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The Cons of Tableau vs. Excel


In my last blog I mentioned all of the great things about Tableau.  In this installment I’ll mention some of my concerns with the tool.

  1. Embedded Querying Tool


Tableau is great at visualization but it is lacking when it comes to querying data.  Tableau is not designed to be a querying tool like Microsoft Access.   Tableau simply connects to querying tools and databases to display various types of visualizations.


  1. Data Remediation


Very often when data is extracted from a database a “cleaning” process must take place.  Just like when petroleum is harvested from the ground it is not ready for immediate use.  The fuel must be refined first before it enters a machine.   It is the same thing working with data.  The cleaning process referred to as remediation may adjust dates, fix numbers and/or separate text.  Tableau is limited in this area.  Excel is more advanced in this area of data remediation.  Individuals can leverage the use of functions like trim, replace and other text functions to sanitize data.  It is important to mention that Tableau has recently released a separate tool called “Tableau Prep”, to focus on remediation.  In my opinion it is better to save on the cost of this tool and develop a tailored remediation process in Excel.


  1. Cell by Cell Manipulation Difficult

The things that make Tableau powerful are the same things that diminish its full impact.  Tableau is built with more controls and higher integrity for visualizations.  However, these constraints limit customization.  Very often customization is a key part of presenting information in compelling, concise and clear way.  For example, if I want to highlight one specific row to bring attention to its content, this proves a bit difficult in Tableau.  Highlights are reserved for certain values through conditional formats and rows like totals etc.  However, if you require a very custom highlight this proves very difficult with the tool.


  1. Functions , Formulas & Joins

One of the initial hurdles associated with Tableau is the functions. If you work in Excel often you will need to get use to the syntax structure of Tableau formulas.   For example, calculated fields are bit difficult to manage.  In Excel it is relatively easy to commingle hard data with calculations throughout a table.  In order to get a similar effect in Tableau a lot of intervention is needed.   


  1. Distribution and Sharing

In order to share visualizations in Tableau a space on a local server or Tableau Public is needed.  This is a big limitation for many corporate users of the tool.  Sensitive dashboards cannot be loaded unto Tableau Public.  This makes it necessary to involve Information Technology staff to setup servers, maintain sites etc.  Sometimes when there are “Too many cooks in the kitchen” processes and projects get delayed.  Once more parties become involved in an initiative the longer it takes and the more complex it becomes.  It is more favorable for users to have the ability to publish freely.


In conclusion Tableau is a great tool but it differs from Excel.  Tableau is specifically designed to provide compelling interactive visualizations.  Microsoft Excel on the other hand is more flexible and can be used in many different ways.  It would be advisable to have both tools in your analytical toolbox.


About the author



Othniel Denis is currently Principal of Excellent Ones Consulting LLC. He brings with him a background in finance, training, and information management systems. Prior to opening his own firm, Othniel spent the last 13 years in finance as an Analyst at organizations like New York University, Nassau County Government and Brookhaven National Laboratory to name a few...

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