14 Replies Latest reply on Nov 14, 2013 5:22 PM by Emma Yeh

    Anyone have tools for producing a nice excel doc from Tableau Server?

    Jamie Sidey

      What's needed:

      I am interested in taking a Tableau worksheet, and creating a nicely formated Excel spreadsheet. Has anyone created their own tools to do this work?

       

      Challenges:

      • Tableau export to crosstab contains zero formatting
      • Tableau export to crosstab often contains measures that needs to be stripped out
      • Tableau Server doesn't support programatic export to crosstab
      • Tableau's generated PDF files are tough to decipher

       

      Possible Approaches:

      • Take a cross-tab export and use Excel API to apply custom formatting rules based on each worksheet
      • Reverse engineer an exported PDF and use that to automatically create an excel file

       

      Question:

      Has anyone found an elegant (or inelegant) approach to address this need? I've been asking Tableau to add robust export to Excel, but so far this is not on the roadmap (hoping that changes). With no solution from Tableau, perhaps there are other ways to get this done?

        • 1. Re: Anyone have tools for producing a nice excel doc from Tableau Server?
          Toby Erkson

          I doubt there is a way to do it without some serious programming.  To have Tableau perform a robust export [I'm assuming you mean a Tableau graph converted into Excel so it can be worked with by Excel] is, well, just doesn't make sense.  How the two interact with data is different so that is a big roadblock itself.

          • 2. Re: Anyone have tools for producing a nice excel doc from Tableau Server?
            Jamie Sidey

            Actually I mean exporting a table. Exporting a graph would be nice, but I can live without it (export to PNG is adequate for graphs). But exporting a table to Excel should be within the realm of the possible...

            • 3. Re: Anyone have tools for producing a nice excel doc from Tableau Server?
              Toby Erkson

              Unless it was static (could not be changed/pivoted) a crosstab table would be troublesome due to all the data behind it.

              • 4. Re: Anyone have tools for producing a nice excel doc from Tableau Server?
                Jamie Sidey

                Sorry... not sure I understand.

                 

                Are you saying that the crosstab file produced from Tableau is often not useful because of all of the additional fields related to cell shading and tooltip text?

                 

                If so, yes, I agree... though it is possible to create a stripped down table that can be usefully exported to Excel (via crosstab). However we are still left with

                A) no programatic way to accomplish this from Tableau Server

                B) no way to retain any table formatting

                C) no way to handle tables that haven't had special treatment to make them export friendly

                 

                There needs to be a way to take almost any table and export that to Excel... and the product would match the visible content, formatting, and structure (as close as possible), but would strip out any of the hidden information used to drive tooltip text etc.

                 

                Tableau is able to product a nicely formatted PDF... so clearly there is a way to extract the table content and produce a formatted version of it elsewhere. This is a solveable issue, it's just a question of:

                A) it being a priority for Tableau engineering

                B) a third party tool figuring out a way to do it (harder, and more prone to breaking with future releases)

                • 5. Re: Anyone have tools for producing a nice excel doc from Tableau Server?
                  Sean Mullane

                  I have occasionally had the need to do this. My solution was to create a view that had a basic table in it and use tabcmd to export that to csv from the view on Server. Generally I try to avoid doing this at all, for good reason. It's hard to imagine Tableau wanting to put resources toward Excel exports. It's easier to add another level of aggregation to a Tableau table via table calcs than to export to Excel and do additional processing, I think. And Tableau or a PDF are better than Excel for display.

                  • 6. Re: Anyone have tools for producing a nice excel doc from Tableau Server?
                    Jamie Sidey

                    Sean, I've taken the same approach as you... i.e. a stripped down view that is formatted for export to Excel. If I had my way, everything would be done in Tableau. However I have clients to support, and love it or hate it, Excel is the single most widely used BI / data manipulation tool out there. A large percent of the market my company supports must have reports in Excel format... and I know many others are in the same position.

                     

                    We are now at a point where I may need to drop Tableau entirely and switch to another vendor like Spotfire or QlikView who support exporting to Excel a little better. I would prefer not to switch platforms, which is why I'm looking around to see how others are dealing with this problem.

                    • 7. Re: Anyone have tools for producing a nice excel doc from Tableau Server?
                      Toby Erkson

                      Jamie Sidey wrote:

                       

                      ... However I have clients to support, and love it or hate it, Excel is the single most widely used BI / data manipulation tool out there. A large percent of the market my company supports must have reports in Excel format... and I know many others are in the same position...

                      Yep, seen this far too often.  People use the new BI tool to extract data, dump it into Excel, and work with it from there.  Trouble is, people are lazy and aren't willing to take the minor amount of time to learn a new tool, even if it will save them work and time.  It drives me crazy!  My tolerance for such people grows shorter as the years go by as they are proving their ignorance and total lack of willingness to work efficiently.

                       

                      Don't bother with Tableau.  I'm glad it doesn't export to Excel because it's not an ETL tool, it's a reporting tool.  In fact, your company is just wasting money buying any other tool for data extraction to Excel.  Money would be far better spent on a VBA programmer with Access and Excel skills.

                       

                      rant-off

                      • 8. Re: Anyone have tools for producing a nice excel doc from Tableau Server?
                        Allan Walker

                        I agree with Toby, writing a VBA macro is probably the cheapest (i.e. less time consuming) way to go, but I wouldn't even bother doing it from Tableau, I'd just use the underlying data source directly; I guess it depends if you've set up table calcs/CF's then maybe.

                         

                        That said, the XL addin should be able to work both ways.

                        • 9. Re: Anyone have tools for producing a nice excel doc from Tableau Server?
                          Jamie Sidey

                          Toby & Allan,

                           

                          Going direct against the db and then using VBA makes sense, and I have some resources already researching that option. It represents an unfortunate duplication of work, as it means you essentially need to build the report twice, which reduces the nimbleness of a BI delivery organization. It also means you need to build additional export functionality into whatever site Tableau Server is embedded into, which represents development and QA hours that I would prefer to allocate elsewhere.

                           

                          From a competitive standpoint this is an area where Tableau is falling short of competitors. When Tableau had a smaller engineering organization it was an easy prioritization decision to focus on innovation, but given the growth in their dev team, they can maintain the focus on innovation while also devoting resources to feature parity.

                           

                          Cheers, Jamie

                          • 10. Re: Anyone have tools for producing a nice excel doc from Tableau Server?
                            Toby Erkson

                            Jamie Sidey wrote:

                             

                            ...From a competitive standpoint this is an area where Tableau is falling short of competitors....

                             

                            This is where I desagree and, in my view, Tableau is consciously steering clear of that path.  I see the competitors in a rut.  Not only does the company have to keep their product up-to-date but would also need to stay in step with Microsoft -- in this case, Excel -- and that creates even more work ($).  They are keeping their reporting tool as a reporting tool.

                             

                            I don't understand what you mean by "duplication of work".  Why pull a 'report' from a reporting tool just to turn around and export it to Excel for further manipulation?  Absolutely makes no sense.  A data extraction tool is needed in such situations (like the VBA programmer).

                             

                            For the typical, mundane, daily/weekly/etc. static reports Tableau can work but it's not what I would recommend.  I'd recommend Business Objects or Cognos or MicroStrategy, some enterprise meta-data reporting tool (I don't recommend Tibco because I wan't impressed with them at the last place I worked, however, they did a fairly good job at imitating Tableau).  This will give customers their reports (including exporting to Excel, making them extremely expensive data retrieval tools) and be the 'one version of the truth'.  For real analysts, data miners, curious and intelligent data questioners, Tableau is the better tool beause it's meant to be interactive; it begs to be altered by its consumers, to answer their questions that the existing report doesn't immediately answer.  Sure, it can do the mundane stuff, but that's like using a fully-equipped Humvee that's always in low-gear instead of a cart at a golf course.

                             

                            If someone had a gun to my head and said it must have some data export then I'd settle for a simple .CSV output and nothing more.

                             

                            For those customers that think they must have data export abilities have you though about Tableau Desktop?

                             

                            Good conversation.  Wonder why shawnwallwork hasn't chimed in yet?

                            • 11. Re: Anyone have tools for producing a nice excel doc from Tableau Server?
                              Shawn Wallwork

                              Trying to play nice (or at least nicer). I'm pretty sure my 'annoyances' have become an annoyance to others. So I'll leave this one alone, besides you've done a pretty good job of answering this one. (Love the Humvee image.)

                               

                              --Shawn

                              • 12. Re: Anyone have tools for producing a nice excel doc from Tableau Server?
                                Jamie Sidey

                                I'm torn on this, because from a purist perspective, I agree with you. Tableau should be focused on what it does best. I also see the case that it could be a business decision to not support Excel, in order to drive greater adoption of Tableau Reader and Tableau Desktop.

                                 

                                However, from a business opportunity perspective, I think would be a mistake for Tableau to not invest at least a little bit more into supporting Excel. Team Tableau recognizes the value of saved views and scheduled emails in Tableau Server... I would suggest that support for Excel is the next logical step on that path. Having spoken with folks on the Tableau team, their lack of Excel support thus far hasn't been a strategic avoidance of Excel, it's been a question of focusing limited development resources where they could have the biggest impact. Tableau has now had enough success in the market that many of those development resource limitations are going away (more money, bigger team)

                                 

                                When I say that a report may need to be built twice if I have to go the VBA route, what I mean is that Tableau isn't simply serving as a data extraction tool. I use it to drive a lot of transformation, calculation, formatting, etc in order to expose a specific set of actions that clients need to jump on (along with the "why" to back those actions up). These usually aren't static reports... users will log in, explore, filter, change the parameters, etc etc, and the product is a very nicely presented table. In this situation, the interactivity of Tableau is actually a key feature. Tableau supports dumping that into PDF and PNG, they are just missing the 3rd standard option of XLSX.

                                • 13. Re: Anyone have tools for producing a nice excel doc from Tableau Server?
                                  Jamie Sidey

                                  Just a follow on... I'm not the only person interested in this functionality. About two years ago I started a thread (http://community.tableau.com/thread/109920) and quite a number of folks voted in favor of more robust export to excel, including at least one person who now works for Tableau

                                  • 14. Re: Anyone have tools for producing a nice excel doc from Tableau Server?
                                    Emma Yeh

                                    I wonder if there has been any movement on this.  I too have a similar challenge.  I built a set of dashboards for users and one view involves a detailed campaign performance table.  I've got requests to download that specific table to Excel - which currently is not supported by Tableau.  It's a challenge that I run into a couple times already - while users do get the high-level from dashboards on Tableau server, they want to do their own quick calculation and default tool is Excel.