5 Replies Latest reply on Apr 29, 2013 2:19 PM by Chloe Riordan

    Viability of using Tableau as reporting tool

    Mark Ackerman

      I am looking at the feasibility of purchasing Tableau 8 Desktop to be used to create packaged workbook reports for our clients.  I am very interested in using Tableau, but want to make sure it can meet our needs before investing time in learning the product.  We typically create 10 to 100 community level customer satisfaction reports for a client, with some higher level reports created as well (regional and company-wide), and may create over 1,000 reports per year.  We are currently using Excel and VBA to automate the creation of PDF reports, but modifying reports for each client’s yearly requested changes takes a fair amount of time.  I feel using Tableau would shorten the time needed to modify reports, and would allow clients to filter and sort their report data.


      Here are my questions regarding the feasibility of using Tableau as a reporting option for us.  I have attached a PDF will some report charts and tables created in Excel.  I realize there are a lot of questions here, so answers to any of these are appreciated.


      1. We would like to create packaged Tableau workbook reports that would be sent out to each community in the company.  In addition to showing the community’s data, charts would show comparisons to regional and overall company-wide scores. Is it possible to create a chart that shows comparisons at three levels of aggregation in the same chart and/or table? (community level, regional level, and company-wide)  The levels of aggregation may be brought in as three separate tables, with a separate regional aggregation table and separate company-wide table.  Would this hinder the ability to combine these scores in one chart?
      2. Is it possible to prevent a client from exporting the underlying packaged workbook data?  A community should not be able to export another community’s data from their packaged workbook, which would be the case if the entire company’s survey data were packaged with the workbook.  If it is not possible to prevent exporting data we would likely need to aggregate regional and company-wide data and bring those into the workbook as separate tables.
      3. Is it possible to have a data bar in a text table?  Excel allows the placement of a bar chart on each line of a table.  Does Tableau have this functionality?
      4. Is it possible to merge together two pivot tables (text tables) that share common values on the rows axis?  For example, a table could have columns showing scores for each year (2011, 2012, 2013 - pivot table #1) followed by survey question score response frequencies (% Strongly Agree, % Agree, % Mixed, % Disagree, % Strongly Disagree – pivot table #2)? The rows would be matched by the survey question variable/field.
      5. If our business grows significantly we would likely want to automate the creation of workbooks as much as possible.  Putting all the reports on line would likely be too expensive given the large number of communities that would each need to access their own report.  Could we use Tableau Server and tabcmd to create package workbooks for each community that only contain data for that community?  In other words, if I use tabcmd to filter by community is only that community’s data imported from the database or is data from all communities imported with a community filter then applied for presentation in tables and charts.  We would still need the aggregated regional and company-wide tables imported as well, rather than being filtered out.
      6. Any direction on getting up to speed quickly with Tableau as a report generation tool would be appreciated.  I know about the online training videos, Tableau Software Training Manual for Version 8.0 of Tableau by Larry Keller, and Rapid Graphs with Tableau Software 8 by the McDaniels (soon to be published).  Any thoughts.
        • 1. Re: Viability of using Tableau as reporting tool
          Russell Christopher

          Hey Mark -


          #1. Yes. You can use Tableau's "blending" feature to blend different data sources (each data source at a different level of granularity) into a single chart.


          #2. No, not really, If you need to secure data, Tableau Server is typically used.


          #3 & 4 Yes, you could approximate this look and feel. You'd probably need to create a few distinct visualizations and combine them in a dashboard.


          #5 There are several ways you could address this challenge. You idea could work, but might not be the best approach.


          #6 The book and videos are a great place to start, but most of us learned simply by jumping in and leaning on the community when we get stuck.


          Hope this helps!

          • 2. Re: Viability of using Tableau as reporting tool
            Toby Erkson


            Have you actually played with Tableau using your data?  I'm a very experienced Excel VBA developer and I know you can do crazy stuff with Excel.  When you compare the visualizations (charts) of Excel vs. Tableau you'll see you can work much more quickly in Tableau and get richer features to boot, like the Tooltip and user inter-activity like parameters and filters).  What you currently have for charts in Excel could very likely be replaced with a totally different and more informative chart in Tableau.


            Of course, your currently employed Excel developer may not be too happy


            Echoing what Russell wrote, I learned Tableau 7 in a couple of days using only their videos/manuals and playing with the product.  It's not a difficult product to learn.

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            • 3. Re: Viability of using Tableau as reporting tool
              Jen Underwood

              Also keep in mind that with Microsoft's move of Office Excel to the cloud, VBA futures are unknown.  VBA does not run in the cloud.  Start rethinking/replacing VBA with the cloud supported Office Napa framework -or-  a faster build/replace with Tableau.

              1 of 1 people found this helpful
              • 4. Re: Viability of using Tableau as reporting tool
                Mark Ackerman

                Thanks for the feedback.


                @Russell - Thanks for addressing all my questions.  It sounds like Tableau could work as a reporting tool for us, but that I would need to adapt the reporting format we are currently using to Tableau's capabilities.  I'm going to devote some time to learning Tableau and see what I can create with our data.  I'm sure the training materials and community forum will be very helpful.


                @Toby - The ease of setting up and modifying Tableau reports is the main selling point for me.  Secondly, I think being able to filter and sort could make our reports more useful and engaging for our clients.  Excel allows a lot of control over report design, but it can also be a lot of work to create that layout and maintain it.  I handle all Excel development, so no need to worry about an employee losing work.


                @ Jen - That's a good thing to keep in mind.  It will be interesting to see what Microsoft does with Excel and BI over the coming years.  I think Microsoft has been wanting to drop VBA for some time, and it does seem like they are very interested in moving Office to the cloud.  There are pros and cons to that.  We'll see how people react.

                • 5. Re: Viability of using Tableau as reporting tool
                  Chloe Riordan

                  I was hoping someone can go into more detail on what was mentioned in the opening paragraph and #1-- in terms of generating a large number of reports, and automating them as much as possible...


                  I'm also interested in purchasing Tableau Desktop (all I can swing), partially as an analytics tool, but also to help streamline reporting across 30-50 subgroups (mainly pulling in data from SQL server, GA, and excel).  Is it feasible to expect to be able generate monthly reports for each of these groups in terms of

                  -keeping data feeds updated

                  -generating PDF's or reports for the end user (I worry about the latter due to varying levels of technical expertise)