4 Replies Latest reply on Aug 16, 2012 12:39 AM by thierryjakircevic

    Tableau/Spotfire Comparison

    Jonathan Drummey

      On Twitter, Andy Cotgreave linked to a review of Tableau (really a comparison of Tableau to Spotfire) by Terry Martin of BI Tools and asked for feedback, I thought I'd add this to the forums to encourage more responses and analyses. Mine is in the comments below.

        • 1. Re: Tableau/Spotfire Comparison
          Jonathan Drummey

          I think the title of "Tableau Software Review" is misleading, I think the document is really a marketing product comparison of Spotfire and Tableau. It seemed to me that the Terry Martin did a certain amount of due diligence, decided that Spotfire met his/her clients' needs, gave up on further exploring Tableau, and wrote the document from there. It's also clear that there's some bias, since BI Tools offers support for Spotfire and not Tableau, and there are no mentions of areas where Tableau has superior capabilities to Spotfire.


          Just to own my own bias, I did an analysis of data visualization tools last year for my organization and chose Tableau over Spotfire as the best tool to meet our needs, and I'm still a fan.


          The areas that were called out as deficient in Tableau were:


          - performance/latency
          - training and support
          - additional chart types (box plots, heat maps, network graphs, etc.)
          - integration options and customization
          - statistics
          - predictive analytics
          - user authentication
          - social media integration


          I'd like to frame my own evaluation of the "review" around three dimensions:

          1. Is the evaluation sound and accurate?
          2. Do the highlighted features or gaps actually matter to Tableau's current and future customer base and their jobs to be done?
          3. Are there features of Tableau that didn't matter to the reviewer, but do for Tableau's current and future customers?


          I think there were a few areas where the evaluation was inaccurate:


          Here I'm imagining that Martin didn't do much (if any) work to performance tune the data source and Tableau, since most data sets and analyses that start slow can get fast and responsive without too much effort. In terms of users on Tableau Server, there is a fundamental latency issue where the server is having to build the result set, generate the graphics and ship them down to the web browser, with tuning a lot of this can go away but there will always be some latency there.


          Training and Support
          Again, I don't think this area was adequately explored. Tableau provides a tremendous (and growing) amount of resources online, there's an active user community on the Tableau forums and in blogs, and there are a number of consultancies who are actively contributing to the community - Information Lab and Interworks are two that stand out for me, and of course Tableau itself offers a variety of training, support, and consulting options. On an anecdotal note, part of why I chose Tableau was that I could see a lot more resources out there than I could for Spotfire.


          Additional Chart Types (box plots, tree maps, heat maps, network graphs, etc.)
          Tableau can do some of these chart types with some to no effort - heat maps and box plots for example, some it can do only with so much data preparation as to not be particularly useful - tree maps and network graphs for example, and others it can't do at all, like 3D scatter plots. So again, the analyis was incomplete. And whether a given chart type is truly a requirement is really situation-specific, so an overall checkmark or X based on a set of chart types is not particularly useful, in my opinion.


          There's also an inaccurate statement that "...Tableau Software does not have a zero footprint web client." I'm not sure how Martin could have missed all the links to Tableau Public visualizations that are throughout the Tableau website and the web in general, and how Tableau Server offers the same options.


          Now for the other areas:


          Integration Options and Customization
          Yes, Tableau does not have an SDK. Yes, that does matter for some set of customers who would like to deeply integrate Tableau with other applications. And Tableau is very much about enabling users to do self-service analyses, and an awful lot of those users don't want to have to write their own code, so this may not be an issue for other customers. Tableau is a disruptive product to traditional enterprise BI which is deeply entrenched (and takes years and $$$ to implement), so of course someone evaluating requirements from that mindset would be dismissive of Tableau.


          That said, there's been a long-standing request for user defined functions, and other requests for more integration with statistics packages like R and/or SAS.


          Tableau is weaker than Spotfire in the area of statistics, and even though calculated fields can do a lot there are still functions available in Excel that are not available in Tableau. I'd love to have Tableau do more for process control such as built-in Shewhart charts.


          Predictive Analytics
          I have yet to see a good definition of what feature set makes up the "predictive analytics" buzzword, so I'm going to leave this one out. I did see a Spotfire demo that did some things that can only be done in Tableau by creating additional calculations, but I don't know how much work that actually takes in Spotfire.


          User Authentication
          I don't know enough about this to speak to this one.

          Social Media Integration
          I think this is another buzzword-filled area, and at the same time an area that Tableau could do better in. Tableau is very much about being live and on-screen, not so much collaborative (i.e. shared screen presentation/annotation), static (i.e. PowerPoint) or print/PDF (i.e. traditional reporting), and there's the new space of dynamic animated/video data presentations (i.e. Hans Rosling Gapminder presentations, Prezi, or Pixxa's Perspectives app for the iPad). There are clearly different user groups with different needs here. For example, my organization is still very much used to paper. Just moving to electronic delivery of static information (PDF, PowerPoint, or a Tableau Server view) is a big step, getting to interactivity and online conversations would be another leap.


          I want Tableau to be my tool of choice for all of these areas, and it's hard to be good at all of those. Some features that would make life easier for me are:
          - Ability to break pages (for image export or printing) on chosen headers. This would let me set up a single view and then export or print it like a traditional report.
          - Direct export to PowerPoint with the different elements of the image (view, title, legends, caption) displayed as separate high resolution graphics that are also readable on the iPhone and iPad (EMFs aren't). This would save me from Copy Image, Paste As... EMF in PowerPoint, find out the Color Shelf is in the wrong place and cut off, go back to Tableau to change the view, Copy Image again, etc.
          - In-cell timeseries charts (sparklines, area charts, etc.) in a text table. Yes, this can be done with dashboards, and aligning everything perfectly and keeping that alignment the same across displays and changes in data

          - More ease of use in terms of bookmarking views and creating "presentations" based on those. I'd love to see Tableau do something like where Pixxa's Perspectives is going, in terms of the smooth animation and the ability to create guided presentations of data.


          Finally, there are the areas not covered, and/or some cases might be areas where Spotfire doesn't measure up to Tableau. Ease of use might be one area, Tableau consistently scores at the top of customer surveys in this area. Big data is another. There's also nothing in this analysis about implementation and maintenance costs, ease of building and maintaining views, adding new data sources, etc. And there's nothing that talks about the delight that many Tableau users regularly feel.

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          • 2. Re: Tableau/Spotfire Comparison
            Tim Latendress



            A few weeks ago there was a LinkedIn discussion about this "review".  If the link, below, doesn't work work you will want to search for the LinkedIn Group called "Tableau Software Fans and Friends" and search for the topic called "BI Tools Review of Tableau".




            Essentially most people agreed that the "reviewer" did a half-assed job (as my Dad would say).



            3 of 3 people found this helpful
            • 3. Re: Tableau/Spotfire Comparison
              Jonathan Drummey

              Thanks for the link! I'm in the LinkedIn group but don't always follow it, I'll have to pay more attention next time!

              • 4. Re: Tableau/Spotfire Comparison

                Agree with everything you say here Jonathan.


                I think Tableau is doing more than OK in terms of speed/latency (not familiar with Spotfire) but I'd love to see Tableau offering the same performance as Qlikview in this area. Indeed, as far as speed is concerned, some of their online demos are pretty impressive. It feels like opening a workbook in Tableau Reader!


                While buzzy features such as Predictive Analysis and Social Media integration are not something we're excited about, more "traditional features" would bring huge value to us:


                - More flexibility with Global Filters (dashboard level, across multiple data sources etc...)

                - Report scheduling

                - Better pdf export (a lot of people still want to look at data on paper!)

                - In-cell charts (one feature Spotfire handles well it seems)


                There are a lot of great suggestions in the IDEA section. Interestingly, very few of them refer to having more types of visualizations. I am perfectly happy with the choices offered by Tableau and do not, personally, need any more (note: I do not consider "in cell chart" as being a different type of visualization. Just a more powerful way to display existing ones).

                If Tableau 8 integrates a good chunk of these top voted ideas, they will deliver a killer product!