drag-and-drop interfaces for faster app creation. Power BI has the steepest initial learning curve.
  • Interface and workflow - Tableau uses flexible shelves for fields vs visuals. Qlik Sense promotes associative exploration. Power BI uses Ribbon-style menus familiar to Excel users.
  • Data prep and modelling - Tableau keeps data prep external. Power BI and Qlik Sense integrate prep into the workflow. Power BI offers the most accessible data modelling for beginners.
  • Learning resources - All provide free training content and communities. Power BI also leverages Microsoft's guided learning resources.
  • Product assistance - Tableau offers phone and chat support. Qlik Sense and Power BI provide in-tool tips. Power BI integrates with Microsoft Teams for live help.

Overall, Tableau and Qlik Sense allow faster ad-hoc analysis for first-time users. Power BI appeals more to users comfortable with Excel and other Microsoft products. But all platforms offer ample help resources to smooth onboarding.

Comparing Data Visualization and Dashboards

Effective visualization transforms data into actionable insights. Here is how the platforms' visualization capabilities compare:

  • Core visual types - They provide familiar charts like bar, line, pie, scatter, gauge, geographic maps, heatmaps, and more.
  • Custom visuals - Tableau and Power BI have extensive marketplaces with custom visuals. Qlik Sense has a limited extension library.
  • Dashboard design - Tableau offers pixel-perfect layouts while enforcing no hierarchy. Power BI and Qlik Sense make hierarchical dashboards easier.
  • Interactivity - Tableau uses interactions like filters, tooltips, and menu actions. Qlik Sense enables selections via its associative engine. Power BI has natural language Q&A.
  • Storytelling - Tableau offers guided story-points. Power BI has paginated report publishing. Qlik Sense focuses less on guided stories.
  • Ease of use - Tableau needs more point-and-click creation. Power BI and Qlik Sense enable faster drag-and-drop designs.

The platforms balance breadth of visual choice with ease of design. Tableau needs more design shortcuts for beginners but enables custom dashboard aesthetics. Overall, they each help uncover insights from data visually, catering to different user preferences.

Self-Service Analytics Capabilities Compared

Modern BI vendors aim to spread data use across business teams with self-service capabilities. Here is how the platforms stack up:

  • Interfaces - All offer web and mobile apps. Tableau has Desktop for power users. Power BI and Qlik Sense focus their UX on browser access.
  • Data prep - Power BI and Qlik Sense incorporate self-service data modelling. Tableau keeps prep external in Tableau Prep.
  • Search and AI - Power BI integrates AI through Insights. Qlik Sense has associative search. Tableau leverages Show Me recommendations and Ask Data.
  • Collaboration - They have commenting, sharing, and governance features. Power BI also enables crowdfunding content.
  • Scalability - Power BI and Qlik Sense allow scaling to more user types. Tableau can get complex with tiered licensing.

The platforms aim to make sound analytics accessible to every user. Power BI and Qlik Sense integrate self-service prep while Tableau keeps it external. All continue expanding AI capabilities. Ultimately they achieve the self-service goal through slightly different approaches.

Comparing Scalability and Performance

Core to enterprise adoption is the ability to perform well under heavy use. Let's examine how they stack up for large deployments:

  • Data handling - Tableau relies on in-memory data extracts. Power BI uses the Vertipaq engine. Qlik Sense loads data into its Associative Engine. All can handle large analytic datasets.
  • User concurrency - Tableau needs expensive add-ons for high user loads. Power BI and Qlik Sense scale better to concurrent user counts naturally.
  • Caching and optimization - Tableau relies on data extracts for static optimization. Power BI and Qlik Sense use in-memory caching for dynamic optimization.
  • Administrative features - Tableau has Tableau Server. Power BI and Qlik Sense enable tenant-based management and load balancing.
  • Hybrid and multi-cloud - Power BI and Qlik Sense allow hybrid connectivity. Tableau is transitioning to the cloud with Tableau Online.

Overall, Power BI and Qlik Sense require less additional configuration for performance at scale. Tableau's extracts provide fast static performance but add complexity. Power BI and Qlik Sense win for dynamic multi-tenant optimization.

Enabling Mobile Analytics

Mobility is a key expectation for modern BI. Here is how the vendors enable analytics on the go:

  • Mobile apps - All offer iOS and Android apps. Power BI also has a Windows mobile app. The apps allow access to visualizations and reports on mobile devices.
  • Offline access - The apps allow syncing content for offline access. Tableau offers offline editing while Power BI and Qlik Sense are view-only.
  • Alerts and notifications - Power BI has robust access to alerts from reports and datasets. Tableau and Qlik Sense have more basic subscription capabilities.
  • Advanced functionality - Core analytics functionality is available across the apps. But most authoring and administration requires desktop tools.
  • User experience - Power BI offers the most seamless mobile UX. Qlik Sense and Tableau trail in mobile UX polish. Tableau also lacks phone layouts.

Power BI delivers the most comprehensive mobile experience, syncing content across devices efficiently. Qlik Sense and Tableau still provide ample mobile access to analytics but need UX and feature improvements.

Comparing Built-in AI and Advanced Analysis

AI and machine learning enrich modern BI with automated insights. Here is how they compare:

  • Statistical functions - All offer statistical operations like regression, clustering, forecasting, simulations, and more.
  • AutoML - Power BI has Autopilot for automated data prep and model creation. Tableau offers inclination scores to suggest analyses. Qlik Sense relies on third-party extensions.
  • Linguistic capabilities - Power BI enables natural language queries with Q&A. Tableau has Ask Data. Qlik Sense associates search terms with data points.
  • Predictive capabilities - Power BI integrates predictions natively for forecasting. Tableau and Qlik Sense require add-ons for forecasting.
  • Data mining - Tableau integrates Explain Data for association analysis. Power BI offers clustered tables and related lookups. Qlik Sense excels in associative exploration.

For built-in AI, Power BI leads the pack with Autopilot autoML. Tableau Ask Data and Qlik Sense search provide intuitive experiences. Overall, Power BI has the richest native predictive capabilities. But the others offer ample AI extensions.

Deployment Options Compared

Beyond features, the right deployment model is vital for enterprise adoption. How do their options compare?

  • Cloud - Tableau Online, Power BI Service, and Qlik Sense SaaS provide fully-managed cloud environments configurable for multi-tenant needs.
  • On-premises - Tableau Server, Power BI Report Server, and Qlik Sense Enterprise enable on-premises single-tenant deployments.
  • Hybrid - Power BI and Qlik Sense allow unified management across cloud and on-premises. Tableau's options remain distinct.
  • Embedded analytics - All offer APIs and SDKs to embed content in web and mobile apps. Power BI also allows paginated report embedding.
  • Data residency - Tableau provides a clear public roadmap for data residency options. Power BI and Qlik Sense lag in detailed public region availability.

Power BI and Qlik Sense enable organizations to start small in the cloud and expand to hybrid environments. Tableau's bifurcated options provide less flexibility for unified management.

Comparing Administration and Governance

With increased self-service comes a need for governance, security, and access control:

  • User management - All centralize user management and integrate with directories like Active Directory. Power BI can also leverage Office 365 identities.
  • Content permissions - They allow granular permissions through object-level security. Power BI also offers row-level security filtering.
  • Data protection - Tableau leverages site locales and network zoning to segment content. Power BI and Qlik Sense allow tenant isolation. All offer SPN encryption.
  • Auditing - Power BI has unified activity logging across cloud and on-premises. Tableau and Qlik Sense have more distinct logging capabilities.
  • Hybrid management - Power BI and Qlik Sense enable managing cloud and on-premises under one umbrella. Tableau splits Desktop and Server management.

For robust governance, Power BI leverages the Microsoft security stack more seamlessly. All meet enterprises' core needs like access controls, but Power BI goes further with row-level security and change tracking.

How Pricing and Licensing Compare

Pricing models vary between the tools. Here are the license types available:

  • Tableau - subscription or perpetual licenses for creators and viewers. Premium licenses enable advanced functionality.
  • Power BI - Free, Pro, and Premium SKUs with per-user licensing and SaaS or on-premises options.
  • Qlik Sense - User and core-based licensing with Business, Enterprise, and SaaS editions. Multi-cloud bundles also available.

A few key differences stand out. Tableau splits licensing between creators and viewers. Power BI has a free desktop SKU. Qlik Sense offers core licensing in addition to user models. All provide volume discounts for large organizations.

Comparing Real-World Use Cases

These leading tools enable BI across industries like:

  • Retail - Sales performance, customer analytics, churn analysis, promotion planning
  • Finance - Budgeting, cost optimization, risk modelling, forecasting
  • Manufacturing - Quality assurance, supply chain insights, predictive maintenance, operations analytics
  • Healthcare - Patient tracking, clinical metrics, resource utilization, outcomes analysis
  • Marketing - Campaign analysis, segmentation, lead intelligence, customer targeting

While any can support these domains, certain strengths stand out. Tableau excels in ad hoc analysis. Power BI enables enterprise-grade scalability. And Qlik Sense empowers associative exploration. But all serve as versatile analytics platforms across key industries.

Key Takeaways When Choosing Your BI Tool

In closing, Tableau, Power BI, and Qlik Sense each enable intuitive, self-service analytics. A few key differences stand out:

  • Tableau shines in flexible ad-hoc analysis but needs improved governance capabilities.
  • Power BI leads in enterprise scalability, AI insights, and governance but has a steeper learning curve.
  • Qlik Sense focuses on associative exploration but trails in enterprise management features.

For rapid insights using clean data sets, Tableau remains the intuitive market leader. For governed enterprise analysis with advanced AI, Power BI leads the pack. And for freely uncovering hidden data connections, Qlik Sense rules the roost.

Ultimately, identifying product strengths against organizational needs drives the right selection. With their modern visualization and self-service capabilities, all three platforms empower democratized, trustworthy business insights.

Frequently Asked Questions About Top BI Tools

Here are answers to some common questions when evaluating Tableau, Power BI, and Qlik Sense:

Which BI tool is easiest to use for beginners?

Tableau and Qlik Sense provide the most intuitive drag-and-drop interfaces. Power BI's experience can feel slightly more technical for beginners.

Which platform has the best data visualization capabilities?

All three offer extensive visualization types. Tableau shines in customized design and aesthetics. Power BI makes creating dashboards easiest. Qlik Sense wins in associative exploration.

Which is better for large enterprises, Tableau or Power BI?

Power BI tends to be better suited for large enterprises based on its scalability, enterprise security integrations, hybrid management, and AI capabilities. Tableau can meet many needs but requires add-ons for the highest user and data loads.

Does Power BI really have a free version?

Yes, Power BI Desktop is a fully-functional free version allowing users to connect to data, perform modelling, and create reports and dashboards for sharing. It has all key capabilities minus some governance functions. Publishing content online requires a Pro license.

Which tool is best for mobile analytics access?

Power BI offers the most polished mobile experience while offline across devices. Tableau and Qlik Sense provide mobile apps but need improvements in UX and offline access.

What are the most important factors when comparing platforms?

Some of the most pivotal considerations are data access needs, visualization design, user skill levels, governance requirements, scalability, AI capabilities, and licensing cost. Prioritizing organizational needs guides the best selection.

JBI Training offers a number of options for training, both for individuals and entire teams. View our Power BI Courses

Check out our article on Power BI Tricks and Tips to maximise your Power BI skills or read our article on 7 Vital Roles and Responsibilities of Power BI Developers in Business Analytics

About the author: Daniel West
Tech Blogger & Researcher for JBI Training

+44 (0)20 8446 7555

[email protected]



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