Power BI vs Tableau - Which is the Better Tool for a SaaS dashboard?

Data Visualization
May 15, 2024
Power BI vs Tableau - Which is the Better Tool for a SaaS dashboard?

To succeed in today’s competitive market, a SaaS product needs to have a wide variety of features. Besides an amazing user experience, onboarding, and customer experience, there is an increased need to have all the right features to make your app “sticky”. One of those is an analytics dashboard.

Embedded dashboards give your users insights into how they interact with your product. With interactive charts and graphs, they can make better, data-driven decisions. For example, an email marketing tool could have a dashboard with all the crucial metrics: click-through rates, open rates, bounce rates, etc.

You could build this feature on your own or use off-the-shelf software. Today, we’re going to focus on the second option and give you two BI tools you can choose from: Power BI and Tableau.

Power BI - the good and bad sides

Microsoft Power BI is one of the most powerful business intelligence tools in the market and it’s a leader in the big data field for a good reason. It is based on Azure, and is part of the Office 365 suite. You can download Power BI desktop for Windows or Mac, or use their cloud-based version to publish and share Power BI dashboards on the web.

It uses a formula language called DAX (Data Analysis Expressions) which helps you work with relational data more easily and efficiently.

Power BI

The advantages of Power BI

One of the biggest advantages of Power BI is the large volume of data sources (also known as data connectors). The tool can easily plug in to data from Excel, JSON, Azure, XML, SQL, and other file types, as well as online sources such as Facebook and Google Analytics. In the case of online sources, Power BI can pull real-time data to your reports and dashboards.

Moreover, there are many types of visualizations you can use. Bar charts, graphs, maps, gauges, title boxes, and cards - these are all elements you can use in your dashboard. You can also combine multiple visualizations in one dashboard for a more interactive experience and to provide more information for your customers.

You can even pull Python visualizations in Power BI from various data points, which is something your developers will probably look forward to.

The disadvantages of Power BI

Much like Tableau, Power BI is initially designed as a desktop tool to be used on-premise rather than a modern cloud-first SaaS. This means that you’ll do most of the data modeling and preparation in the Power BI desktop tool and then upload everything to the cloud. If you’re used to something more web-based like Google Analytics, this might be a big downside.

Ease of use is another complaint that many users have. It’s important to stress the difference between Power BI and Power BI Embedded here because we’re only interested in the latter. And Power BI Embedded is definitely not built for beginners.

It’s slow, clunky, and does not handle large amounts of data really well. Getting your dashboards to be properly branded and securing portal access to viewers can be very time-consuming. Even though basic Power BI is technically Excel on steroids, the Embedded product has a few key differences that make it harder to use.

Tableau - the good and bad sides

Tableau is a data visualization tool known for its extensive customization capabilities, allowing anyone to create stunning dashboards from various data sources. Launched in 2003 and purchased in 2019 by Salesforce, this analytics tool has been popular with data science professionals, developers, and anyone with a penchant for machine learning and data visualization. It can even be used as a robust project management tool by building Gantt charts.

tableau visualization

Whether you want to use it for creating reports from your existing large datasets or connect and visualize your dashboard within a website, Tableau can do it all equally well.

Let’s start with the good sides.

The advantages of Tableau

In general, Tableau performs extremely well, whether it’s for creating data visualizations or for embedded use in a product. It can handle millions of data rows at a time without an issue and create stunning visualizations based on that data.

It supports a variety of data sources, including SAP, DB, and Hadoop, making for a clean, informative dashboard - and also facilitating work for your devs. You can use the desktop version of the tool but most SaaS businesses use Tableau Server to host it online.

If you run into a problem, worry not. Tableau is known for its great customer support and they will help you out quickly. If not, there is a vibrant online community that discusses Tableau, and even shares data visualizations examples through Tableau Public. So even if you’re not a data analyst, you should find your way around Tableau one way or another.

Although it has a steep learning curve, the drag-and-drop editor is a pleasant change compared to most other BI tools out there.

The disadvantages of Tableau

The massive customization options and a huge array of visualizations come at a certain price and it’s not just in dollars. The first issue with this tool is that it can be incredibly difficult to use and get started with, especially if you have no background knowledge in development. It gets even worse when you use it for embedded analytics and not just data analysis and custom visualization.

We’ll get to pricing in a second but let’s briefly discuss the price of ownership. The price you pay for Tableau as a product is just a part of the total cost. If you plan to use it to its full potential, you’ll need to train your entire dev team to work with data analytics and visualization since the learning curve is very steep. This adds considerable costs on top of Tableau’s initial pricing.

Another common complaint about this tool is poor versioning. If you want to revert to a previous version of your dashboard in Tableau online, this is not possible.

Last but not least, it’s important to keep in mind that this is primarily a desktop-based tool. You’re essentially purchasing Tableau Desktop as a product and a license to Tableau Cloud. If you’re looking for something that’s less dependent on hardware, it’s best to look elsewhere.

Power BI vs Tableau - pricing

Power BI seems to have a pretty easy-to-understand pricing at first glance.

  • Free version: the desktop version is free for personal use, and requires upgrading if you want to share Power BI reports.
  • Power BI Pro: for $10 per user per month, you can create, share and publish reports across your organization.
  • Power BI Premium: for $20 per user per month, you get access to enterprise features like larger model sizes, more frequent data refresh and deployment pipelines.
Power BI pricing

However, these plans only cover traditional business intelligence and data visualization use cases for internal reporting. There is a completely different pricing scheme for embedded analytics.

To get your accurate pricing, you need to choose your location and the number of virtual cores you’re going to be using. The more cores you use, the more memory you’re going to use too, and naturally, the higher the pricing.

So, the basic example says $1.0081/hour or $735.913/month. This is the price for one virtual core and 3GB of RAM. The price of $735 per month is charged only if your one instance (dashboard) is active and used the entire time for the month, 24 hours a day for 31 days.

In short, the minimum you’re going to pay is around $730 per month with Power BI. However, it’s wise to do your own math and use their embedded capacity planning page to discover your actual costs.

Tableau’s pricing is similar, in the sense that it seems easy to understand at first. They differentiate prices based on the amount of functionality you want to give users:

  • Tableau Viewer: for $15 per user per month, you can view and interact with Tableau dashboards, no editing.
  • Tableau Explorer: for $42 per user per month, you get access to full self-service analytics to explore your data and create visualizations yourself.
  • Tableau Creator: for $75 per user per month, you get access to all features of Tableau, including data preparation (Tableau Prep), server admin and more.

It all seems straightforward, until you start researching prices for the embedded functionality, which is naturally much more expensive. Just how much? We don’t know, and you’ll have to reach out to sales with your specific needs to get a personalized quote.

We’ve scoured the highs and lows of the internet but found no public mention of Tableau’s embedded pricing. All we know is that they offer usage-based pricing, so you won’t have to pay a viewer license for every single user. But to find out in detail, you really have to get in touch to get information on that.

Tableau embedded pricing

Key differences between Power BI and Tableau

Power BI and Tableau each have their strengths. Choosing which one is right for you depends on your needs and priorities. Let’s compare some of the most common functionalities so you can make a better decision.


Power BI is your best choice if your stack already runs primarily on the Microsoft ecosystem. Besides a wide range of data sources, they have the most seamless integration with SQL server, Power Query (for data prep) and many other Azure products.

Tableau is better if you’re dealing with complex data sources, like on-premise databases or big data platforms. They allow custom SQL queries and in-memory extracts, making it perfect for advanced analytics.

AI and natural language processing

If you want to set up your own machine learning models or perform text and sentiment analysis, Power BI takes the upper hand. For all your robust AI analytics needs, it integrates with many Azure AI services. The learning curve, however, is steep.

If you’re looking for something more user-friendly, Tableau takes the cake. Their AI-driven explanations help business users make sense of their data quickly, with hyper-relevant recommendations to your context.

Data transformation and ETL

Although we typically recommend using a separate ETL tool, Power BI is perfect if you prefer combining 2-in-1. With its built-in data transformation tool, Power Query, you can automate and schedule all your ETL processes directly in Power BI. Perfect for startups and tech-savvy small businesses who want to save on their tech stack.

If you prefer something more intuitive, Tableau Prep offers data preparation in a more visually intuitive way. They have seamless integrations with many external ETL tools as well. So, if you already have a robust data stack, but you’re looking for a nice little extra, go with Tableau.

Visualization capabilities

Although both Power BI and Tableau both offer drag-and-drop functionality, neither has an extremely user-friendly interface. However, both are exceptional in terms of choice in data visualization types.

If you need complex and highly customizable visualizations, Tableau will satisfy your needs. They support custom colors, shapes, dynamic labels, interactive filters, dual-axis and much more.

Power BI, on the other hand, sets itself apart with its library of custom visuals through the Power BI marketplace. If you’re looking for something extremely niche - go have a look there!

The verdict - which tool is better?

Both tools are very capable but Power BI has a slight upper hand. It’s one of the best Microsoft products, it’s faster and has a slightly better user interface compared to Tableau. In general, we would give it a small advantage over Tableau.

However, both tools are difficult to use, targeted toward desktop users, have extremely complex pricing models, and do better with standalone reports than with embedded analytics.

In short, if you have a lot of time for learning and you’re not looking for something to embed into your product, either will work fine. But there is a third, better option.

Luzmo - for effective and easy-to-use SaaS dashboards

Creating and embedding analytics dashboards into your SaaS product should not be rocket science. While both Power BI and Tableau are comprehensive and powerful tools, you probably want something more user-friendly - and that’s where Luzmo comes in.

Example of Luzmo dashboards embedded in a SaaS application

With our tool, you can create stunning dashboards and add them to your product not in weeks or months but in days or even hours. We also have very transparent pricing and you’ll know exactly how much you pay and what you get.

Ready to add an analytics dashboard to your app? Sign up for your free trial today!

Build your first embedded dashboard in less than 15 min

Experience the power of Luzmo. Talk to our product experts for a guided demo  or get your hands dirty with a free 10-day trial.