Analyzing Tableau and Power BI: A Conversation with Vince Baumel

I am happy to present the third edition of this series, Analyzing Tableau and Power BI, this time with Vince Baumel. Vince is a Consultant at Daugherty Business Solutions and a Tableau Ambassador. In addition to being a Tableau community heavyweight, Vince also works with Power BI and can be found discussing both platforms on social media. I noticed Vince’s interest in Power BI later last year, so when I decided to run with this series, he was one of the first people I thought of. I think you’ll find his perspective on this conversation to be very enlightening, so let’s jump right in!

Hey Vince, glad to hear from you! Thanks so much for taking your time to talk with us about this very very hot topic, especially during these especially crazy times. Although I know you primarily from the Tableau community, I’ve been following your conversations on Power BI for a while now, 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 got my start with data analytics about 8 years ago, working at a manufacturing facility in Saint Paul, MN. We had been tracking inventory using hand-written spreadsheets in binders – filing cabinet after filing cabinet of binders! I worked with our one-man IT department to build a rudimentary digital inventory, and came up with a process for entering data as we received it. Within a year of using the new data system, we had identified pricing opportunities and storage inefficiencies that totaled over $700,000. To see such a real world difference made by a digital system was amazing, and I was hooked!

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 Tableau more often than I use Power BI. As a consultant I need to stay skilled in both, but when it comes to personal projects I side with Tableau. The ubiquity of the Microsoft environment makes Power BI a tool worth knowing, though, and there are certainly some advantages to it depending on the needs of the project.

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

If the data that I’m working with requires a bit of data preparation, I really like Power BI’s ability to seamlessly transition to Power Query, which gives great functionality for data prep in a UI that will feel very familiar to anyone who has worked with Excel. Tableau Prep gives some great additional functionality in terms of data prep (especially the ability to visualize a workflow), but has a steeper learning curve for those who haven’t done data prep before.

Once the data is loaded in the program, Tableau really shines in terms of usability and adherence to best practice. One of my favorite analogies between the two programs is as follows: Power BI is like a coloring book. You can make a visualization beautiful, and color it in compelling and elegant ways, but you can’t go outside the lines. The program simply won’t let you. Sure, you can learn javascript and write your own visualization to use via the marketplace, but that’s not a path many have the capability for. Tableau, on the other hand, is like a blank canvas. You can create anything you can dream up. Some things may require a bit more cleverness to figure out HOW to plot the elements of your visualization, but there really is no limit to what you can create. There’s an elegance and refinement you can achieve in Tableau that I simply haven’t found in any other tool.

Once your visualization is finished and it’s time to share your work, I find Tableau’s deployment environment options to make more sense than that of Power BI. Effective management of these environments is a skillset all its own, but things like extract storage and refreshment scheduling are much simpler in Tableau than Power BI.

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

Tableau is making big improvements to their data modeling capability, but in the event you need to use custom SQL I would love to see an improvement to that interface. As it currently exists, I have to use a separate programming tool to do my SQL development, then copy/paste it into Tableau. I understand it may not be a high priority, but it’s an opportunity to keep me in the flow.

Power BI makes adding elements to your data far too difficult in my opinion. If I want an additional data point, I need to decide whether I want it to be a new measure, new quick measure, new column, new table, then decide whether I need to write the calculation in DAX or M, then decide whether that calculation needs to be done in Power BI desktop or Power Query. This is a confusing landscape to navigate, and I have yet to find simple documentation explaining when is the right time to use which approach.

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

Tableau’s calculation syntax (including level of detail) was easier for me to learn by an order of magnitude. The ability to drag and drop data elements into the calculation itself played a big part in that.

Who is your favorite Power BI developer/Tableau author?

My two favorite developers in Power BI are Avi Singh and Leila Gharani. Both have a wonderful gift for demonstrating complex concepts in a very easy to understand and inspiring way. I’ve learned a ton from both of them!

A couple of my current favorites in the Tableau community are Jeff Plattner and Daria Voronov. Both have a particularly effective way of using color and simplicity, and I love to see what they come up with.

What are your favorite resources for learning Power BI? Tableau?

My go-to for learning Power BI is YouTube. There are several channels I follow that put out really high quality content, and it’s a regular part of my YouTube viewing. For Tableau, I find myself gaining the most insight from their eLearning platform and the blogs from the community. The Tableau community seems to leverage the Twitter and LinkedIn platforms more effectively than the Power BI community does, which makes those platforms great learning opportunities as well.

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 the Tableau conference several times, but not the PASS Summit. There’s a benevolence in the Tableau community that is magnified at their conference – people sharing ideas, forming small workgroups with folks they meet in the hallway, building friendships that transcend work colleagues, and more. They’ve become a second family to me, and (as cliche as it sounds) the conference really does feel like a family reunion in the best of ways.

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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