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Marketer’s Introduction to Data Visualization Platforms

This article originally appeared on SMPS Boston’s website.

by Troy Krause

This article briefly reviews the free version of two leading business intelligence (BI)/visualization platforms, Microsoft’s PowerBI Desktop and Tableau Public, and offers advice on how to determine the best solution to meet your needs.

Free Platform #1: Tableau Public

Benefits:

  • Free: Share visualizations on Tableau Public and embed in websites for free
  • Quick startup: Just download and go
  • Data privacy: Configure settings to determine whether the public can view and download a dataset
  • Tableau Gallery: Access free sample visualizations for inspiration
  • Create dashboards and stories: Enjoy some of the same functionality as the paid version

Drawbacks

  • Visualizations are open to the public: Even though data can be secured, all visualizations will be public
  • Limited Storage: Just 10GB is available for free
  • Data source limitations: Limited to Excel, Text, Access files, and OData
  • Automatic refresh is not available
  • Data set limitations: Limited to 10 million rows of data per workbook

Free Platform #2: PowerBI Desktop

Benefits:

  • Free: Desktop version includes data cleaning and preparation, custom visualizations, and the ability to publish to the Power BI service.
  • Integrated with Office 365
  • New features weekly
  • Familiar to Excel users
  • Self-serve data prep
  • Office store apps and custom visuals available
  • Extensive data connectivity

Drawbacks:

  • Data Analysis Expressions (DAX) knowledge required for advanced calculations
  • Limited data sharing: Reports and dashboards can be shared only with those users who have the same email domains or the ones who have their email domains listed in your Office 365 tenant.
  • Data quality: Microsoft Power BI does not provide any data cleansing solution. Meaning, it assumes that the data you are pulling has been cleaned up well in advance, and is of high quality.
  • Data storage: Same 10GB per user limit as Tableau Public

Summary

PowerBI and Tableau include enough functionality to meet most consumers’ needs, but there are dozens of competitors offering free solutions, too. To determine which best suits your needs, consider your audience. For example, all Tableau Public visualizations are just that: public. Opt for the PowerBI Desktop client or another solution for anything you need to keep private. By contrast, PowerBI presents limited sharing capabilities: Reports and dashboards can be shared only with those users who have the same email domains or the ones who have their email domains listed in your Office 365 tenant. Users who need to share their visualizations will have to pay for the Pro version, and so another solution like Tableau Public may be a better fit.

Troy Krause is marketing coordinator with CDM Smith.

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