Looker vs. Tableau: Differences and Use Cases Explained

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Looker and Tableau are two of the most popular data visualization tools used today. Learn about their differences, so you can confidently decide on the best one for you.

[Featured image] Two business analysts look at Tableau data visualizations on large monitors.

Looker and Tableau are two of the most popular business intelligence (BI) tools. Whether you want to visualize a data set or build complex dashboards, these two data analytics platforms have you covered. 

But what’s the difference between Looker and Tableau? And which one best fits your business needs? 

In this article, you’ll learn about Looker and Tableau, including their features, pricing, and use cases. At the end, you’ll have a clear understanding of how the platforms differ, which platform is best for your business, and explore suggested cost-effective courses that can help you gain job-relevant data visualization skills today. 

Looker vs. Tableau

Looker and Tableau have a lot in common, but they also have some key differences that might impact which one you choose. Here are some key differences and similarities to consider. 

Looker Tableau
PriceVaries, but starts around $35,000 a year.Varies, but based on number of users.
IntegrationPart of the Google Cloud Platform (GCP); can easily integrate into most pre-existing business intelligence (BI) workflows.Native integration with Salesforce CRM. Slack integration; can easily integrate into most pre-existing BI workflows.
FeaturesData visualization; data analysis; data modeling; version control; simultaneous collaboration; LookML; Looker Blocks and marketplaceData visualization; data analysis; data modeling; drag and drop interface for ease of use
Likely best use caseLarger organizations with a developed data team capable of designing and managing dashboards with LookMLSmaller organizations with smaller data teams but several employees who must use data visualizations to gain insights

What is Looker? 

Looker is a data visualization tool that is a part of Google’s Cloud Platform (GCP), which includes a large suite of interrelated tools like BigQuery, Cloud Storage, and CloudSQL. Organizations use Looker to create dashboards and reports that allow them to transform data into easy-to-understand graphs and charts, so they can gain actionable insights and make informed, data-driven decisions. 

Looker uses its own dependency language called Looker Modeling Language (LookML) that is built around Structured Query Language (SQL) to create semantic data models. This makes LookML relatively easy to learn for data professionals with SQL experience. It also allows technical users like data engineers to create bespoke data models that act like simple-to-use applications for the many non-technical Looker users who must reference data daily in their roles.  

Looker pricing varies based on the number of connected data sources, users, and its scale of deployment. But, the technology doesn’t come cheap. Most outlets report that the price for a Looker subscription starts around $35,000 a year and can easily go higher, depending on an organization’s particular needs. 

Looker features 

Looker is a powerful business intelligence tool that empowers both high-level executives and on-the-ground employees to make more informed business decisions. Some of Looker’s key features include: 

  • Integrated platform. The Looker platform seamlessly integrates into pre-existing BI solutions, so that business teams can easily incorporate into their already established workflows.

  • LookML. The Looker Modeling Language (LookML) allows data professionals to create custom applications and tools based on users’ needs. 

  • Looker Blocks. Looker allows users to use pre-built pieces of code called “blocks” that can range from fully developed data models to custom visualizations. Looker users can search Looker Marketplace for different “blocks” to integrate into their own data analytics platform. 

  • Embedded analytics. Looker includes embedded data analysis tools that provide users with real-time data and actionable insights. 

  • Version control. Looker is unique in that it provides version control, so users know what changes were made, by whom, and for what reason. 

Looker use cases

Looker is used primarily by businesses to create data visualizations. For example, a business might use Looker to transform its sales data into a series of graphs, charts, and maps that illustrates the fluctuations of their quarterly sales throughout the year, breaks down the different types of products they sold, and highlights the different regions where they were  bought. 

Looker is also intentionally designed to be scalable so that it can grow with an organization. This allows companies to retain Looker as a BI tool rather than having to make the costly decision to change their workflow and architect a new solution once they’ve increased their footprint. 

What is Tableau? 

Tableau is a data visualization tool used to create dashboards and reports based on an organization’s various data sources. Tableau includes a desktop application (Tableau Desktop) that can either publish to other users via a dedicated server (Tableau Server) or through the cloud (Tableau Cloud).  

Tableau is a well-regarded BI tool because users can easily create visualizations by dragging and dropping pre-existing data fields into a sheet. The platform can interpret a data set and break it down into different dimensions and measurements, including already existing ones and those generated by the application itself. This makes Tableau simple for non-technical users to both gain insights from data and share them with others.  

Tableau pricing varies based on the number and type of platform users. Tableau breaks down users into three types that each have their own monthly cost: Tableau Creators cost $70 per user each month; Tableau Explorers cost $42 per user each month; and Tableau Viewers cost $15 per user each month. Each of these different types of users can perform different tasks on the platform, ranging from using the full spectrum of the platform’s capabilities (Creators) to those who can only view pre-existing visualizations (Viewers). 

Tableau features 

Tableau offers one of the easiest-to-use data visualization platforms on the market. Some of Tableau’s key features include: 

  • Integrated platform. Tableau can work on-premises, in the cloud, or be natively integrated within the Salesforce CRM. It can also be embedded online or within Slack. 

  • Data analytics. Tableau users can build visualizations, employ AI-driven statistical modeling, and even use natural language to ask the platform questions. The software also allows for real-time analytics so users have updated information at their fingertips. 

  • Ease of Use. Compared to some more involved BI tools, Tableau is generally considered an easy-to-use platform that allows users to create visualizations without much prior experience working with data.

  • Sharing and collaboration. Tableau equips users to easily share their insights with their colleagues by simply publishing on their shared server or via the cloud. Mobile applications also allow users to access this material more easily. 

Tableau use cases

Like Looker, Tableau is used to create visualizations, dashboards, and reports so that businesses can make more informed, data-driven decisions. For example, an SEO marketing team might use Tableau to create graphs illustrating the number of monthly site visitors to demonstrate traffic growth since starting the most recent marketing campaign. 

Where Tableau shines is through its ease of use, which allows non-technical users to make visualizations and convey their findings. This is particularly helpful to businesses that need to develop a data-driven culture but who lack a fully developed data team to create and manage their entire data operations. Tableau is also scalable and can grow alongside businesses.  

Should you use Looker or Tableau? 

Looker and Tableau are both powerful data visualization and analytics platforms that can provide organizations with the insights they need to make smart business decisions. So, how do you decide which is the right one for your business? There is no one right answer to this question. As a result, when deciding between Looker and Tableau, it’s important to consider: 

  1. Price

  2. Your use cases

  3. The size of your existing data team 

As a rule, Tableau will be the cheaper option for smaller organizations because they’ll pay a variable rate based on the number and type of users. Tableau is also a good option for organizations with smaller data teams because it's easy to use for non-technical users. It’s important to note that the price can increase significantly as more and more users are added to the account. 

Looker, on the other hand, will likely be more cost-effective for larger organizations with a large number of users that will need to reference the platform routinely. It’s also a good option for organizations with a developed data team who will be able to create bespoke dashboards for non-technical users through the use of LookML. At the same time, it’s important to recognize that Looker can be expensive for smaller organizations because its annual cost will likely start around $35,000 a year. 

If you’d like to find out more about the exact price you’ll pay for both solutions, reach out to their respective support teams to find out more so that you can know the exact amount each platform will cost you. 

Learn more about data with Coursera 

BI tools like Looker and Tableau empower users to make better, more informed decisions every day. If you want to expand your BI and analytics capabilities, consider earning a Professional Certificate through Coursera to gain job-relevant skills today. 

In the Google Business Intelligence Professional Certificate, you’ll learn in-demand skills like data modeling, data visualization, dashboarding, and reporting in less than two months. For those looking to dive deeper into data, meanwhile, the Google Data Analytics Professional Certificate teaches key analytical skills like data cleaning, analysis, and visualization, and tools like spreadsheets, SQL, and Tableau.

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