Traditional BI vs. Tableau – The Railroad and the Helicopter


Traditional BI vs. Tableau – The Railroad and the Helicopter


A few years ago while strolling through the streets of Barcelona during the European Tableau Customer Conference, I had dinner with a former Tableau employee (Bruno SAINT-CAST). He said something to me then that really resonated with my own experience with Tableau. Bruno said, “I think Tableau is a like a helicopter, and traditional BI is like a railroad.”

Since then, I’ve incorporated that metaphor into many of my talks and trainings. Why? Because I think it answers a question that many of our clients have.

“Why do I need Tableau? I already have a bunch of BI tools.”

Traditional BI = The Railroad

Think about what it takes to build a railway: capital, technical know-how and persistence. Traditional BI is a lot like that. You need money because the tools are pretty expensive. You need technical know-how because the tools are difficult to use. Finally, you need persistence because it isn’t easy to deploy the traditional BI vendor’s stack solutions.

Building the railroad

Above: Building the railroad.

But when the project is finished, if it is properly engineered, the systems can be fast and reliable, just like the trains commuters take in places like Manhattan or Paris to get to and from work every day. These are reliable and maybe a little boring.

Tableau = The Helicopter

Imagine riding in a train through the country and seeing smoke on the other side of a nearby mountain. In the train, you have a few options to find out more about the fire. For one, you can get off the train and rent a car or hike to the location. This is like building a spreadsheet to do analysis that your traditional BI tool can’t provide. It’s a potentially time-consuming job that has nothing to do with actually seeing the information you require.

But if you are riding in a helicopter and you see the fire, you can tilt the control stick to the left or right and fly right over the place of interest. With Tableau, you can drag a pill from the Data window to the Row or Column shelves and immediately see the new data. Like a train, traditional BI solutions are bound by the prior plan to deliver a solution for the anticipated need.

Unfortunately, the world doesn’t always give you advance notice when you need to look into an opportunity or respond intelligently to a novel situation.

Apache Attack Helicopter

Above: A Boeing AH-64 Apache.

Early on, helicopters weren’t very fast, safe or secure. Over time, they have become safer, faster and more secure. The Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopter is fast, safe and as secure as any helicopter can be in combat. Tableau is like your attack helicopter for data, including built-in redundancy for responsiveness in the chaotic world of business.

The Advantage of Speed

Tableau offers speed from data to information regardless of the data source. It deals with novel situations much better than the traditional stack (the railroad). Will you throw out your railroad? 

For the known destinations (your standard reporting) traditional BI tools can provide reliable transportation of known destinations. However, Tableau offers the nimbleness of a helicopter to help you deal with new data from unanticipated sources quickly. That is why you need Tableau.

Want to learn more about Tableau? Get in touch with us. As Tableau’s top partner, we can help you with just about anything Tableau-related.

Contact Us!

More About the Author

Dan Murray

Director of Strategic Innovations
Thoughts on Tableau Conference 2024 I’ve attended every Tableau Conference since the first one in 2008, held at the Edgewood Hotel in Seattle. That conference included 150 ...
Ten Questions for ChatGPT about Tableau and Level of Detail Expressions I had some fun with ChatGPT asking it questions about cohort analysis this week. I’ll spare you the 4,000 words it created on general ...

See more from this author →

InterWorks uses cookies to allow us to better understand how the site is used. By continuing to use this site, you consent to this policy. Review Policy OK


Interworks GmbH
Ratinger Straße 9
40213 Düsseldorf
Geschäftsführer: Mel Stephenson

Telefon: +49 (0)211 5408 5301

Amtsgericht Düsseldorf HRB 79752
UstldNr: DE 313 353 072


Love our blog? You should see our emails. Sign up for our newsletter!