Straight Talk: Review of Tableau Software, the Pros and Cons

Straight Talk BI ReviewsAt 5000fish we’re dedicated to giving you straight talk. While we’ve worked hard to make Yurbi a powerful business intelligence (BI) solution that can help many organizations achieve their goals, we know Yurbi isn’t the ideal fit for everyone. When Yurbi isn’t right, there are a handful of BI products we’re prepared to recommend and one of them is Tableau.

If you’re in the market for a BI solution, this balanced overview of Tableau’s pros and cons will give you a solid idea if it can meet your needs.

Tableau’s Pros

Solid, growing company
Founded in 2002, Seattle-based Tableau raised $254 million in IPO and went public in May, 2013. {Update: Oct 2016 Tableau is exploring a sale}. Tableau has elevated business users’ expectations of a BI solution and is recognized as the cream of the crop for its visual-based data discovery.

Tableau earned a feather in its cap when Gartner’s “Market Share Analysis: Business Intelligence and Analytics Software” report ranked it as the fastest growing business intelligence and software vendor of 2013, noting the year’s growth rate of more than 80 percent+.

Amazing data visualization
Without question, Tableau’s data virtualization is head and shoulders above what traditional BI vendors offer. Tableau made its mark on the world of BI by being one of the first companies to give business users the ability to perform fairly complex data visualization in a very intuitive, drag and drop manner. Its data visualization is also impressively interactive. The user can highlight sections and drilldown into charts without extensive skills or assistance from IT. Gartner’s most recent Magic Quadrant reveals that more than 70 percent of Tableau’s customers selected the product because of its ease of use for the business user. If you want high powered data visualization, you’ve found it with Tableau.

Excellent mobile support
Tableau put a lot of effort into developing a robust mobile client. Touch-optimized controls make accessing and viewing data trouble free, and visualizations are automatically streamlined for mobile devices. Plus, the user doesn’t have to take any steps to make dashboards mobile- Tableau automatically recognizes if the user is using the mobile app and makes adjustments. We weren’t surprised to learn that when compared to other vendors, Tableau has a higher percentage of users actively deploying mobile BI.

Good product, good customer support
The majority of customers have good things to say about Tableau’s products. In fact, Gartner’s most recent Magic Quadrant reveals that for the fourth year in a row, Tableau’s customers are “very happy” with the product. Tableau’s customer support has kept pace with its growth. As a result, customers consistently give it two thumbs for customer experience.

Low-cost solution to implement and upgrade
Tableau is a relatively low-cost solution when compared to the big boys of BI like Business Objects and Domo. It’s also gets kudos for being easy to implement and 9 out of 10 surveyed Tableau customers are using the latest release of the software- which leads us to believe it’s easy to upgrade.

Impressive integration
Tableau integrates with most data types and offers out of the box integration with a variety of big data platforms, including Hadoop. Tableau integrates with R, the business intelligence statistical language many data scientists use to dive deep into BI for statistical and advanced analytics. Data gurus can then leverage Tableau to easily visualize their data. Tableau also offers native support for Google BigQuery API– a plus for organizations that want highly detailed analytics.

Large customer base and resources
Tableau has a vast partner and consultant base, as well as comprehensive online resources including guides, online training and forums. Plus, the Tableau community is notoriously enthusiastic and engaging. If you need a question answered, you’ll have a wealth of resources to turn to with Tableau.

Tableau Cons

Can be cost prohibitive for larger companies and OEM
Like most BI vendors, Tableau offers a few different software licensing options. There’s a free version of Tableau for personal use, but its functionality is limited. To download Tableau to your desktop, you’ll pay in the range of $1000 and $2000 per year. Online or hosted access to Tableau costs $500 per person, per year.

However, most organizations will require Tableau server. Based on what companies that have considered Tableau (or have purchased it) tell us, an entry level server license is about $1000 per user (with a 10-user minimum). For organizations with a large number of users, the server license is sold by CPU. Sources on the Web report that an 8 core server can support up to about 1,000 people, and costs roughly $240,000. Add in Tableau’s 25 percent maintenance cost, and it’s easy to see how quickly Tableau can go from a relatively affordable solution to one that’s cost prohibitive for most SMBs.

Still need IT expertise
If your data is in Excel or a CSV file, you can upload it to Tableau and do a lot of wonderful things. But, if you want to connect to a database, a developer skilled in SQL will have to create the SQL query to pull the dataset. So, although Tableau gives the business users a lot freedom from IT once the dataset is created, the user still needs the help of someone well versed in SQL to create the dataset to begin with.  Alteryx has made a marketing brand for themselves as the “data preparation” option for Tableau.

Change management issues
With the Tableau server there is no concept of versioning. You build your reports and dashboards through your desktop, and then publish them to the server. Once they’re published, there’s no way to recover previous versions- once you overwrite there’s no pulling back.

Aggressive, inflexible sales team
Similar to most publically traded companies, Tableau must answer to its shareholders and they’re looking for profitability and positive returns. That puts pressure on Tableau’s sales people to close more deals, and make them as lucrative as possible. In addition to an aggressive sales force, a complaint 5000fish has heard from some would-be Tableau customers is that they’re inflexible when it comes to contract negotiations- especially with regard to OEM.

Risky security
Tableau gives you the ability to establish “row level” security at the data level, but we believe the way Tableau implements row-level security is a bit risky. Before Tableau can set up row-level security, it requires that the user have a database user account. That means everyone you want row level security for has a database account. More database accounts means more potential accounts for hackers to exploit.

No functionality for scheduling or notification of reports
Tableau offers no functionality to do traditional production type reporting. You can’t create static layouts or data tables and it doesn’t offer features related to distribution, or scheduling and notification of reports. As a result, although Tableau offers end users the ability to leverage amazing data visualization, Tableau is not the BI standard for most organizations.

The Pros and Cons of Tableau: Our Bottom Line

Tableau is a successful company with innovative data visualization tools that other companies often try to emulate. If you’re looking for a solution that gives the end user the ability to create powerful data visualization, Tableau may be a good fit. Tableau’s additional benefits include a large, satisfied customer base, and powerful mobile support. But if you’re looking for an affordable organization level solution that lets you break free from IT, and gives you functions such as scheduling or notification of reports, Tableau falls short.

We hope you found this review of Tableau’s pros and cons valuable. If you’d like additional insights into your BI options, we encourage you to read more straight talk reviews.

Have you used Tableau? If so, we’d like to know what you think Tableau’s pros and cons are. Leave your comments and let’s generate discussion about the advantages and drawbacks of Tableau.

  • DB

    SQL coding is only needed if you need to do some ETL on the fly (which is what Alteryx does), i.e. your data is not ready to go. If your database tables happen to be structured the right way – just connect to them and you are ready. Tableau also provides some basic table joining, data type conversion, etc. functionality for database connections (depending on the database vendor).

    From version 9.3 (at least) Tableau Server supports revision history, so one of the items in the article needs updating.

    Tableau Server also allows (and always did) scheduling of data updates (data extract refresh).

    It also has a quasi-notification functionality, i.e. users can subscribe to receive emails on schedule configured by an administrator (so it is not trigger-based). This can be extended with a Python hack to something of a real-time, trigger-based, fully-blown notification feature, but at this stage it is quite clunky and is not supported by the vendor.

  • Jager36

    Avoid Tableau….It’s very expensive and support is slow.

    • David Knight

      Can be expensive but we have support cases seen to within 24 hours often quicker when it is for an urgent matter. We have paid support with a dedicated manager to contact that will help us push cases through for faster resolution.

      • dean jones

        I agree with Jager .
        and can add to it
        Yes the tool has a very good visualization capabilities and you can kick start with it real fast ..but than you hit a break wall
        the support is very good at responding fast ..when you dont hit that wall.
        I have worked with many tools in the past MicroStrategy , MicroSoft ,QlikV and all of them have issues BUT they all admit their tool limitation and help you achieve your goal
        Tableau on the other hand will either ignore you or will just try to send you to buy another tool to compensate for their tool weakens.

  • David Knight

    The features I feel are still missing in Tableau:
    1. dynamic parameters, where the options are updated from a data source.
    2. mixed users – can only use local users or domain accounts. a mixed mode for users would be useful as we need to authenticate internal and external (non-AD) users.
    3. better support for custom SQL

    Otherwise its a nice tool for quickly gaining insight.

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  • Meg raz

    My employer, mid size gov agency, recently bought the Tableau server but I don’t think they realized the limitations on use – that user certificates at $1000 a pop would still be required. I took a 2 day internal intro course last week (supposed to include intermediate level as well but with end of the FY stuff to get done I was called back after only 2 days). I loved the possibilities and Tableau is defiantly better than the intricate coding skills needed to create dashboards in excel, but I feel it still requires more tech skill than the average person has.
    My fear is that while it’s a great data visualization tool and can tell a story very well, will line staff be required to spend even more time compiling data to justify the cost of Tableau? Time will tell!

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