During the Christmas holiday, I noticed this tweet from a friend, Paul Banoub:

Paul Banoub tweet

This frustration isn’t uncommon. About 25% of the clients I’ve worked with during the last seven years have underutilized Tableau initially because they didn’t use Tableau’s visual analytics (available via Show Me) to display information.

What Tableau IS

Tableau is a visual analytics engine that makes it easier to create interactive visual analytics in the form of dashboards. These dashboards make it easier for non-technical analysts and end users to convert data into understandable, interactive graphics.

Tableau facilitates the use of data from public sources in conjunction with your proprietary data, enabling new and useful insight. For example, blending census data with your proprietary data can yield new insights into activity by providing normalized results for population.

Census data in Tableau

Above: Census data visualized in Tableau.

Tableau saves time when updating daily and weekly reports that currently reside in spreadsheets. That’s because Tableau separates the data layer from the presentation layer and makes updating a spreadsheet data source a trivial append to the bottom of your source spreadsheet. My own initial use of Tableau seven years ago saved 20 man hours of preparation time per week while freeing-up high-priced talent to perform analysis instead of compiling reports.

Tableau reduces the burden on your IT team by enabling end users to conduct meaningful analysis, make useful discoveries and build interactive dashboards with much less technical support versus traditional (developer-centric) tools.

Tableau is a way to expand the frequency, depth and variety of data used in your organization. Most importantly, Tableau’s visual analytical capabilities are easy to use and present large and granular data sets more effectively than legacy reporting tools and spreadsheet reports.

What Tableau IS NOT

Tableau is not a data creation tool. You can make new data in Tableau using forecasts, trend lines, reference lines, calculated values and table calculations. However, if data creation or modeling of novel scenarios is your primary need (building a budget for example), use a spreadsheet.

Budget spreadsheet

Above: Leave the simple budgets to spreadsheets.

Tableau is not an ETL engine for cleaning-up bad data, although it can be very helpful in identifying missing or erroneous data in your existing data sources. Visualizing data via time series, bar charts, scatter plots or in maps highlights errors and outliers more effectively than grids of data in a spreadsheet.

Tableau is not a table-production tool. It can be used to create text tables, but if you are asking for help to create your 500-row, 32-column grid, you are using Tableau the wrong way.

Effectively Using Tableau

Tableau makes it easier to create powerful visual information that communicates what is important better than a spreadsheet or text table. Tableau has advanced capabilities for more technical users, but it dramatically lowers the bar for creating dashboards and performing analytical analysis for non-technical analysts and information consumers.

The knowledge of a single technical BI professional can be published to Tableau Server via Data Extract files or Data Source files. This capability allows your IT team to leverage technical resources throughout the enterprise while maintaining quality control, enhancing availability and increasing flexibility for analysts and end-users. And, if your technical staff finds a data error, the fix can be propagated immediately to your entire user base.

Learn Best Practices and Encourage Discovery

Invest some time learning about visual analysis. Read a book by Stephen Few. Build a dashboard that doesn’t use a text table. Learn all you can about Tableau from a blog series or knowledge base articles. Attend a Tableau User Group meeting. Start an internal user group and share the ideas and best practices within your team.

Showcase the best work of your team and have the creator of the work explain how the visuals were created, how visual analytics enabled a significant discovery or how the information is now easier to understand.

If, in a few months, your user base is still using Tableau to build spreadsheet-like reports, call InterWorks. We can help you break that cycle through coaching, best practice training and rollout planning and facilitation.

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Dan Murray

Director of Strategic Innovation