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January 4, 2018

Makeover Monday (Power BI Edition): Poultry and Livestock Consumption

This week I've dedicated time to learning new tools. Earlier this week I posted vizzes created in Google Data Studio, Datawrapper and Infogram. Tableau's main competitor is Power BI, so this morning I downloaded and installed PBI Desktop, connected to the data via the connector, and recreated my Tableau viz.

My First Experience With Power BI

Keeping in mind that I knew in advance exactly the chart I wanted to build, here are my initial impressions and experiences with Power BI -

  • It took me a few hours to create the viz you'll see below. Since I've never used PBI before, I felt that the amount of time spent wasn't too bad. It took me about 30 minutes to create my first Tableau dashboard back in 2008.
  • Googling for solutions was very helpful; there seems to be plenty of documentation about how to use Power BI.
  • Formatting is very tedious, but you have a ton of control.
  • You can get pixel perfect reports by choosing NOT to snap to the grid. I used snap to grid to align everything quickly, then switched to the non-snap option to move things around a few pixels. I found this quite simple.
  • I didn't have to pivot the data to get the view I wanted. Pivoting the data made creating the chart in Tableau easier.
  • Creating calculations is pretty straightforward if you're used to Excel. The only confusing bit for me was that you have to create a new column, not a new measure. That didn't make sense, but once I knew what to do, it wasn't a problem.
  • Adding dots to the ends of lines required a separate calculated field (or column in PBI terminology).
  • The tooltips look great out of the box and are super responsive, although I didn't see any way to control what appears in the tooltip. For example, if you hover over the dot on the end of the line, you'll see the extra calcs I had to create for the dots. It would be nice to be able to hide those from the tooltip.
  • Formatting fields is done through the Data pane. When you click on the spreadsheet icon you get a data preview, then you click the column header and format it.
  • You can't create custom number formats, which meant I couldn't put a + before the positive percentages.
  • Embedding and sharing to the web takes too many steps. From PBI Desktop you have to Publish to Power BI, then in the browser, you have to Publish to Web. Seems like an extra step to me.
  • I couldn't control the line thickness of the reference line at zero, but it was great to be able to move the reference line to the back (you can't move a reference line to the back with Tableau).
  • Creating the equivalent of a table calc is pretty simple. For example, I used the LOOKUP function to create the change versus 1965. Again, if you're familiar with Excel formulas that should be easy to pick up.
  • I couldn't add a reference line on a continuous date axis.

Overall, I found this a really useful exercise and enjoyed learning Power BI. It's very helpful for me to understand the pros and cons of Tableau and Power BI and helps me appreciate what both tools offer and how they approach reporting.

The biggest advantage for Tableau is how quickly you get into the flow of visual analytics. Power BI, as I see it so far, is a reporting tool, not a data analysis tool. That's a massive differentiator for me and truly sets Tableau apart.

My plan is to use PBI for a few more Makeover Mondays. Next time, I think I'll start with PBI then go to Tableau and see how I do not knowing exactly what chart I want to build ahead of time.

With that, here's my first Power BI report. I'd love to know your thoughts.


  1. Thanks for this review of power BI Andy. I've got some colleagues that have recently found Power BI and are very excited about it. I've never really used anything except Tableau, but i try to keep an open mind. I found this series of videos that does a pretty good job at comparing Tableau and Power BI. I was resisting trying it, but with your post here, i may take the plunge and give it a try.

    1. Certainly give it a try Matt. Keep in mind that you can’t do data analysis quickly with PBI, it’s simply not designed to do that. It’s a reporting tool and that’s all it does. So if your company wants to do data analysis, don’t be fooled by the PBI marketing.

  2. As someone who uses both Tableau and PowerBI (but started with PowerBI/PowerPivot) PowerBI is more flexible/database like when you are combining multiple data sources. I struggled a lot with Tableau until I realized I had to do all the ETL stuff upfront and end up with a simple data table. ( It also explains all the ETL vendors at the Tableau Conference :)
    (I'm mentioning this because I don't think you'll see this using the typical Makeovermonday data sets)

    Re point 6, you can create both calculated columns and measures. I think the advice is you want to mostly stick with measures (but you can google "powerpivot column vs measure" and the top hits are good articles)

    I concur that Tableau is faster for analysis.

    Thanks for the post!

  3. I agree with Alex. The back story is that Tableau (the company) and Microsoft have taken very different approaches to building their respective tools. Tableau built the data visualisations first (and did an awesome job), and has never really come back to do the data modelling (not yet anyway). As Alex said, as long as your data is ready to go, it is a great tool. Microsoft started with data modelling (with Power Pivot and then Power QUery) developed by their internal SSAS and ETL experts. It is only now that they are building the data visualisation front end (2.5 years old) in Power BI.


    1. Hi Matt, minor correction. Actually MS built Power Pivot then PowerView then Power Query. But PowerView had to be rewritten later on as it had been built with Silverlight initially and Silverlight was dead by then.

  4. Hi Andy,

    I am struggling to compare each year with first year. What formula have you used? Could you please share?

    1. I created three calcs (Beef, Chicken, Pork) but they all work the same.

      Beef Value = (poultry_and_livestock_consumption[Beef]-LOOKUPVALUE(poultry_and_livestock_consumption[Beef],poultry_and_livestock_consumption[year],1965))/LOOKUPVALUE(poultry_and_livestock_consumption[Beef],poultry_and_livestock_consumption[year],1965)

      This formula take the value for each year and subtracts the value from 1965 then divides that result by the 1965 value to get the percent change. I get the 1965 value via the lookup function.