Choosing the right dashboarding tool for your business.

When over 1.7 MB of data is created every second, how does one keep up? If your organization is growing its data at an exponential rate, then you need a way to consume, understand, and present it in a visually appealing manner.


There are many tools out there that will help accomplish this, but it can be daunting to try and pick the right one for your business. In fact, many companies which specialize in data summarization will one-up each other for you to choose their product over the competition's. As a result, many tools appear to have the same functionality which often makes it confusing and tedious to pick one!


So, which dashboarding tool is right for me?


The short answer is that it depends on your business needs. However, the objective of this post is to delve into the nitty-gritty of some of the most popular dashboarding tools available on the market, which will allow you make an informed decision. We will specifically be discussing Power BI, Tableau, and Google Data Studio.

Each of these tools is widely used in the reporting realm and serves a valuable purpose to all Business Intelligence and Decision Support requirements. Have we piqued your interest? We knew we would! Read on to find out about the Good and the Not-So-Good of each tool!


Power BI


Today, Power BI is arguably the most widely used dashboarding tool available on the market. A product of Microsoft, Power BI comes equipped with many features to handle all of your Business Intelligence and Data Analytical needs. It is a powerful, easy-to-use tool which integrates with countless data sources and displays beautiful, interactive visualizations. But alas, we’re not here to only ogle over it, so let’s jump right in!



The Good

  • Pricing: Power BI is a very cost-friendly solution. In fact, Power BI Desktop is free if you’re using it for small, personal projects - although of course, it will have some limitations (ie. You'll only be able to run it locally on your own computer and can’t share datasets or dashboards with others). Even then, subscribing to Power BI Pro is only $12.80/month, which gives you access to cloud or on-premises hosting (locally on your computer).

Click here to view Power BI's pricing page.



  • Data Connections: As mentioned before, Power BI allows integration with many data sources right out of the box – over 120 to be exact! Some common examples include Excel documents, SQL Server, and even Python scripts! This will make it very easy for your team to connect to your company’s specific Customer Relational Management or Enterprise Resource Planning systems. Microsoft is also constantly adding new data connectors to the list - so if yours isn’t on there, chances are it will be!

For more information on Power BI data connectors, click here.



  • User Friendly: Power BI is extremely user-friendly, as are most of Microsoft’s products. If you are even moderately proficient with Excel (especially in the Power Query or Pivot Table domain), you will have no trouble figuring out how to use it. There are also TONS of online resources to help you on your Power BI journey!


The Not-So-Good

  • DAX Syntax: While Power BI does come equipped with its own data manipulation system, it’s not the easiest there. Data Analysis Expressions is Microsoft’s library of functions used to clean and format incoming data. While undoubtedly useful, it is quite clunky and not so simple to comprehend. DAX syntax is also quite different than that of Excel’s and may require a steeper learning curve.

Read this article here by Towards Data Science on the complexities of DAX.



  • Limited Source Data: If you have the free version of Power BI, it will not process over 2GB of source data – which forces you to upgrade to the Pro version. In hindsight, 2GB isn’t really much, especially when combining multiple relational datasets. This constraint may make it difficult to accomplish your dashboarding projects!



  • Limited Visuals: Power BI has very limited default visual configurations. At a first glance, it contains mostly what anyone would need to display their data in an organized (but basic!) way. If however, you are looking for something more interactive or even visually appealing, you will need to import more visualizations from AppSource, which may not necessarily be free, depending on what you're looking for.


Tableau


Like Power BI, this awesome data-viz tool is hot on the market and ripe for the picking! In 2019, well before Slack, Tableau was bought out by Salesforce for $15.7 billion. In today’s data-heavy environment, Tableau is one of the major dashboarding tools available. Tons of Data Science and Engineering roles will advertise the use of this powerful program. With that said, does it live up to its hype? Let’s find out!



The Good

  • Beautiful Visuals: Simply put, Tableau offers beautiful customizations! It has plenty of visual features to fit most user’s preferences in displaying organized data. If you can picture it, you can do it in Tableau! Not only this, but Tableau is arguably THE BEST tool in this regard. Major businesses across the world such as Adobe, LinkedIn and Deloitte use Tableau as a means to report their dashboards. No wonder so many companies are gravitating towards it!



  • Large Datasets: Big Data analytics is a very common field across many industries in today's modern tech era. It is also extremely taxing on automated reporting systems. With Tableau's extremely high performance however, this isn't an issue. Tableau is often recommended as the go-to visualization tool for big data analytics, and even connects with HADOOP frameworks.

For more information, read this article on HADOOP and how to process large datasets.



  • Mobile Friendly App: Tableau also comes with a very user-friendly mobile app, which offers the same support as both desktop and web versions! This is extremely handy when it comes to looking at your data on the go. We do recognize that Power BI also offers a similar feature as well, but with Tableau's gorgeous visuals and large dataset support, we believe this particular app makes it a more pleasant experience.

Read this article here as to why user friendly mobile apps are so important in business operations today.


The Not-So-Good

  • Pricing: Unfortunately, Tableau isn't cheap and can easily cost over $40.00 per month per license (depending on the type of plan you subscribe to). Granted, if your organization is larger and has more flexible budgeting, this may not be an issue. However, startups and non-profits alike may feel the sting a little more in this domain. Tableau also forces industries to buy into their extended licensing from the moment they purchase the product, regardless of what business needs are required.

For more information on pricing, click here.



  • Embeddings: A big known issue with Tableau is that it is very difficult to embed dashboards into websites or workspaces. To add to this, users require licensing in order to view the embedded material itself! This is especially frustrating for companies that want to publicly display their dashboards.



  • Customer Support: A common issue reported with Tableau is its lack of troubleshooting and customer support after the license has been purchased. Just check out this review page on Trustpilot! The Tableau sales team is infamous for pushing out more costly features to their customers as opposed to working with them to try and resolve their issues beforehand. This is obviously a huge red flag in our eyes and is definitely worth mentioning.


Google Data Studio


Now here’s one you may not have heard of! With the last two giants previously discussed, Google Data Studio (GDS) tends to get overshadowed in their wake. While not nearly as robust as Tableau or Power BI, it does carry with it some benefits that may make it an ideal candidate – depending of course on your company’s use cases. Along with other Google products, GDS is sure to impress some! With that in mind, let’s get to it!



The Good

  • Pricing: Let’s start this off on a high note. GDS is completely free to use! If your company is looking for a decent visualization tool at no cost, this is a very strong contender! All that is required is a Google Account and if you don't have one, you’ll have the ability to link your existing account to it!

Learn more about linking third party accounts here.



  • Formulas & Data Manipulation: Similar to our other contenders, GDS also comes equipped with a data manipulation tool, and we have to say it’s pretty decent! The calculations it provides are based around the SQL syntax, which is an already simplified query editor. This means that if you’re proficient enough in the world’s most well-known querying language, you will have no trouble transferring those skills to GDS!


  • Sharing Visualizations: GDS has pretty great data visualizations! While they may not be as extensive as Tableau’s, remember that this tool is FREE TO USE. To add to this, Google also incorporates something called Community Visualizations, which allows third parties to publish their visualizations that you could also use in your organization!



The Not-So-Good

  • Third Party Data Sources: While GDS itself is free, if you plan on connecting to third-party data sources not hosted by Google, it will cost you. Chances are, this will be the case for the majority of companies out there, as not everyone is willing to work with Google's Suite of Products and as a result is to be expected. This may be extra frustrating though if your company isn't completely integrated with Google.



  • Memory Allocation: The way GDS manages its data is both a blessing and a curse, with more emphasis on the latter! GDS is known to quickly return queries. It’s one of the faster tools out there in this regard! How does it manage this you might ask? It doesn’t store any of the source data by default. Instead, it will read from it once and store the output in memory. This means that if you decide to refresh the query, it will read from the most recent cached data and all historical records will be lost! This may not necessarily be an issue if you keep a repository of historical documents, but it means that GDS will need to read from it every single time.



  • Lack of Excel: This one is certainly bound to grind some gears! GDS will not give you the option to connect to Excel as a data source! In order to make this work, you would need to convert your Excel file to a Google Sheets document. While Google manages this process with no issues, if your organization isn't linked to Google in any way, this may be a more difficult problem to overcome.


So, what’s the verdict?


As we're sure you have already guessed, it completely depends on your organization's needs and requirements! Some of the Goods and Not-So-Goods listed here may or may not impact your business at all. To summarize it nicely, all three of these tools are magnificent in their own regard and offer a lot of variety while attempting to accomplish similar tasks. Here at Think Luna, we use all three tools depending on the analytical needs of our customers and business partners.


Here's a little fun fact though! If you’ve visited our website, you’ll be interested to know that both the Vaccine Hesitancy and 2021 Canadian Election dashboards were designed using Power BI and prototyped in Google Data Studio. Click the links above or check out the images below to see how they turned out!




Now that we’ve provided you with an arsenal of fun facts to use while choosing your dashboard of preference, we’d love to hear from you! What’s your favourite data-viz tool out there? Did it make this list? Is there another we haven’t mentioned yet? Leave a comment below and let us know!


Also, if you found this post informative or insightful, you may be interested to read about how these tools stack up against one another in real, business applicable scenarios. We will be launching our evaluation criteria in the near future, so remember to subscribe if you want the full scoop!



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