SAP BusinessObjects v Tableau

Power BI 'How To' Number Three

Tableau (now owned by Salesforce) is a very popular business intelligence tool which is gaining in market share, but how does it stack up against SAP BusinessObjects as an Enterprise level BI tool?

Scope and Function

Tableau started as a visualisation tool, for creating dynamic and interactive dashboards and charts. Over time it has added other functions but this is still where its focus lies. It can connect to many different data-sources, and allows for manipulation of data-sets so an adept end-user can prepare their own data without IT being involved. Its main purpose however is in presenting data in intuitive ways, and allowing access to consumers of that data through a paid-for front-end – there is a free version of the designer available for testing, but you cannot save any dashboards locally from this.

Around the periphery of Tableau there are extras that support its core purpose, such as cloud or on-premise repositories for storing dashboards, data-manipulation tools such as Tableau Prep, and scheduling of more static reports direct to the email of recipients.

BusinessObjects Edge has a suite of tools within its toolkit that meet and then exceed the scope of what Tableau can do. You can create interactive dashboards in Web Intelligence or Lumira; you can build pixel-perfect, paginated and printable operational reports with Crystal Reports or Web Intelligence; you can connect data direct to Microsoft Office tools; you can schedule all content direct to email or shared folders; you can manipulate information and create data warehouses for any tool to access with Data Integrator; security can be applied to your data, your reports and your system to control who sees and does what.

BusinessObjects’ core concept of the ‘universe’ is unique. This allows data experts to create a translation-layer between your data-sources and the end-users to democratise report building.


Tableau revolves around a locally installed dashboard design tool, and then web based central tools. The Prep Builder and Prep Conductor tools are centrally managed, as is the scheduling and security of the system. Tableau, being newer to the marketplace has been quicker to embrace cloud-based operations and has designed its core offerings around that, though on-premise versions are available.

SAP BusinessObjects is traditionally an on-premise suite, with the administration, security and scheduling handled through web tools (the platform can be installed on cloud servers if required such as AWS or Azure). Report building can also be done solely in a browser (if you only use Web Intelligence) so keeping the footprint very small in your organisation. Crystal Reports, Lumira, Data Integrator and the universe design tools are all thick-client tools.

SAP has moved into the cloud space with SAP Analytics Cloud, and from the next version of BusinessObjects (4.3 – available to general users early 2020) there will be much greater hybridisation potential for users.

End-User Experience

Tableau started as a kind of ‘PowerPoint for data’ tool where the data preparation and manipulation had to be done outside the core tools, requiring more input from IT. Now it has a much easier to use back-end so skilled business analysts can get more out of it on their own. To really make it sing an end-user does need an appreciation of database concepts, data manipulation techniques and an agile IT department.

Users with less IT knowledge can use Tableau to get data from flat files, spreadsheets and other sources and present it interactively and with flair, but will need more assistance with more complex requirements.

BusinessObjects supports a greater range of users more formally. Skilled users can be self-sufficient with access to the tools from the suite, relying on IT only for the access to the data. If you have a large base of non-technical users wanting to write their own reports this is where the universe concept comes into its own.

With an investment of time up-front IT can create the ‘semantic layer’ over a data-source – the universe - which is then used by the report designers without any need to understand the database, joins, or SQL. Web Intelligence and the other tools turn querying into a drag and drop experience with business terminology replacing table and field names.


Tableau is a great tool for dashboards, online data and interactivity but requires a nimble and responsive IT department to service user requirements. As a more agile tool its data manipulation side is less ‘enterprise level’ than traditional players and potentially less easy for DBAs to support and maintain. It’s scheduling and reporting services are being actively developed and its cloud service is well established.

BusinessObjects is more focussed on operational reports and feeding standardised requirements for output. It is a bullet-proof creator of invoices, delivery notes and task-lists, that can also produce interactive dashboards and attractive visualisations. The Data Integrator tool is class-leading in its ability to easily create and maintain data-warehouses and data-marts, which can then be accessed not only by your SAP tools but by any other application you use.

If you have a heavy-weight requirement for your information, including data loading, security, distribution and end-users then SAP BusinessObjects is worth looking at first, but if you need a quicker-reacting, nimble approach to changing and evolving data then Tableau could be better for you.