Looker vs. Tableau: Compare Core BI Capabilities and More

Looker and Tableau are two of the more popular self-service business intelligence (BI) products on the market that help companies better visualize and understand their data. In this post, we’ll compare the two solutions on various factors.

What is the Difference Between Looker and Tableau?

  • While both software solutions have robust BI capabilities, they each have unique features. Looker’s Action feature lets users perform a task, such as sending a Slack chat, in their data, and its Keboola Natural Language Query integration provides AI features to marketing and customer service teams. Tableau users can optimize dashboards for mobile devices with Device Designer, as well as create dashboards with data from specific software with Dashboards Starter.
  • Looker is deployed in the cloud, whereas Tableau supports both on-premise and cloud hosting.
  • Looker prefers to give prospects a custom quote, while Tableau displays pricing information on its site.

Product Overviews

To summarize each product, here’s some information from our reviews of Looker and Tableau:

Looker

Google Cloud’s Looker Data Platform is a cloud-based data-discovery platform that helps companies make better business decisions through real-time access to data. Data, no matter the size, can be analyzed within Looker’s 100% in-database and 100% browser-based platform. Looker analytics integrate with any SQL database or data warehouse, such as Amazon Athena, Greenplum and Microsoft Azure SQL Data Warehouse.

The platform is accessible on any browser as well as on mobile (its app is available on both iOS and Android devices)  – reports and data can be shared via email or URLs. Data can be integrated into different applications such as Google Docs, Excel, and even customer and third-party applications. It can also be manually exported in .csv or text files.

Looker has a unique feature called Looker Blocks, which are prebuilt pieces of codes that allow developers to build out their own SQL patterns, data models or visualizations. Looker Blocks are available via the Looker marketplace, and there are specific blocks targeted to a use case (e.g., Marketing, Finance) or industry (e.g., Healthcare, Retail).

Tableau

Tableau provides all types of users with intuitive business intelligence (BI) tools to enhance data discovery and understanding. With simple drag-and-drop features, a user is able to easily access and analyze key data, create innovative reports and visualizations, and share critical insights across the company.

Tableau has three main products for robust data discovery:

  1. Tableau DesktopTableau Desktop is used to connect and analyze disparate data, and create highly innovative reports in just a few clicks.
  2. Tableau ServerTableau Server allows users to securely collaborate and share critical insights and information through comprehensive dashboards created in Tableau Desktop or directly in Tableau Server.
  3. Tableau Cloud – Tableau Cloud (formerly Tableau Online) is a cloud-based version of Tableau Server. It not only saves time and money by skipping hardware setup, Tableau Cloud also supports mobile access.

Tableau serves a variety of industries, including major corporations and banks, educational institutions and healthcare providers.

Features Comparisons

Dashboards and Visualizations

Looker

Looker has interactive data visualization tools and dashboards that let users drill down into the data at row-level detail. It includes a library of visualization templates in different formats (e.g., timelines, funnel, combined charts, treemaps), but Looker users can build their own visualizations, too. It also includes a drag-and-drop functionality for users to explore and ask questions in their data. Users can also take action or complete a task directly into their data, such as sending an email or a Slack chat, with the Actions feature that has prebuilt integrations to third-party software systems.

Tableau

Users can create a dashboard in a few clicks, including combining data sources and adding filters, and they can also share their dashboard with their colleagues.

Tableau has advanced dashboarding features, such as the Story Points (users arrange their data in a narrative style) and the Device Designer (dashboards are optimized for phones or tablets). In addition, Tableau Cloud’s Dashboard Starters feature allows users to develop dashboards by pulling in data from specific software (e.g., Salesforce, LinkedIn Sales Navigator, Oracle Eloqua, Marketo and ServiceNow) directly within Tableau. After a dashboard is created, users can set up thresholds in the data that trigger alerts, and they can specify who the alerts are sent to, as well as the type of notification (e.g., email notification).

Bottom Line

While both vendors have robust data visualization features, they each bring unique features to the table: Looker’s Action feature and Tableau’s Story Points, Device Designer and Dashboard Starters.

Natural Language Query (NLQ)

Looker

Looker integrates with Keboola, a data operations solution, to provide NLQ features to users via the Voice of the Customer with its natural language processing (NLP) block. The block, which users can install via the Looker Marketplace, provides companies with detailed customer reviews on its products, as well as any issues or opportunities. The NLP engine uses machine learning to analyzes customer reviews and then provides positive and negative sentient data using keywords (e.g., price, service). Users can measure their team’s responsiveness to customer issues, compare review feedback among its multiple locations or compare its performance to their competitors’.

Tableau

Tableau’s Ask Data feature lets business users type in a question and get an answer in the form of a visualization. As users are typing in a question, Ask Data provides guided search suggestions. This feature is also available in Salesforce as it give those users answers based on their CRM data. Tableau has another feature called Explain Data that deploys machine learning to provide users a detailed explanation of a data point.

Bottom Line

Looker’s NLQ integration with Keboola is mainly intended for marketing and customer service use cases, but Tableau’s Ask Data targets all users.

Mobile Functionality

Looker

The Looker mobile app allows users to browse their dashboards and collaborate with others. The app stores the user’s content in four categories: Favorites (saved dashboards), Recently-viewed content, Boards (keeps a user’s personal content in one place) and More (accessible content in other users’ folders). Users can share dashboards and other content via email, Slack or chat, and they can easily access their scheduled reports in an email, too. Additional features include biometric authentication and the ability to use the app in 22 languages.

Tableau

The Tableau Mobile app lets users access any dashboards or reports that are published on Tableau Server or in Tableau Cloud. Each dashboard is mobile optimized, so users can search, filter or drill down into their data. They can also track their personalized key performance indicators (KPIs) with the Metrics feature. Tableau Mobile supports offline functionality, as well as a variety of authentication methods (e.g., SAML, OpenID Connect).

Bottom Line

Looker currently doesn’t offer drill down functionality (although it’s on their product roadmap), while Tableau does.

Pricing

Looker

Looker provides custom pricing that’s tailored to each organization based on their deployment scale, number of users and other factors. Prospects will need to contact the vendor directly for a quote. Note that Looker offers discounts to nonprofits and schools.

Tableau

Instead of basing the prices on its products, Tableau’s subscription strategy focuses on individual users and their data needs. Each subscription includes maintenance, product upgrades and support at one cost, so there are no surprise fees. Note that the pricing is based on annual billing.

  • Tableau Creator – Tableau Creator is designed for individual analysts and power users, and costs $70 per user, per month. It includes access to Tableau Desktop and Tableau Prep, and companies can purchase a single Creator license for either Tableau Server or Tableau Cloud. Note that Tableau offers the same price for Tableau Creator whether the software is deployed in the cloud or on premise.
  • Tableau Explorer – Tableau Explorer is designed for users that prefer governed self-service analytics instead of relying on data from others. It costs $35 per user, per month for on-premise deployment, and it includes one license for Tableau Server. If deployed in the cloud, this plan costs $42 per user, per month, and it includes one license for Tableau Cloud.
  • Tableau Viewer – Tableau Viewer is designed for users that just want to access dashboards and visualizations. When deployed on-premise, it costs $12 per user, per month, and it includes one Viewer license of Tableau Server. When deployed in the cloud, it costs $15 per user, per month, and it includes one Viewer license of Tableau Cloud. Note that Tableau requires a minimum of 100 Viewers for this plan.

Companies can also purchase add-on features, such as Tableau Data Management and Einstein Discovery. Tableau has a 14-day free trial.

Bottom Line

Looker prefers to provide prospects a tailored quote, while Tableau’s pricing is listed on its site.

Customer Support

Looker

Users can access Looker’s Help Center to:

  • Browse articles
  • Submit a support request

In addition, the Looker Community allows users to network with other users on troubleshooting tips, ideas and best practices.

Users can also email the support team or contact them via live chat directly from their Looker platform. Looker has the following response times based on severity (during normal business hours):

  • Severity 1 (critical) – Up to one hour
  • Severity 2 (urgent) – Up to four hours
  • Severity 3 (tolerable) and Severity 4 (non-critical) – Up to one business day

Finally, Looker provides guided learning paths via its Looker Connect solution for users to grow their BI skills.

Tableau

Tableau offers complimentary online access to all users that includes:

  • A knowledge base
  • On-demand training videos/tutorials
  • Live online training
  • Product documentation
  • Tableau Community forums

In addition, it has a Technical Support Program with three tiers:

Standard – Standard support is included in the subscription purchase or in the first year of the perpetual license. Coverage is during Tableau’s regular business hours (6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PST Mondays to Fridays). In addition to online access, the Standard tier has:

  • Priority 1 (Critical) issue response time within eight hours
  • Priority 2 (High) issue response time within 24 hours
  • Three named contacts

Extended – The Extended Support tier includes all of the features of the Standard tier, plus:

  • 24/7 coverage for Priority 1 (Critical) issues
  • Priority 1 (Critical) issue response time within two hours
  • Priority 2 (High) issue response time within eight hours
  • Five named contacts

Premium – The Premium Support tier includes all of the features of the Extended tier, plus:

  • Phone support
  • 24/7 coverage for Priority 1 (Critical) and Priority 2 (High) issues
  • Priority 1 (Critical) issue response time within 30 minutes
  • Priority 2 (High) issue response time within two hours
  • A technical account manager
  • Service level agreement for Tableau Cloud users only
  • Deployment reviews for Tableau Server users only
  • Recurring status calls and service reports
  • Online update guidance
  • Upgrade assistance for Tableau Server users only
  • Strategic planning
  • Access to the Senior Support team
  • Case escalation and oversight
  • Product roadmap participation
  • Prioritized feature request reviews
  • Root cause analysis
  • Sandbox site for Tableau Cloud users only

Bottom Line

Although both vendors provide similar support, Looker doesn’t have premium support offerings, whereas Tableau does.

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