Tableau vs Xcelsius vs SSRS


All of the reporting software I’ve used has it’s strengths and weaknesses. Here is a quick overview of Tableau vs Xcelsius and SSRS.

logos of Xcelsius Tableau and SSRS

Xcelsius – a dashboard tool

Xcelsius Strengths

  • Looks great – has the ‘wow’ factor for any first time report viewer
  • Flexible – there are many different dashboard components
  • Easy to use – it’s driven from an Excel spreadsheet. Each dashboard component needs to be joined to Excel cells. Even a complete beginner can do. Excel skills are actually more important than knowing how to use Xcelsius

Xcelsius Weaknesses

  • Performance – it performs poorly with only a few thousand lines of data behind it. Therefore we often need to pre-aggregate the data. This is manual.
  • Automation – no
  • Exporting – the actual dashboards are easy to export but it’s not possible to export the raw data. Users often want to export the data into Excel
  • Excel – the data source has to be Excel


Tableau Strengths

  • Appearance – visually appealing, great for showing trends over time, great for comparisons
  • Data source integration – it sits on top of a wide variety of different databases/data sources, almost every type you can think of which is in fairly widespread use. This includes text files (csv, txt), SQL, SSAS, Essbase, Oracle and anything with an ODBC connection, plus a few others
  • Flexible – create Dashboard with parameters and filters making it very simple for a user to get to the data they want to see. Many different chart types are available.
  • Drill down – actions enable simple navigation from dashboard to dashboard. It’s simple to download to Excel.  Using the URL actions you can link easily to any webpage or any report accessible via URL. This post shows how to drill from Tableau to SSRS.
  • Automation – yes when using Server OR when connecting to a live data source

Tableau Weaknesses

  • Lack of controls – doesn’t have any controls such as dials and gauges which are generally associated with dashboard software
  • Doesn’t handle hierarchical data well – this can cause problems when filtering as it doesn’t recognise the hierarchy making filtering close to unworkable for the users and the fact it’s not possible to ‘clear all’ filters enabling the user to start again when using complex filters
  • Unable to link parameters so the value of 1 parameter alters the available values of the next parameter – i.e. setting the available values of the end date based on the value selected in the start date

SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS)

SSRS Strengths

  • Flexible reporting – SQL or MDX generally provides the data
  • Parameters / Filters – simple to create to enable the user to see only what they want to see
  • Exporting – very easy to export into Excel, csv, pdf, etc
  • Automation – yes, pulls directly from a database / cube

SSRS Weaknesses

  • Appearance – it’s only good at producing tabular reports, the built in graphs are not great
  • Performance – aggregations happen at run time, therefore it can be very slow. This depends on the query optimisation and volume of data
  • No Dashboards – this isn’t a dashboard reporting tool

Qlikview is one of Tableau’s closest competitors and, although I’m far from a Qlikview expert, I have used it briefly and have written a post on Tableau vs Qlikview.

I admit this comparison isn’t exactly a like with like comparison. Each software has a slightly different use, although they all are within the generic report software market. I was sent a link giving a brief comparison of some dashboard software. Not all are suitable for those operating on a budget as some are dependent on Sharepoint (not cheap). However it could be informative depending on your reasons for reading this post.

14 thoughts on “Tableau vs Xcelsius vs SSRS”

  1. Tableau seems to be your preferred solution. What circumstances would you recommend the others?

    • I actually like them all dependent circumstances. If you want to supply tabular data for people to export and analyse in Excel then I would use SSRS as this is also very flexible once you dig into the use of parameters. For software producing dashboards only then it would be a toss up between Xcelsius and Tableau.

      Xcelsius looks better but does require reasonably advanced Excel skills and the speed issue when feeding in only a relatively small amount of data can be a big problem. A few thousand rows and performance starts to deteriorate. I would use this if for example I was a consultant and had to present results to a client as it’s simple to put into a PowerPoint presentation and has the visual ‘wow’ factor. Similarly if I was selling services this would be a good tool to use due to the visual affect.

      Tableau is more flexible as it operates from it’s own database which it somehow optimises well for good performance (in most cases – I have seen it slow when you get into the 100,000s records and it doesn’t index itself in a way you would want). Tableau also allows the data to be exported, although I find it’s far from ideal for this and would not recommend designing a report for the intention of export within Tableau when SSRS does this so much better. If you have Tableau server I believe it’s also quite straightforward to link via URL to an SSRS report to get to the base data – in a few weeks I’ll have to do that so will write a post on how it’s done and whether the selected Tableau parameters (either selected by filter or parameter) can be simply passed to SSRS via the URL. I think the flexibility, ease of use (it’s a souped up Excel pivot chart), the simplicity it supplies to visualising data and ease of managing large datasets are what makes it appeal to me.

  2. Great Review!! But what about other options like – iDashboards?? Would love to hear your take on that.

    • I’ve never used iDashboards so can’t say anything about it. If you have used it feel free to give your take on it’s strengths and weaknesses so any other readers can benefit from your knowledge

  3. good review. I would love to read more detailed comparison between xcelsius and tableau. Xcelsius dashboards can be easily exported to PowerPoint which is not possible for tableau dashboards if the dashboards are to be sent to the clients. Please correct me if I am wrong.

    • That’s true, Xcelsius does display in an interactive way in powerpoint which is something Tableau can’t really do – although I have seen ways to make this possible as long as you have a web connection. Tableau Reader is free so clients are able to use them interactively. The client downloads Tableau Reader, you send them the packaged workbook and they have the full user functionality.

  4. CONS OF TABLEAU: “Lack of controls – doesn’t have any controls such as dials and gauges which are generally associated with dashboard software”

    What? Since when dials and gauges should be part of dashboards? dials, gauges and semaphores should be banned from dashboards, they don’t add any valuable information and just use space and distract users. Its actually huge PRO that Tableau decided to exclude them.

    • Very true and I’m glad Tableau decided against introducing dials, etc. At the time of writing the article almost all of the other dashboard softwares included those controls and clients often asked for them. It’s good that Tableau stuck to their guns as you’re correct in implying they are superflous, the information they show can be better presented.

      However it’s questionable whether Tableau are sticking to their guns with the upcoming Tableau 8 release. It seems there are a few new things of questionable value only included because their competitors have them – word clouds for example.

  5. Can someone do a test with Xcelsius and Tableau using SAP Hana? Can you share your notes? Kindly regards.

  6. Hi,

    I am also running an analysis to determine which is best tool for my requirement. below are some areas where your inputs will help.
    Stand Alone Version (Desktop Version) : Yes for Tableau and Xcelcius both
    Export to html, PPT, Flash etc. from Standalone version : Yes for Xcelcius but NO for Tableau. for doing this on tableau we need to have Server space.
    Dedicated Viewer required to view final dashboard : No for Xcelcius, we convert it in .swf file and use it. however for tableau end user should have Tableau viewer to view the dashboard which is a constraint. I cant provision licences for all users.

    Please suggest if understanding is correct and any additional comments.
    My scenario is as such that i want to use it as leadership reporting tool for certain reports having good look as well as runtime drilldown options.

    • Hi Pradnya

      To clarify your points:

      Yes, they both have a stand alone version
      Tableau can be exported to pdf or an image from desktop – but this won’t be interactive. Xcelsius can be exported as an interactive flash file (or at least could the few years ago I last used it)
      Tableau Reader is required to view Tableau dashboards interactively. This is a free product, a licence isn’t required, only developers require a licence.

      Personally I would always use Tableau as it’s a great product. Xcelsius was good when it first came out and dashboard software was in its infancy but Tableau is streets ahead.

  7. I’ve been asked to create Tableau reports. To build the query, I take parameters passed in from the end user, pass them into a proc on a SQL server, and 300 lines of code that cross 3 different databases later, I return a table.
    I have found that you can alter the value of a parameter if using a function or proc that you are calling via Custom SQL within Tableau – In fact, this is exactly what I do. I alter the values of many variables based off of validation being done within the proc.
    I’ve never used anything other than SQL in Tableau though; SQL is all I do and Tableau is the method I have been forced to use to display data to end users.

  8. SSRS “No Dashboards – this isn’t a dashboard reporting tool”

    I will have to disagree here, it’s an excellent tool to implement Stephew Few Style Dashboards and I use it very frequently to do Dashboards, which for me is very easy to do.

    Take care

  9. “Data source integration – it sits on top of a wide variety of different databases/data sources, almost every type you can think of which is in fairly widespread use. This includes text files (csv, txt), SQL, SSAS, Essbase, Oracle and anything with an ODBC connection, plus a few others”

    This was pointed out as a benefit specifically of Tableau, but is also available in SSRS reporting.


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