Tableau vs Excel is a hot discussion topic in the data science community. Indeed, Excel is not a top resume-building skill for aspiring data scientists. But it has been around for ages and you are probably familiar with tons of useful Excel tricks for data cleaning and analysis.
Both Tableau and Excel are used for data analysis, and that’s why most of us feel the need to compare both the tools. Each tool has its set of advantages and uniqueness and cannot be replaced with the other.
What is Excel?
Everyone knows Microsoft Excel. Even if you’re not deep in spreadsheet analysis every day, you know what Excel does. And you know the basics of how to look at it.
Let’s explore some of the pros and cons of using Excel for data analysis
- It’s a trusted tool
- It doesn’t have a learning curve
- It’s easy to create data collection tools
- It has templates and formulas for data analysis and reports
- It’s simple to create charts and graphs
- It’s hard to consolidate reports
- It’s incapable of supporting quick decision-making
- It’s not designed for collaborative work
- Lack of control and security
- It’s vulnerable to fraud/corruption
- It’s difficult to troubleshoot or test
What is Tableau?
Tableau is the swiftest-growing data visualisation tool which helps you convert textual and numerical information to beautiful through interactive dashboards. It is the best way to change or transform the raw data into easily understandable data.
Tableau is so popular, interactive, simple, fast and user-friendly and has a huge fan base in public and enterprise world. The great thing about Tableau is that it doesn’t need any technical or any kind of programming skills to operate. It has accumulated interest among the people across various sectors like different industries, business, and researchers.
You can learn more about Tableau from our previous article – What is Tableau & Why is it Popular?
Now, let’s explore some of the pros and cons of using Tableau for data analysis.
- Interactive visualisations
- It’s easy to implement
- It’s able to handle large amounts of data
- It’s able to understand other scripting languages
- It’s mobile-friendly
- Its parameters are static
- It has limited data preprocessing
- It’s able to integrate with most data types and a variety of big data platforms
- It supports collaboration and real-time analysis
- It does not have a scheduling function for reports
- It does not support custom visual imports
- Poor versioning
- It requires manual effort
Excel vs. Tableau: The Comparison
Excel is able to generate quick visualisations and reports whereas Tableau is able to draw insights from raw data.
Finding key insights in data helps organisations remain competitive within their markets and the ability to explore data and find insights is where the two tools differ greatly.
When working with Excel, you must have an existing idea of where the data needs to lead you to find critical insights. Since it saves data in a tabular format, this means your path to an insight involves mapping out your answer, building formulas and visualisations, and analysing the information. This causes the process of drilling down into data to be less flexible, making it harder to explore information on a granular level.
However, Tableau allows you to freely explore data without knowing the answer you want ahead of time. With drill-down and data blending features built-in, you’re able to spot correlations and trends, and then dig down to understand what caused them to happen, rather than the other way around.
Excel is a spreadsheet tool whereas Tableau is a data visualisation tool.
Spreadsheet tools are electronic worksheets that display data in a tabular format (a table of columns and rows). Each data point is stored in “cells” and can be manipulated by manually set formulas. Graphs, charts or presentations can be created afterwards to highlight a particular insight.
Data visualisation tools, on the other hand, format data in a pictorial or graphical view to easily spot patterns, trends or correlations between data points. These tools typically connect to third-party tools to pull data and have user-friendly functionality, like drag-and-drop features or drop-down menus, so users can explore data freely.
#3 Data Size
Excel is good for medium-sized, structured data sets whereas Tableau is good for large, unstructured data sets (big data).
Excel is best suited for SMEs or an organisation with smaller or medium-sized data sets. It’s also suited for structured data. There are different data types within structured data and it can be classified into three categories – numeric, character-based and date or time-based.
Tableau, on the other hand, is a great tool to get insights from the big data problems that are being represented. It’s best suited for organisations of all sizes and works with unstructured data with ease. As the name suggests, this type of data is completely lacking in any type of structure. Data requirements for unstructured data are naturally far higher than for structured data. When it comes to unstructured data, it’s not possible to automatically store this data in rows and columns and it would need a fair amount of processing to provide it with some sort of structure. This processing is reasonably complex and dynamic in itself. For instance, reviews on a site would each be in a unique style and with different tones and styles, something that an algorithm would struggle with.
#4 Data Sources
Excel requires external plugins and system requirements when dealing with non-excel data sources whereas Tableau easily connects with different sources in real-time.
Excel offers integration functionality to users. However, you cannot connect with non-excel data sources without the help of some plugins or some system requirements. Tableau, on the other hand, has the ability to connect to numerous sources.
#5 Ease of Use
For Excel, you will need knowledge on custom functions and scripting (VBA) where no technical or coding knowledge is required for Tableau.
Excel is easy to use the software as it offers the spreadsheet functionality, which is quite easy for the beginners to put the data and perform some basic mathematics operations. But if you want to use the excel to the extreme level, then you need to have the knowledge of scripting (VB). You should also have the knowledge of macros to use it full-fledged.
On the other hand, Tableau is offering the best graphical user interface. It is offering drag and drops functionality. It means you need not have the coding skills required to use Tableau.
Excel charts are limited and simple whereas Tableau offers a wide range of built-in custom charts
Visualisation is the primary point between the comparison in Excel vs Tableau as it’s the process to highlight the most critical data in a given data set.
Excel allows you to manipulate the data on the cell level. And then manually create visualisations like graphs, charts, PowerPoint presentations of your data. To simplify your visualisation creation in Excel, you need to have a deep understanding of how Excel’s features work.
On the other hand, Tableau is one of the most popular data visualisation tools in the world. That’s why it visualises data from the start, allowing you to see the significance right away. Apart from that, Tableau also differentiates correlations with the help of colour, size, labels, and shapes. Thus, giving you context as you drill down the data.
Creating and sharing dashboards in Excel is a cumbersome process whereas, in Tableau, dashboards can be easily created and shared.
Excel vs. Tableau: Which Tool Is Better?
In this article, we have seen that both Excel and Tableau are used for a similar purpose (data analysis, manipulation, visualisation and generation of reports). But, the difference lies in the way both tools are used – by business users or technical users.
Deciding which analytics tool is best for your organisation depends on three main points:
- The types of reports your organisation needs
- How often you’re creating those reports
- Your budget for data analysis tools
Excel works well for creating quick, one-off reports. Although it used to be a static tool, Excel has significantly updated its capabilities over the years. Users can now create recurring reports, analyse data better and pull data points from multiple sources. Plus, the program is readily available with Microsoft Office.
Although Excel is a robust tool to use, creating and maintaining repetitive reports, creating visualisations and presentations, and drilling down into granular views of data require some advanced knowledge of its functionality.
Tableau is built with the business executive in mind. Its data visualisation and self-service functions allow decision-makers to pull up a report or dashboard and freely drill down to granular levels of information. The solution can be expensive, but it’s worth the cost if you’re creating many recurring reports that must be updated quickly.
The bottom line – Use excel when there are lots of computations and manipulations to be done on data. Use Tableau when you have to get all the data in one place and display it with powerful visualisations on the dashboard. A combination of both can be used where all the major calculations can be done on excel and then the final data set can be imported to Tableau for further processing, analysis and getting more insights.
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