Discovery tool; SAP Lumira or Tableau Software?

 Which one should I pick? This is a question I had to face a couple of weeks ago. So I played with each tool for a few days to come up with a decent answer.Colorful business statistics

But first, what is a discovery or visualization tool? The recent emergence of this new generation of BI tools is supposed to help our business users to better understand the amount of data available in the company. How is this supposed to happen? By creating stunning visualizations with an intuitive drag-and-drop interface. The premise of these tools is to deliver sexy environments in order to perform faster and more flexible self-service analysis. The users are able to quickly and with ease merge multiple data sources to produce meaningful information about their business. They no longer have to wait for the IT department to create heavy, expensive and painful solutions. Every sales rep will tell you that their “Discovery tools” are specially built for these kinds of needs.

These “magical tools” could raise a new set of questions about the accuracy of the data. Without any common semantic layer, how can you guaranty that the accounting and marketing departments will come up with the same number? I think that this tool should be used in conjunction with a unified semantic layer. But this is not the purpose of this post.

Let’s get back on track. So, I did a comparison of 2 tools available on the market but many others are available these days, they are popping up everywhere, SAS Visual Analytics, Qlickview and Tibco are only a few among many.

I used a trial version of Tableau (8.0.1) and Lumira (1.0.11) to do my evaluation. I thought that sharing my impressions could be interesting for those who are looking for a similar tool. Obviously, depending on your business context, other tools than Tableau and Lumira may be a better fit. In my case, these two tools were the most appropriate.

Let’s start with Tableau. Tableau is a powerful tool to explore data. Once the main functions are mastered, it is very easy to create meaningful visualizations. Tableau is a very mature tool, with a lot more visualizations and functions available.

Some great functions in Tableau:

  • Ability to use custom maps
  • A single GPS point could have multiple dimensions displayed (gender, age, marital status,…)
  • Very easy to customize the layout and information displayed
  • The visualizations can be integrated into a dashboard and linked to each other.

A training course is strongly recommended to accelerate the use of this tool. The company offers training on site, on line and they also organize a session in major North American cities ( ). The user community is also very active and it is relatively easy to find useful information on the web. Tableau also offers short videos on the web to help the users with the tool. The videos are very well done and fun to watch.

One big downside of Tableau in my evaluation context is the absence of a connector for SAP BusinessObjects 3.x or 4x (BO). According to a Tableau account manager, a beta version will be available to a few users in the coming months.

Until a connector is available, all semantic layers need to be rebuilt by IT or business users with strong knowledge of SQL and the database schema. Maintenance of the semantics layer will also be a constant effort to take into consideration. Despite the fact that no connection is offered to SAP BusinessObjects, Tableau has an impressive list of connectors such as Google Analytics, MapR Hadoop, Salesforce, OData, Microsoft Analysis Services, etc…

The program requires a lot of resources to run adequately. With a data set smaller than 100’000 rows, the performance was good on my computer. With a bigger sample (250’000 rows), Tableau starts to slowdown and closing other applications becomes mandatory. An experienced Tableau’s developer told me to try to keep the data set under 2 millions rows.  The POC was done with a computer equipped with Windows 7 64 bits with an Intel Corei3 2.93Ghz and 6 GB of RAM.

I opened a ticket because of a problem with my graphic card drivers and Tableau technical support was quick and efficient in resolving my issue.

Tableau offers exporting the data set to xls or access. Tableau will automatically create a MS Access database, pretty neat.  The ability to print and print to pdf is also available.

A server version of Tableau is required to share visualizations. A different license is required to access the server. Tableau reader is available for free but need to be installed on the computer.

Due to the intense competition in this market segment, the updates are very frequent. This means new functionalities on a regular basis for the business users but also more work for the windows administrator to package and upgrade the most recent releases.

A cloud version of Tableau is newly offered (500$/user/year) and according to their website has almost the same functionality as the desktop version and the same connectors.  I tried the cloud version (see below the visualization about the best skier nations).. expliquer les diff.

Overall, Tableau is an excellent tool with a lot functionalities and could really help users better understand their data.

Next is a brief review of my experience with Lumira (version 1.0.11)

The tool is very easy to learn. A couple of hours are sufficient to understand the basics and to create visualization. The learning curve for Lumira is slightly quicker than Tableau. This is probably a side effect of the limited number of functions available.

The main advantage of Lumira is the full integration with SAP products and especially BusinessObjects. All semantic layers and filters available in the universe are reusable in Lumira.

The user experience is similar to Webi, the users familiar with the universe will quickly understand the semantic layer in Lumira. The way to filter, exclude and drill through data is extremely well done and intuitive.

The user’s community is not very active on the web, probably due to the young age of the product. The online help and videos offered on the SAP website are not always useful and most of the time boring to watch.

Lumira allows you to export an image by email or export the dataset to excel, csv, SAP Hana, Streamwork and Explorer.

As Tableau, Lumira allows users to have more than one data source in their documents. Lumira offers connections to xls, csv, databases (additional configuration is required), SAP Hana and BusinessObjects 3 & 4.

A predictive module is available in the same interface. This module is also very promising. I saw a demo of the tool but I haven’t had a chance to play with it yet.

Lumira is HTML5 compatible and integrated to SAP BI4 Mobile suite, so the visualizations should be available to tablets and Smartphones.

Overall, the product is less stable than Tableau, in particular when the data source is modified. The installation was difficult and the help of a Windows Administrator might be required to use BusinessObjects universes (files that require administrator privileges need to be copied and updated manually).

This tool is limited compared to Tableau, but the functions available work fine and are easy to use.

Here are a few examples of geospatial limitations in Lumira:

  • Custom maps are not integrated.
  • The maximum point to display on a map is 3000. In my POC this was not enough to display the required information.
  • Only one measure at a time can be displayed on a single point.
  • Only bubble, Choropleth (map in which areas are shaded in proportion to a measure) or pie chart could be displayed on a map.

One interesting function in Lumira is the combination of Lat/Long and measure on a bar chart. Lumira will automatically display the country, region and sub-region on the x axis.

Another problem that will probably be fixed in the future release is the fact that you cannot use time dimension, Lumira only recognizes date dimension. It seems that this problem is specific to certain connectors, such as the one for BusinessObjects.

The integration of Intelli-sense in the editable field is very sharp; it makes it very easy and fast to create new variables or formula.

SAP Lumira helpdesk was also tested and here the service was also excellent.

Updates of Lumira are very frequent and we could assume to the product will evolve significantly in the near future. According to SAP, the focus of the development team for Lumira is SAP Hana; this could have a negative impact if you are planning to use Lumira with BO.

SAP offers a cloud version of Lumira to share and create visualization but right now the data source import is quite limited (csv and xlsx only). The cloud version is licensed as a subscription service with monthly charges with a minimum of a one year term. A free edition is available with 1GB of data. The Enterprise version starts at 24$USD per user.


Finally, here is my impression after testing these tools.

The current version of Lumira is not mature enough to justify an investment at this time. However based on the last release, this tool will quickly evolve and more functionalities will be added.

Tableau, on the other hand, is a tool that could potentially help the business users better understand their data. The negative aspect is that IT will have to invest significant amount of time to recreate the semantic layer before the users can use the tool (if you are planning to use a connection to a database).

Based on the cost perspective, both products are aligned (between 990$ to 1999$ depending on data source you want to use). Tableau Desktop is free for students!

If you need to select a tool right now, I think that Tableau is the best option. But SAP seems to invest massively in Lumira and this product could really have a bright future if you are an SAP shop.

Please share your comments or experience with these tools.

Raphael Colsenet – October 2013

2013-10-11 : Last week a new version of Lumira was released (sp12). This new version has a very nice user interface in HTML5 and it is now possible a create storyboards (composite of visualizations), a great feature! The personal version of Lumira is also now available for free!


7 comments so far

  1. Russell Christopher (@russch) on

    Hey Raphael – Great write up, thanks! One thing that did seem out of the ordinary was your problem using Tableau with data sets other than what I’d consider,,,well, “small” 🙂

    (Oh, and to be completely transparent, I work for Tableau – specifically with 3rd party OEMs who embed our technologies into their products)

    Anyway, most Tableau folks deal (regularly) with datasets that are orders of magnitude greater than the one you worked with on hardware that is pretty much the same.

    The guidance you got from another Tableau user (about 2M rows) doesn’t resonate with me, either – unless (s)he was advising you not to RENDER more than 2M “things” on the screen at a time — that makes perfect sense to me.

    I normally do demos with 4-5M rows on my 8 GB i7 laptop so that things are nice and fast, but do “real work” with datasets as large as 1 Billion rows on the same machine (and no – a billion rows is nowhere near as fast as 10-20M – it probably takes a good 20 seconds for my answers to come back from the desktop-based in-memory engine with 1B rows – still pretty nice, tho).

    For your viewing pleasure, I recorded myself working with 4 different datasets: 1M, 2M, 50M, 100M. I played with Tableau’s one-click predictive functions, too. My laptop IS a little beefier than yours, and I happen to be running beta bits for the 8.1 release of Tableau (a minor upgrade). In the video you’ll see me actually render (not just read) 1M data points on the screen with no problem (there’s no reason in the real world why one would do this – you couldn’t get much value out of the visualization itself, but whatever).

    Just wanted to make it clear to your readers that Tableau can and does work with the largest volumes of that folks can throw at us. I’m sorry your experience was different.

    Anyhoo, here’s the link to the vid:!23927&authkey=!ABCYXahOT8o5QyE

  2. @mani_srini on

    Hi Raphael.

    On Oct 3rd, along the lines of providing constant innovation, we launched the latest version of SAP Lumira 1.12. This version sports a brand new, HTML5 based user interface allowing users to easily acquire, mashup, transform and visualize the data instantaneously against a number of data sources: SAP BusinessObjects universes, SAP HANA SP6, SAP BW via relational universes, oData, SQL databases, spreadsheets and .csv. (If you are connecting to spreadsheets and csv. There is a free version!

    The main functionality that we released in this release is to allow the users to convey their results by introducing the concept of boards and stories. A board is like a collage of different data visualizations and filters. No need for coding or scripting – it’s drag and drop.

    SAP Lumira also comes with the ability to support custom charts using our SDK visualizations extension capability.

    Thanks for the feedback on the tutorials. The team is working on a new set that will reflect SP12 and be more entertaining / educational!

    We will be more than happy to schedule a call with you to go through all the
    features in detail and discuss further.


  3. BiUser on

    “Tableau, on the other hand, is a tool that could potentially help the business users better understand their data. The negative aspect is that IT will have to invest significant amount of time to recreate the semantic layer before the users can use the tool (if you are planning to use a connection to a database).”

    This would be the same with Lumira though, right? Or are you specifically referencing to the BO connection limitations within Tableau?

    • colsenet on

      Yes, you’re right. It would be the same with Lumira if you are using a database connection or freehand SQL. With Lumira we can reuse the semantic layer build in BO or BW.

  4. aaron booth on

    Raphael – Thanks for the interesting review. It is nice to read your thoughts on Tableau, coming from the perspective of someone who knows BOBJ. After 5+ years of managing a BOBJ 4.0 environment, I moved jobs and now am managing an environment with MSBI tools and Tableau (based 80% on slightly different versions of the same data set). In attempting to build some control around the Tableau data sources (i.e., single version of the truth), I’ve been disappointed with my options for using a managed semantic/business layer, even to the point of putting together a proposal to implement BOBJ (and Lumira).

    A few questions:
    1.) Do you have any recommendations for a managed/centralized semantic layer to be consumed in Tableau?
    2.) You mentioned Tableau server for sharing/interacting with reports – which we are using – but how would we go about sharing/interacting with Lumira reports? BI Launchpad?


    • colsenet on

      Hi Aaron, Thank you for visiting my blog. So far, I haven’t found a perfect solution to share a semantic layer in Tableau. The way we are doing it today is not as “elegant” as in BO, but it’s working well.

      We have created a twb file with a big query that is similar to the BusinessObjects universe. The objects have the same name, same structure of classes and same measures. All the tables are already selected and the joins recreated. The file is used by the end users as a template for their workbook, this speeds up the tableau user adoption since they already know the dimensions and measures available. Recently I came across ways to connect Webi to Tableau, I haven’t tired it myself, but maybe creating a big webi report as a source for Tableau is another alternative.

      Tableau ODBC connector for Businessobjects :

      A other clever way to connect to Webi but a little bit more complex :

  5. Carlos Weffer (@wefferch) on

    Hi Raphael

    What great post. The demand for comparisons between Lumira and Tableau has been increasing since you wrote this post almost a year ago.
    I can see from the survey results that both have their fans.

    There are several aspects I consider quite important. First is the fact that Tableau is a much mature tool while Lumira is still catching up. This is important as businesses don’t want to hear about tools limitations as the reason for information not being delivered.

    The Semantic Layer discussion is a really interesting one. As stated in a previous comment, none of the tools offer to managed a semantic layer but connection to systems where it is done. Both Lumira and Tableau connect now with BOBJ, BW, HANA, etc. It is there where semantic layer must be managed not in the tool.

    How each of the tool connect to those systems is very important as it has an impact on how parameters/variables consumed, how users are authenticated, how access to data is controlled and finally it also has an impact on performance. I would expect Lumira to have a slight advantage over Tableau when connecting to SAP Sources like HANA, BW. Although it is fair to say that Tableau offered a connection to SAP BW way before than Lumira.

    In my experience as SAP BI Consultant, requirements never stay simple, once users see their data crunched they want more. Information, when delivered right, should drive appetite for more questions and answers. Therefore a tool that is easy to consume but also with the capacity to provide answer for more complex questions will be my preferred option. One that can be kept simple but that can also deliver the extra mile when is required. This why in this point of time Tableau is my preferred option.

    For those out there fans of iMac like me, the version of Tableau 8.3 works on OS X. Unfortunately it does not offer a direct connection to HANA, however HANA information views can be accessed via oData services.

    Carlos Weffer (@wefferch)

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