Skip navigation

Dashboards Must Truly Dash When It Comes To Business Performance



Data volumes are increasing at ridiculous speeds – from megabytes to gigabytes to terabytes. It's more important than ever to be able to consume, or reject, information quickly and easily.









A very well stated article with several key take-a ways. These needs play to Tableau's strengths, but only if we choose to use it in those ways.

One of the fascinating characteristics of Tableau as a software product is the ability to discover ways of mixing content and functions that are not by the book. You can stumble on to something serendipitous by thinking “I wonder what will happen if I do this”. Worse case, it doesn’t work. Tableau is forgiving with its infinite back button. Best case, you find a Tableau trick which will open up new features to your visualizations or save you a lot of build time. I think of Tableau as having “plastic programming”. How you use it is very malleable versus rigid and inflexible.


A case in point related to importing a workbook as a data source. Sounds like a non sequitur, but on the data connection menu if you go to Connect > Other Files the default selection shows *twb workbook files as an option. So I wondered what would happen if I did this. Found out it doesn’t gain you anything as far as an additional data connection per se. But it pulls in all your dimension and measure fields, groups, calculations etc. you created with data connections from that other workbook into a fresh workbook without having to edit out worksheets and dashboards from that prior workbook file to start over. A big time saver.


So be inquisitive and experiment with Tableau.

Wanted to make you aware Tableau goes around to major cities offering classroom training. They swing through Houston periodically. Here are upcoming Houston classes for October and December offering Fundamentals and Advanced training sessions. They are $1,400 each, which is a consideration. But you won’t have the travel time and expense to go elsewhere for the same content.


I’ve attended both these classes a few years ago and found them very helpful in jump starting newbie Tableau users. They cover a lot of content hands on with the Tableau instructor there to coach you through the exercises. Back then I was told to bring my laptop with Tableau loaded. They don’t make that clear in the information I reviewed. So if you do signup, double check whether you need to bring it or if they will have their own equipment set up.


Fundamentals Two Day Class Oct 26 & 27:


Advanced Two Day Class Oct. 28 & 29:


Fundamentals Two Day Class Dec. 14 & 15:


Advanced Two Day Class Dec. 16 & 17:

AWS Cloud Drives Amazon's Q2 Revenue Growth



Amazon Web Services -- which is gaining more big data capabilities -- accelerated the pace of its cloud growth, generating $1.82 billion in second-quarter sales.


Much was said in broadcast media yesterday about Amazon surpassing Wal-Mart as the largest retail provider in the U.S. What has not be discussed as much, except in IT media, is Amazon's drive to the forefront of cloud based services. Not only leaving tech giants like Google and Microsoft in the dust, but doing so at a phenomenal growth rate.


To put this in perspective, any Joe with a computer, internet access, and a credit card can have Amazon host everything which would previously require your own IT department: web servers, network databases, application software. Such capabilities at such a cost savings was unheard of just a few years ago. Of course, we could also point to Tableau having it's own clouding hosting services for viz displays and data.


So what does this portend for the future of data analysts? Here are a few thoughts:


  • This does not address access to data sources, but that’s rapidly evolving as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jeff Bezos and company realize they could also make money selling subscription data.
  • Such tools will help support more free agent data analysts who don’t need to be tied to organizations for IT support.
  • Talented individuals and small groups will have tremendous agility to deliver analysis services on par with larger more established organizations. Also not be constrained in the scope of what they can do by the organization’s priorities and resource limitations. Cloud services help level the playing field.
  • Not a warm-fuzzy feeling for IT groups, but executive leadership within organizations looking to outsource related services to support their staff of data analysts at a lower cost.

My apologies in advance for the long dissertation. I’ve been thinking of formats to mix things up at our user group meetings, particularly in ways which will benefit new users or those interested in seeing what Tableau can do. But also challenge the creativity of our more experienced users.


Tableau has great events like the Iron Viz Contest, where users compete against the clock to design the most creative and informative displays. Sure to generate a-ha’s with people well versed in Tableau, but risks deer-in-truck-headlights reactions from those who have a minimal understanding of the product. With the release of 9.0, Tableau emphasized the theme of Analytics in the Flow which is an important part of the flexibility provided by Tableau. But this presupposes you have the data you want and some idea of what you want to do with it. As with any data analysis, it begins with the data and some sense of strategy for how you want to approach the analysis - well before you make your first click in Tableau. We also need to slow things down for new users so they have an idea how to make this transition from examining data content and strategy to getting in the flow with Tableau.


Years ago I attended a competitive intelligence training program where the instructor made a statement which has always stuck with me: “Good analysis begins with good questions. What are the questions your decision makers need answered?” For our August 21 session I would like to begin there with an example set of data (attached). This was created from publicly available file on the Texas Department of Health Services website which I modified and formatted for this exercise. It gives basic location information of inpatient facilities in Texas along with their licensed bed count by bed category. After we cover any UTMB Tableau related news, we will devote the rest of our time to a three part “Data Discovery Session”.


Part 1: Good analysis begins with good questions.


In my opinion, the Zen of data analysis is the ability to see into a set of data and grasp the potential of what you can learn from it. In advance of our session I would like you to look over the first worksheet tab and think about questions we can explore with the content available in this file. For example, from a population health standpoint:


  • How disproportionate are the availabilities of inpatient beds in urban versus rural areas?
  • Lack of mental health facilities is a major concern. What are the ratios of Psychiatric to other bed types?
  • Considering the aging population, distribution of rehab facilities and capacity will be a growing concern. What does this currently look like?
  • Facilities renovate over time, but for purposes of this exercise the “License Effective Date” represents the date a facility was originally licensed. What can we tell about the aging of our inpatient facilities vs. new ones coming into operation?


These are just a few ideas and I’m hoping you can come up with other even more creative angles we can explore. We will spend a few minutes at our meeting brainstorming these ideas.


Part 2: Experiment with Tableau displays to address the questions


For the experienced users also think about potential Tableau displays to address your questions. After we finish the question brainstorming we will start from scratch building Tableau displays in a manner where we can walk new users through the process. We will be open to trial and error (trial and error in the sense of trying a viz to see if it tells us anything useful and just go back to building another if it doesn’t). Then come up with a set of worksheet we want to use.


Part 3: (time permitting) Assemble worksheets to dashboards.


A few of technical points about the Excel file:


  • The first worksheet tab gives you a better view of the content in a flat table arrangement, but does not work best in Tableau. I transposed the data using Tableau’s Excel Data Shaping plug-in to a format more workable with Tableau. So if you want to play with the file in Tableau prior to the meeting, make your data connection to the “TXHosp2015_05-Tableau” worksheet tab.
  • The counts are for licensed beds. We realize actual operating beds in a facility could be fewer. But we will go with that for demonstration purposes.
  • UTMB Galveston and MD Anderson are missing from this table. They are considered state hospitals, are exempt from licensing, and therefore do not appear on this list. Again just for demonstration purposes we will go with facilities in this file. Angleton Danbury had a preexisting license prior to merging with UTMB last fall, so that is why it appears on the list.


So I hope you agree this will be a more interesting and engaging exercise for our next meeting. Hope to see you there.

I may have mentioned to some of you my dad lives in Wimberley. Fortunately his property is well north of town and on a hilltop, so he was not affected by the disaster along the Blanco River. But our family has visited Wimberley for years and are very familiar with the affected areas. So we are interested in information about what happened.


This is not a Tableau presentation, but nevertheless a good (albeit tragic) example of data telling a story. Readings on the line graphs went vertical suddenly, indicating the wall of water people talked about. It knocked out the flood gauge and they started taking measured rates at some point by the asterisk.


To put things in perspective, the discharge volume chart goes off the scale at 70,000 cubic feet per second. Niagara Falls has a flow rate of about 100,000 cubic feet per second.

Credit to Audit Services for figuring this out. Typically, the Tableau folks tell you not to bother with adding a column for percent of total to your data, since this can be easily created using Quick Table Calculation. This adds a custom calculation from the source measure you can use like any of the other measures. It also allows Tableau to adjust percentages automatically vs. locking in a certain number of rows with fixed percentage values.


Audit Services wanted to create a bar chart which represented volume count along the measure axis, but add as the Mark Label what that count represented for percent of total. We tried different ways of applying the calculated field for percent of total, but could not get it to work.


We went back to their original source table in Excel and added in fixed percent columns. When connected to Excel, this causes Tableau to recognize the percent column as designated measure instead of a calculated field. That made the difference and we were able to use both in the display. Don’t understand why calculated fields vs. a designated percent column in the data would make a difference, but it this case it does.

Structured Data Ain't Dead



Structured data and relational databases remain tops, and 60 percent of organizations have no plans to leverage Hadoop in the next three years, new research finds.


Very interesting results from a study commissioned by Dell. Basically, Oracle and SQL rule IT shops and are expected to do so for the immediate future. UTMB is a case in point,

One of the nice features in Tableau’s online community is the ability to post ideas and have other users “vote up” the suggestion for inclusion in a future release (from the Tableau home page: Support > Community > Ideas). An example is addressing Tableau’s current limitation of essentially one data layer in a map. I know from firsthand experience this type of display is popular with our executive leadership and is needed by multiple areas of the institution. There is a work around using dual axis, but this still does not give you the complete functionality of an additional map layer and definitely is not a part of an easy to use tool set.


Be sure to search first to see if an idea has already been posted. If so, just vote and add comments if you want. Here is the posting regarding map formatting:


If you are a registered Tableau user, add your vote to this one if you wish. But mainly I wanted to make you aware of this communication path if you want to add a product improvement suggestion for Tableau. I do know for a fact the Tableau people are looking at these ideas.

A couple of thought provoking articles in this morning’s Information Management Magazine newsletter:


Mobile BI Success



Having the right business intelligence and mobile technology helps, but isn't enough.


The author makes a bold statement: mobile BI will be a differentiator between industry leaders and laggards. She also raises an important point about mobile access providing the most current information, not just static versions of prior reports. Mobile access and tools come with Tableau Server without the need to buy additional modules.


How Predictive Analytics Reinvents These Six Industries


Predictive analytics reinvents how our world's primary functions are executed, across sectors.


Healthcare is named among these six. Directions include using analytics for “predictive medicine”. A theme we can hope to develop with our group is outreach to clinical and research coworkers to make Tableau a tool for more than just looking at clinical data for business purposes.