Tableau vs Excel: Overview, Comparison And Differences


October 19, 2021


December 7th, 2022

Category Blog, Tableau BI

Data is the crux for all businesses today, be it any geography, size, or segment. In a world ruled by data, analysis of data and extracting the best of information out is vital. Two data analysis tools – Tableau and Excel are often compared and have a lot in common but have their own individual characteristics too. Excel has been around for a long time, Tableau is comparatively a newcomer that has taken the data analytics forum, by storm.

Tableau has been one of the most powerful BI tools and has helped users analyze their own data through dashboards and reports. Tableau has been a revolution for data scientists, analysts, and business owners by offering insightful information on the heaps of data that organizations possess. Excel may not look that powerful as Tableau when it comes to visualization but when it comes to data creation, multi-layered calculations, multiple operations on data – Excel stands strong.

There are wide opinions that Tableau is going to replace Excel and others say that Excel cannot be replaced. Thousands of organizations are using Tableau to extract the best out of their data and Excel is a name relevant to almost all users – be it personal devices or professional ones. There are organizations like Elaura, Seagate, OptumHealth, etc. that are transforming Excel data into Tableau format for better decision making.

Before comparing the two, let us understand the basics of both:

What Is Tableau?

Tableau Software is an American interactive data visualization software company focused on business intelligence. – Wikipedia

BI and analytics users leverage Tableau for data visualization purposes, for users to look at and understand data in such a way that helps them to take necessary business decisions. All types of plotting, graphs, charts, etc. can be done by users themselves, instead of relying on the IT staff, without much programming aid. Tableau has been in existence since 2003 and was acquired by Salesforce in 2019.

As an analysis and spreadsheet tool, it facilitates Excel users to retain their spreadsheets and at the same time, enhance their data with visual representations and dashboards, delving deeper into data. The Tableau range of products includes Tableau Desktop, Tableau Server, Tableau Online, Tableau Reader, Tableau Mobile, Tableau CRM, etc.

Collaboration and sharing, data sources in Tableau, data visualization dashboard, drag and drop integration, external service integration, data connectors, advanced visualization, robust security, maps, mobile view, predictive analytics, etc. are some of the key features of Tableau that has been attracting users and continues to do so.

Tableau connects seamlessly to Excel spreadsheets for making analysis of data easy and quick. It helps Excel users retain their spreadsheets, enhancing competence for data analysis to offer the creation of live visualizations that showcase information in a simplistic manner.

Organizations using Tableau are  – Nike, US Foods, Coca-Cola, Acxiom, DraftKings, Skype, Snap Finance, Phillips 66, Citigroup, The New York Times, etc.

What Is Excel?

Microsoft Excel is a spreadsheet developed by Microsoft for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. It features calculation, graphing tools, pivot tables, and a macro programming language called Visual Basic for Applications. – Wikipedia

Excel is basically leveraged by organizations – big and small, for data organization, financial analysis, creation of budgets by making graphs, and laying out formulas. Through this, tax/payroll/revenue calculation can be done. Excel forms part of the Microsoft Office suite of software and has been in sharp existence for three decades over.

As a spreadsheet too, Excel has been the most used tool on a personal front as well as a business front. It is easy for users to define their customized formulas and extract their time-based reports.

Data filtering and sorting, password protection, formula auditing, built-in formula, creation of charts, automatic edit of results, advanced filtering, conditional formatting, Pivot tables, absolute references, filers, etc. are the main features of Excel through which it has been attracting users across the globe.

Organizations using Excel at a professional level are – Samsung Electronics, Total, AXA group, United Parcel Service Inc., Carrefour S.A., and many more.


Tableau vs Excel: An Extensive Comparison

As we observe the difference between Excel and Tableau, it is important to state that they both have certain points in common too. They both are used for data analysis and can extract information like the users’ needs but in different ways.

Parameters Tableau Excel
Purpose Visualization and representation of insights from raw data Quick calculations, organization, and formatting data
Tool Type Data visualization tool Spreadsheet tool
Data Size Ideal for large datasets, Big Data Ideal for small to medium-sized datasets
Performance Efficient and fast in performance even as the data size increases Tough to offer great performance when data increases
Data Sources Easy connection with varied sources in real-time Plug-ins necessary for non-excel sources
Key Features User-friendly, quick, and interactive visualization. Powerful and intuitive. Data joining and merging. Manipulation of large sets. Descriptive and manipulative statistics. Multi-layered calculations on data. Ad hoc data management. Using inbuilt functions.
Application Users Data scientists, data analysts Data analysts, developers, ETL DBA
Data Exploration Exploring data through interactive dashboards Limited exploration of data through spreadsheets
Display of Data Through pictorial or graphical representation. With dashboards to spot patterns, trends, etc. Visual reports are available right from the beginning without any filtration. Through spreadsheets in a tabular format through cells. With graphs, charts, etc. to highlight an insight. Filtration is needed at the cell level after which visualization is created.
Ease of Use No programming knowledge required Knowledge of customized functions needed
Data Ingestion Live connection link to data sources, saves a lot of time Obtaining from other sources is time-consuming
Data Visualization Huge range of customized inbuilt charts Simple and restricted Excel charts
Sharing of Dashboards Creating and sharing a dashboard is difficult Dashboard sharing is easy to handle
Security Control Data security ensured through many options without scripting Limited security controls offered for data
Application Integration Integrates seamlessly with 250+ applications Integrates seamlessly with 60+ applications
Formulas and Calculations Easy and more powerful to create customized formulas Involves creation of macros and some level of programming
Data Blending Easier in Tableau by importing from different sources and adding relationships A little complicated in Excel by writing formulas and then computing accordingly
Drilling Down of Data Users can freely explore data by drill-down and data blending features. Trends and correlations can also be spotted. Drill-down data is less flexible as users need to move through the tabular formats. Exploring information is complicated.
Automatic Refresh Automatic refreshing Tableau applications is easy as it is intuitive and recurring processes can be created. Custom formulas can also be applied. Automatic refreshing Excel worksheets need the creation of macros of manual programming methods which becomes difficult.

Tableau vs Excel: Which Serves The Purpose?

No doubt, both Tableau, and Excel are a great asset to the family of data tools and they both look similar but have very different objectives. The objective of the organization and the key reasons are good enough to decide on which one to pick. The types of reports needed by the organization, the frequency of creation of those reports, and the allocated budget are some of the major factors that will help decide which one to choose.

Good Read: Power BI vs. Excel Comparison. It’s Time To Shift Your Reporting

Tableau is a data analytics and visualization tool whereas Excel is a spreadsheet tool. When it comes to handling small to medium-sized organizational data, Excel may serve the purpose, especially if it is all about calculations and formulas. But, when it comes to handling huge bulk of information, just like Big Data, Tableau is perfect since it showcases data in a visually appealing manner with complete data insight. It is viable for Tableau to create a seamless data source connection with Excel and extract data from it. Finally, it is the organization’s call!

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