Analyzing Tableau and Power BI: A Conversation with Barrett Studdard

In this edition of Analyzing Tableau and Power BI we get a chance to sit down with Barrett Studdard to discuss his thoughts on the pros and cons of Tableau and Power BI. Barrett is a dedicated member of the Power BI community and frequently blogs about BI topics in his blog at Barrett actually got his start in the data visualization community using Tableau, but he has since moved to using Power BI full time, so his perspective is one that I definitely wanted to hear! Let’s get to it.

Thanks Barrett so much for taking your time to talk with us about this very very hot topic that is the seemingly never ending back and forth between Tableau & Power BI. I am very much looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the topics below, but before we get into the heavy stuff, let’s start with some introductions.

Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into data analytics. 

I actually started my career in Finance, first working in investments – Equity Research and Fixed Income Trading – as well as more traditional Financial Planning & Analysis roles. Throughout that early part of my career, the most fun part of the job was always developing BI/Analytics solutions. I continued to build that skill-set and knowledge base, and eventually transitioned working in the field in roles dedicated to building out data analytics solutions.

Now to the big questions about Tableau & Power BI. Which one of these tools do you use most? If you use both, how do you use each?

I use Power BI the most nowadays. I first started with Tableau and really enjoyed working with it. I’ve since transitioned to using Power BI nearly 100% of the time, but still support previously built Tableau dashboards.

Are there certain things that one tool does better than the other? And if so, which ones?

In my opinion, the strongest part of Power BI is the data model and engine, doing the heavy lifting behind the scenes. The data modeling aspect is really powerful. I’ve struggled with other products due to feature limitations when attempting to build single, holistic, enterprise-wide datasets.

With the ability to model and relate data of varying subject areas and grains, DAX programming, and powerful engine under the hood – there’s a lot of flexibility to meet the needs of an organization. Some other benefits are the ability of Power Query to pull in and transform data, as well as the integration with existing Microsoft products/larger ecosystem.

On the Tableau front, the biggest strength is the flexibility in front end visualizations. Power BI feels more like configuration of various chart types in this realm, where Tableau allows you to customize and build your own charts. Similar imagination, creativity, and flexibility that Power BI has on the data modeling side, Tableau has on the front end visualization side.

What is an improvement you would like to see in either of the programs (or both)?

I’d love to see Power BI adopt some of the customizations on the front end visualization side. There’s been some discussion in the community regarding custom visuals that would fill that gap and allow you to bind data to visual elements at a lower level, closer in functionality to Tableau types of customization. I think this would take the product to the next level.

What was easier for you to pick up, DAX or Tableau’s syntax including Level of Detail calculations?

They both took some time to learn. I’d say Tableau’s LOD syntax was easier to pick up initially, but ultimately less flexible than the types of calculations you can do in DAX.

Who is your favorite Power BI developer/Tableau author?

I have to give a shout out to our local St. Louis Power BI User Group lead – Alex Powers! He’s not afraid to dive into the technical details and get our heads spinning on what is possible. I often find when learning technical skills that there’s a lot of intro material available, which is great to start with, but diving into the deep end of technical and implementation details (even if you aren’t 100% comfortable with the topic) can often build skill-sets quickly into that next level – or at the very least know what is possible.

I have interacted with Alex quite a bit and if you aren’t following him yet already on social media, you should! What are your favorite resources for learning Power BI? Tableau?

From a Power BI standpoint, some of my favorites are:

  • DAX: The team at SQLBI, Marco Russo and Alberto Ferrari. Phil Seamark also has a great blog where I’ve learned a lot on data modeling in Power BI and DAX.
  • Power Query, M, and Dataflows: Alex Powers (mentioned above). Check out his recent community challenge, #30DQUERY, using Power Query and M. I’ve also picked up a lot on Dataflows and BI best practices from Matthew Roche’s blog.
  • Report Design: Chris Hamill has a blog with a lot of good report design tips and tricks.
  • All things Power BI!: One of my favorite resources has been the Guy in a Cube YouTube channel.

If you’ve been to both Tableau Conference and PASS Summit, which one did you like better? If not, tell us something you liked about the one you’ve attended. 

I’ve been to both the Tableau Conference and Microsoft Business Applications Summit. They’re both great conferences to go to and I always come back inspired with new things to try. 

Thanks so much for taking your time out and answering some of these hot button questions for our audience. Keep up all the great work you do and I’m sure we’ll talk more Tableau/Power BI soon!

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