Everyone knows ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.’ While that may be true for some activities, after attending the Tableau Conference, #DATA17, we couldn’t help but share some of the key takeaways.
Tableau, a data visualization platform, has been an industry leader in recent years (as recognized by Gartner and other organizations), and is known for its design-focused data visualizations and its user-friendly interface. However, there are many considerations when helping our clients select the right platform for their data visualization needs, and some of Tableau’s capabilities have historically fallen short of the particular needs of our clients. However, as we learned about new features and improvements throughout the week at #DATA17, we couldn’t help but ask ourselves, “Could this be a game changer for our clients?”
Here are the top 10 biggest changes coming (or currently in beta) to Tableau that could influence how we recommend and implement Tableau with our clients.
- Tableau Data Engine (TDE) is being upgraded to Hyper
What it means: With the acquired Hyper technology being utilized in Tableau 10.5 beta, Hyper allows for dramatically-improved data refresh speeds and performance when handling structured data extracts, addressing a critical issue that has plagued Tableau since the inception of TDE, especially when dealing with large data query results. Hyper will support all data sources that the TDE currently handles, and connectors for extracting NoSQL (e.g. Mongo) and Graph database (e.g. Neo4j) data with high performance are on the roadmap.
Why it matters to our clients: With the new Hyper engine processing data queries, Tableau will be able to perform query calculations and extract data at lightning-fast speeds compared to previous TDE versions. This allows not only for faster performance when creating visualizations, but also increased scalability for both enterprise-level deployments and growing businesses. This should significantly relieve pain points many clients had with Tableau, as the need to analyze millions of rows becomes more and more frequent.
2. Project Maestro will bring new data preparation capabilities
What it means: Project Maestro is a self-service data preparation tool being built into the Tableau application, expanding the steps that Tableau can take on as a start-to-end data solution. The new tool will allow users to combine, clean, and transform data within Tableau itself, rather than having to perform these tasks in another tool upstream of Tableau. Project Maestro is still under development, but we can’t wait for it to be available.
Why it matters to our clients: Built-in data preparation is a long-awaited feature that has been sorely lacking for Tableau. With the addition of Project Maestro, Tableau can now match their competitors’ built-in data preparation features with a feature set that is extraordinarily easy to use. New users will be able to clean their datasets in seconds with intuitive commands and avoid the need to leverage complex ETL tools for even basic transformations.
- Extensions API is being released for the integration and interaction with third-party applications
What it means: The Extensions API will enable developers to build and integrate add-on tools to enhance the already robust dashboarding features of Tableau. This expands the users’ ability to read data from an ever-expanding variety of sources, but also write data back to a source. This opens a myriad of customization options for any industry.
Why it matters to our clients: This is a huge announcement for clients who find that, although Tableau fits most of their needs, it still lacks additional company/industry-specific capabilities. With the new API, clients can develop new applications or find third-party tools on Tableau’s community site that will add new features to the dashboard to improve their business. Some examples could include: building an extension that has write-back functionality to the database so that users can edit the data directly in the visualization, using Google Map’s API to determine drive times based on coordinates selected in the dashboard, or building custom visualizations that go beyond what Tableau has to offer.
- New abilities to read and join spatial data, plus a new mark type for density heatmaps
What it means: While the software could previously handle spatial data, Tableau is improving the capability of reading spatial data directly from SQL databases, reducing the need to upload the data manually. Additionally, Tableau added the ability to create spatial joins, such as intersect, to allow for calculations based on the boundaries set by spatial data. Moreover, with the new Density mark type, data can finally be shown in a heatmap regardless of geometric boundaries (as opposed to the currently filled charts), to see areas of density concentration over the entire data set.
Why it matters to our clients: Being able to read spatial data directly from a database enables a fluid process when creating geospatial analyses and reporting on data sets that require constant change to the spatial boundaries over time. With spatial joins, clients will now have the ability to analyze points within each geographical boundary set by spatial data. This allows for expanded analyses on client-defined boundaries, whether it be sales revenue generated in a high-impact location or the count of electricity meters within a custom boundary. The heatmap capability is a very common request from clients, and will allow for greater analyses when analyzing geographical trends. The new mark type will also allow for density analyses, allowing users to understand the highest concentration of data points in large datasets.
- Admin users will be able to manage Tableau Server directly through a browser, including server scripting using Tableau Server Manager
What it means: Whereas admins currently must connect directly into existing servers, managing Tableau Server from a browser window provides admins more flexibility than ever before, especially for Tableau servers that are hosted on-premise. Not only can they monitor server usage, they can adjust resources on the move, including the new ability to script server changes for the truly tech-savvy admins out there.
Why it matters to our clients: Server downtime costs money, so being able conduct server maintenance without turning it off or interrupting user activity, can have a huge financial and time impact for clients. Tableau Server Manager via the browser eliminates the need for “Planned Maintenance” emails and scheduled downtimes, that many clients are all too familiar with. The ability to manage the server, that is on-premise via an internet browser, allows admins to be agile, both proactively planning server changes and deploying them through custom programs or as needed wherever they are.
- The Data Source Page provides users the ability to view data, data transformations, and data calculations via the web browser
What it means: When Tableau datasets are pushed up to Tableau Server, Tableau will automatically create a data dictionary for the dataset.
Why it matters to our clients: The Data Source Page allows for greater transparency, trust, and self-service capabilities when it comes to handling data accuracy, all of which are increasingly valuable to clients. With the constant need to make sure datasets are accurate and reflect the needs of the users, the Data Source Page allows for those looking for the right dataset to use for ad-hoc analyses to quickly glance through all dimensions and measures in a Tableau dataset, including the formulas behind any calculated dimensions/measures. You don’t need to be the author or have the original workbook to see whether calculated data columns or formulas are being computed correctly.
- Smart Recommendations for tables, data sources, and joins, including certified data sources
What it means: When creating a new workbook utilizing datasets uploaded to Tableau Server/Online, Tableau will suggest the best data sources, tables, and joins for your project based on past uses and algorithms that analyze the data. Moreover, certified data sources (that have been approved by Tableau Server Admin or Data Stewards as accurate, trusted sources) are promoted for use, and identified with new icons.
Why it matters to our clients: Smart Recommendations takes advantage of the shift towards automation and machine learning by enhancing the experience for power users and newbies alike. For power users, Smart Recommendations enables them to spend less time looking for datasets in the library and start their analyses immediately. For newbies, who may be unfamiliar with the datasets, it prompts useful suggestions, makes it easy to visually identify certified data sources, and helps to teach new users about what is available on Tableau Server while empowering them to become power users themselves.
- New ability to “Export As” or “Publish As” files as previous Tableau versions
What it means: When attempting to send a Tableau file to someone with an older version of the application, you can now export/publish the files as an older version of the software. This works for both Tableau Desktop exports and, importantly, when uploading the files to an older version of Tableau Server.
Why it matters to our clients: Until now, Tableau has never been backwards-compatible. If users are working on different versions of the software and the file or workbook has been saved in the newest version, it could never be opened by the older version again. This creates issues in client spaces if employees have different versions, causing undue frustration and inhibiting sharing abilities between employees. With the new capabilities to export or publish as previous versions, users can choose the version of Tableau they would like to rollback their workbook to and make it easily accessible to everyone. When uploading a workbook created in a newer version of Tableau to an older version of Tableau Server, Tableau will now also automatically rollback to the older version.
- Leverage prebuilt worksheets based on commonly used data sources
What it means: Tableau has always been able to connect to numerous sources of data, including cloud, on-premise, or common business applications. Directly accepting the known data structures from these sources make it that much easier to help get users to a final visualization, making the most of the available data.
Why it matters to our clients: With known data sources including Salesforce and QuickBooks plug-ins, this makes it easier than ever for clients to connect all their systems and get the most out of their software licenses. By creating predesigned templates for known data sources, clients can expect to save time in data transfer and preparation, making it faster to get the analysis and reporting they need, in order to get back to business.
10. Enhanced tools for building visualizations, including grid alignment and pixel nudging, and the ability to put visualizations in tooltips!
What it means: All those minor design details that you spend way too much time trying to adjust, just got a lot easier to fix! Just like turning on or off the Ruler feature in Word, you can turn on or off an overlay Grid to align your charts within your workbook. Creating great visualizations just got a lot less ‘want-to-rip-out-my-hair’ frustrating. Even more magical, however, is that we can now add worksheets as tool tips! Have you ever needed to show more data without cluttering your primary visualizations? Now you can.
Why it matters to our clients: Honestly, the grid and pixel nudge aren’t going to matter much to dashboard viewers, even if it means the world to visualization creators. However, with the ability to nest other visualizations in tooltips, you can provide C-suite executives or report reviewers with more concise information than ever before, allowing them to see the details at the levels they want.
While some of these capabilities are publicly available today (in the Tableau 10.5 Beta version) and some are further down the release roadmap, these changes indicate that Tableau has recognized the evolving needs of its users and is trying to keep up with the demands of the market. Addressing some of these issues will allow Tableau to be more competitive against other data visualization platforms and could influence how and when we recommend or implement this software for our clients now and in the future.