Looker vs. Tableau lead image.
Image: iStockphoto/Artem Peretiatko

Looker and Tableau are both robust business intelligence tools. But which should you choose for your organization? Each solution will import data from multiple sources, provide in-depth BI analysis and produce rich data visualizations. However, Looker can provide more and ease-of-use functionality — whereas Tableau digs a little deeper into large and complex data sets.

The two products are highly rated BI software, frequently praised for their security, technical support and agility. Let’s compare the Looker and Tableau to determine which would be the best for your organization.

What is Looker?

Looker is a popular, easy-to-use BI analytics dashboard. Employees can create and share views to dig deeper into the performance of their organization. Looker is owned by Google and is offered at a monthly flat rate per company.

What is Tableau?

Tableau is a data visualization suite primarily used for business intelligence and analytics. Through Tableau, organizations can customize and optimize how they interact with their data. Tableau is currently owned by Salesforce and is offered as a monthly per-user subscription.

Looker’s standout features

Looker operates as an integrated component of the Google Cloud Platform, with four major features that distinguish it from other BI tools:

  • Modern BI analytics. BI dashboards empower organizations to track and analyze data, while an hourly refresh ensures that the organization is always working with the best data.
  • Integrated insights. Looker can be used to integrate multiple data sources to provide a broad spectrum overview of an organization’s data, processes, audience and functions.
  • Data-driven workflows. Team members work with consolidated sources of real-time data, thereby ensuring that everyone is on the same page and working with the same data.
  • Custom applications. Applications, third-party solutions and add-ons can be customized to an organization’s needs and industry.

Companies can deploy Looker with multiple data sources and methods (such as on-premises or mobile). It can also be integrated with a variety of popular big data solutions, such as BigQuery, Snowflake and Redshift.

SEE: Snowflake data warehouse platform: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Looker is primarily used to provide actionable analytic data to those who may not otherwise be experienced in data analysis or business intelligence tools. It isn’t the most in-depth analytics solution, but it is exceptionally easy to use.

Tableau’s standout features

Classified as a leader by Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, Tableau provides data visualization software and business intelligence solutions to a wide breadth of industries. When it was acquired by Salesforce, it became integrated into the Salesforce ecosystem and gained significantly in popularity.

Tableau products include:

  • Tableau Desktop
  • Tableau Server
  • Tableau Online
  • Tableau Prep Builder
  • Tableau Vizable

Tableau uses data processing cubes, relational databases, cloud databases and spreadsheets to help organizations analyze and visualize their data. While it can be challenging to use, Tableau provides extensive feature sets and deep customization.

SEE: Feature comparison: Data analytics software, and services (TechRepublic Premium)

Looker vs. Tableau: Features

Tableau imports structured and unstructured data to build elegant, human-readable visualizations. Looker likewise provides rich visualizations for imported data, which users then customize to suit their needs.

Both are full-featured BI tools that include these features:.

  • Mobile support
  • Interactive visuals
  • Analytics dashboards
  • Governance and metadata management
  • Integrated APIs and tools

Tableau provides advanced data analysis and visualization, but Looker leaves its options exposed and accessible.

Looker vs. Tableau: Performance

Modern companies are crunching increasingly large data sets. How do Looker and Tableau perform when given big data? In most circumstances, they will work with relatively equal effectiveness. Tableau is more effective with extensive data sets, while Looker is more effective than Tableau in a cloud-native environment.

SEE: The best serverless computing solutions (TechRepublic)

Looker vs. Tableau: Analytics

Looker provides prebuilt, configurable code blocks. LookML, a proprietary SQL-like language, can be used to further interact with and analyze data. Tableau’s analytics solutions don’t have this additional abstraction layer, making it more complicated to use but ultimately more configurable.

Looker vs. Tableau: Support

Looker and Tableau both have reliable service and support solutions. Looker leans heavily on online help centers and in-app chats. Tableau provides support through traditional venues, such as a weekday phone line and 24/7 emergency phone support. Both Looker and Tableau have active and vibrant communities and documentation.

Looker vs. Tableau at-a-glance

Data refreshEvery hourScheduled
ModificationsModeling languageGuided story

Looker vs. Tableau: Pricing

Looker is charged per company at $5,000 a month, whereas Tableau costs $70 per user. For a company of 10 individuals, Tableau will be much less expensive. For a company of 100 individuals, Looker will be more affordable. Most business intelligence tools are charged on a recurring subscription basis.

For smaller companies, Looker can be substantially more costly than Tableau; for larger enterprises, Looker will be more affordable. Looker’s price sheet is better for companies that want to remain scalable, as the price for the BI software remains static.

Looker vs. Tableau: Users’ reviews

Gartner’s Peer Insights establish Looker and Tableau as very close in ratings, though in nearly every case, Looker edges Tableau out.

According to users, Looker excels in the following areas:

  • Self-contained extraction
  • Ease of use
  • Analytic content
  • Self-service data preparation
  • Governance and metadata
  • Data source connectivity
  • Security and use administration
  • BI platform administration

Meanwhile, Tableau excels at:

  • Mobile exploration and authoring
  • Interactive visual exploration
  • Analytics dashboards
  • Quality of peer user communication

Users appreciate the accessibility and ease of use that come along with Looker, while they enjoy working with larger data sets in Tableau. Companies can try out both solutions to determine which works best for their data and organizational flow.

Should your organization use Looker or Tableau?

Neither solution is necessarily better, but Tableau is more complex than Looker. Looker provides extensive user-friendly features, such as Looker Blocks, which makes it easier to manage analytics views. However, Tableau offers more opportunities for advanced data analytics and management.

A few critical factors will go into whether you want to use Looker or Tableau as your organization’s go-to BI software.

  • Ease of use. Are your users deep into analytics (Tableau), or will they need an accessible, easy-to-use system (Looker)?
  • Cost. Is your company looking for an affordable solution for a handful of employees (Tableau) or a product that can support a large enterprise at a flat rate (Looker)?
  • Capabilities. Do you need to dig deeply into your data (Tableau), or are you more concerned about visualizing and using your data (Looker)?

The bottom line: If your organization wants a fast, easy-to-use system with beautiful data visualizations, Looker is the best option. If your organization is looking for deep data analytics or a cost-effective plan for a small number of people, Tableau is the better BI software.

For more comparisons of BI solutions, check out these TechRepublic articles: Power BI vs. Tableau, Power BI vs. Zoho Analytics, SAP BusinessObjects vs. Oracle BI, Tableau vs. Databox, Domo BI vs. Dundas BI, Zoho Analytics vs. Qlik Sense and top Power BI alternatives.

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