Last Updated on April 18, 2023 by Admin
“Tableau vs. Excel, which should I use?” This is the most common question for many students, young professionals, and even seasoned analysts/programmers. Many think Tableau is here to replace Excel. Others believe no tool could ever replace Excel and that it’s all you need to succeed. Are they right? Let’s go back a bit to find out!
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The emergence of data analytics software
According to Techjury, humans have generated 90% of all the data we’ve created in the last two years alone. Let’s put that into context. For any given day in 2022:
- Google processes over 3.5 billion search queries
- 350 million photos are uploaded to Facebook
- 306 billion emails are sent
- Five million Tweets are Tweeted!
Let’s talk industry. Hospitals must keep track of equipment health, vital signs, patient information, lab results, patient appointments, rosters, salaries, and more. Retail companies must track how many clothes they produce, ship, sell, refund, etc.
In construction, people must order parts to specification, store designs, manage project timelines, analyze engineering projects, and manage budgets!
In banking, they need strong cybersecurity, fund tracking for hundreds of thousands of clients, stock portfolios, credit card numbers, retirement funds, real estate loans. The list goes on! Do you know what all these areas have in common? You guessed it. DATA!
In the 1980s, we could barely even store data efficiently. You’d need substantial office spaces and storage facilities to keep just a little bit of data. As the technology evolved rapidly, storage became cheaper, and processing power improved.
In 1987, Microsoft Excel spreadsheet software debuted, allowing users to manipulate data and perform complex calculations. It was so successful that 30 years later, practically every industry still uses Excel to manage, clean, process, and share its data.
“Well, if it’s so damn good, why do we need Tableau?” Let’s compare!
The pros and cons of Excel
When discussing Tableau vs Excel, the following are a few pros and cons of using excel over tableau;
Pros: Accessibility, cost, and easy to learn.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find organizations without Excel. With its ease of use, you require little to no training making it the first choice for managing data in the industry. It was also cheap! It’s very affordable, and with Office 365 available via monthly subscription, it’s become even easier to acquire the software.
Cons: Inability to store extensive data, difficulty consolidating external data, and insufficient data exploration.
Excel can begin to slow down or even crash as you add calculations, sheets, and visualizations! This is common for old legacy spreadsheets passed on from one user to the next (The oldest spreadsheet I ever found was 11 years old, riddled with errors, and had gone through more than 20 users!). Extensive data in this context is around 10,000 individual cells or more.
This makes analyzing and exploring extensive data cumbersome or near impossible, even for the most technical users.
Consolidating external data is also a problem. If you store data in a non-Excel format, it must be converted to Excel’s format first. Corporations waste billions of dollars each year just waiting for data to convert! For extensive data, you could be waiting hours each day or more.
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How Tableau empowers the user
Could we get the data ourselves? Could we create our visualizations? Could we explore our data?
This is precisely what the people at Tableau had in mind when designing it.
Tableau is a Business Intelligence Tool created to empower the average user by being extremely user-friendly. It’s for those who don’t have computer science degrees, ex-factory workers starting their first office jobs, or forced into new careers. It’s for those who may not have completed high school or gone to college. I fall into several of these categories.
Tableau was designed to help the people mentioned above handle, clean, and explore their data in ways that are too difficult to do in Excel. The user-friendly interface lets you focus on data and not the software.
Average or above-level Excel users can open the program and start almost immediately. With its drag and drops technology, it’s so intuitive that I have trained people in their teens to people in their late 60s.
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Excel vs Tableau: How the data tools compare
To advance practically any modern career involving data, it is essential to understand Excel and Tableau’s original purpose. Tableau was not designed to replace Excel but instead to augment it. Kindly consider this tableau vs excel pros and cons.
When discussing Tableau vs Excel, Tableau can efficiently perform visualizations, perform exploratory analysis, and share information, but it cannot create data. This is where Excel comes in. They must work TOGETHER to give you optimal results.
To add raw data to Excel, you either create data or obtain it from another source such as a server, web-based app, or internal storage (SAP, SharePoint, Google Docs, etc.). This can take a long time! I’ve seen people waiting several hours a day, every day, to get their data.
Tableau doesn’t need to download data. Instead, live connections link directly to data sources. This means you can combine data from an Excel file on your desktop, a Text file in your Google Documents, and a Salesforce report. This is a massive time-saver!
Excel struggles when data gets more extensive. That’s because Excel needs to display all the data all the time! This takes considerable computing power and eventually starts to slow down your computer.
On the other hand, Tableau displays the data directly in a visualized form, such as a bar chart, map, scatter plot, etc. This is computationally more efficient as you don’t need to display every point and allows you to handle a LARGE amount of data. The most significant data connection I ever saw was 4.3 Billion rows of data connected to a Cloud Server on the other side of the planet!!
Tableau does exploration much better than Excel by having interactive dashboards. For example, you have three visualizations; a map of countries, a pie chart of shipping status, and a bar chart of products sold.
A deep dive in Tableau is done by clicking directly on which country you’re interested in, followed by a portion of the pie chart such as “shipped on time” and finally which product you’re interested in. Each click filters further down into your data—basically multiple filters graphically and intuitively.
Managers LOVE this feature because you can explore the data during a meeting. As questions arise about why certain areas in the business are struggling, clicking on the visualizations lets you explore the reasons WHY!
Excel vs. Tableau: The verdict
Experts believe you need both skills to flourish in the data future. Every sector we’ve seen uses Excel from Auditing, Legal, Parts, Logistics, Travel, Hospitality, Customer Service, Call Centres, Education, Sales, Manufacturing, Mining, Engineering, Technology, IT, and more.
Microsoft Excel is a fantastic tool! It lets you modify data when required, with its easy-to-use spreadsheet style. But as data becomes more extensive and more complex, you need better tools to efficiently manage and visualize the information.
This is where Tableau users with strong Excel skills have a significant advantage over Excel-only users. According to CDO Trends, “9 out of 10 companies say their workforce is not achieving optimal productivity due to a lack of data skills!”
Those with strong abilities to manage, distribute, and analyze data have become the most valuable players in every organization because it is the most sought-after skill in the modern era.
In addition, those who have trained in Tableau climb faster. They are also able to solve more extensive, more complex problems. It makes sense — solving more challenging problems equals better opportunities, which equates to higher pay!
By understanding how Tableau works, you almost intuitively understand how every other Business Intelligence Tool on the market works, such as Microsoft Power BI, DOMO, Qlikview, and more. This makes you highly employable in a range of industries.
Today, opportunities are plentiful for data-skilled people! When discussing Tableau vs Excel, Tableau could be your first step into this beautiful new world of data! The next time we speak, who knows, you may be a Data Analyst, Business Intelligence analyst (BI Analyst), or even a Data Scientist. For data nerds, and possibly like yourself, you have a bright future ahead, with so much to learn and many jobs available.