10 Replies Latest reply on Apr 20, 2018 5:11 AM by Tim Dines

    Can you use Tableau as a reporting tool?

    Christian Schwehm

      Hello,

       

      I am a big fan of Tableau and it's great to be used for analysis purposes. We rolled it out at a quantitative asset management firm and use it for portfolio analysis. Currently I'm struggling whether it could also be used as a regular reporting tool for clients.

       

      The cases would be:

       

      Regular Reporting:

      - several hundreds of reports, that are all client specific, i.e. they vary in terms of the parameters (portfolio, timeframe, regional settings...) and in terms of the pages to be displayed (usually between 10 and 40).

       

      I would imagine the following set up:

       

      1. Create a standard workbook, that is in line with corporate design and is created with a pixelperferct positioning of all the graphics.

      2. The workbook might contain 20-30 pages and each of these pages would depend on a certain set of parameters and filters

      3. There would be another tool - in the simplest case an excel-file - that contains all the settings of each report for each client. These settings would have information for each client for each page of the report (i.e. the workbook, the worksheet, the parameters and the filters)

      4. Via tabcmd one could generate for all clients the required pdfs.

      5. The pdfs get sent out to the clients

       

      I suppose that this is a workflow that many of you will have in place, are there any difficulties that I should be aware of? Does anyone have experience with an external tool reflecting this process?

       

      Thanks for your advice!!

       

      Regards,

       

      Christian

        • 1. Re: Can you use Tableau as a reporting tool?
          Branden Kornell

          Yes, you can use Tableau like this, but I advise against it. Tableau's designed for interactive reporting, not pixel-perfect batched reports.

           

          That said, we did put together a solution like this at my last job, in very much the way you described, cobbling together multiple tools.

           

          1. Create a standard workbook, that is in line with corporate design and is created with a pixelperferct positioning of all the graphics.

          2. The workbook might contain 20-30 pages and each of these pages would depend on a certain set of parameters and filters

          Yes. Each report was one published workbook on Tableau Server, with 1 published tab per page.

           

          3. There would be another tool - in the simplest case an excel-file - that contains all the settings of each report for each client. These settings would have information for each client for each page of the report (i.e. the workbook, the worksheet, the parameters and the filters)

          We used ActiveBatch, an IT automation tool that we were using for other data warehouse scheduling. You can use any tool, though, that sends tabcmd commands.

           

          4. Via tabcmd one could generate for all clients the required pdfs.

          Yes, we used tabcmd export --fullpdf

          tabcmd Commands

          and we used URL parameters to set filters and parameters in the workbook

          passing filter parameters in url

           

          5. The pdfs get sent out to the clients

          Again, depending on the batch tool you use, it can pick up the PDFs and email them out.

           

          Note that this approach hogged resources on our Tableau Server, killing responsiveness for any live users. You will need to schedule it in off hours and closely monitor the memory on your Server.

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          • 2. Re: Can you use Tableau as a reporting tool?
            Christian Schwehm

            Hello Branden,

             

            thanks for the reply. I see your point with the killing of resources, but wouldn't it be possible to start the reporting from desktops only and this would not bother live users on tableau server? I am also not quite sure whether you were using just one workbook with 20-30 sheets or dashboards and for each client you just define which of these sheets/dashboards are used at what position of the final report and the respective parameter set for the sheet/dashboard - pretty much like in a story. Hence I would also be able, to use a sheet/dashboard multiple times in the report with different parameter sets.

            An important requirement is also to be able to add-in some text or change the displayed title of the sheet/dashboard.

            Therefore I should be able to generate individual pdfs for all of those 500 clients.

            I currently do not really see the problematic spot of such an approach, but everybody I ask tells me that I should not use tableau for something like that..

             

            The alternative is introducing a new reporting tool as we need to replace the old one where everybody is unhappy with...

             

            It would be great if you or somebody else has some advice.

             

            Regards,

             

            Christian

            • 3. Re: Can you use Tableau as a reporting tool?
              Branden Kornell

              wouldn't it be possible to start the reporting from desktops only and this would not bother live users on tableau server?

              Tabcmd is a Tableau Server administrative tool. I'm not sure whether you can use it with desktop installations.

               

              I am also not quite sure whether you were using just one workbook with 20-30 sheets or dashboards and for each client you just define which of these sheets/dashboards are used at what position of the final report and the respective parameter set for the sheet/dashboard

              For each report, we used one published workbook with multiple tabs.

               

              Unfortunately, tabcmd export only has the options --pdf (export one tab) or --fullpdf (export all tabs). It's not possible with a single command to export a subset of tabs, or to export a single tab multiple times.

               

              You can use multiple tabcmd export statements and then use a different tool to combine PDF files... but that's another layer of complexity. I've done it with Python scripting.

               

              An important requirement is also to be able to add-in some text or change the displayed title of the sheet/dashboard.

              You can do this with parameters that are passed in the URL string (like filters).

               

              I currently do not really see the problematic spot of such an approach, but everybody I ask tells me that I should not use tableau for something like that.

              Our experience was that it worked pretty well, but not perfectly. Especially with dashboards, sometimes one of the vizzes on the dashboard didn't 't export correctly. (The PDF page would have a blank or messed up area where that viz should be.) It was inconsistent and not replicable.

               

              Unfortunately, in those cases Tableau Support wasn't much help; they said, "Tableau isn't meant to be used like that."

               

              So that's my caution to you. You may get glitchy reports and users who are frustrated at you, with no way to fix the issue aside from manually rerunning the affected reports.

              1 of 1 people found this helpful
              • 4. Re: Can you use Tableau as a reporting tool?
                Peter Fakan

                An alternative to this would be to distribute pdf url's for an on-demand reporting approach instead of links to the interactive report, instead of distributing pre-generated .pdf's. This is done by replacing the ?:iid=1 with .pdf at the end of the url.

                 

                There might also be some savings (between clients) you could make by inserting url driven filters, but that would depend on the level of bespoke reporting that is done. This is done by including the filter parameters inside the url /sheet?Field_Name=Value, or for more than one filter using this pattern /sheet?Field_name=value&Field%20Name=Value

                 

                HTH

                 

                Peter

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                • 5. Re: Can you use Tableau as a reporting tool?
                  Christian Schwehm

                  Thanks Branden for the detailed reply, so I guess I'll look whether I can find a decent add-on tool and have a try :-)

                   

                  Regards,

                   

                  Christian

                  • 6. Re: Can you use Tableau as a reporting tool?
                    Christian Schwehm

                    Thanks Peter for sharing the experience - we'll try!

                    • 7. Re: Can you use Tableau as a reporting tool?
                      Tim Dines

                      This can be done.  I translated 150 reports from Crystal to Tableau for a large company.  The biggest issue is the number of columns that can be displayed.  With 16 as the limit, I sometimes was able to get them to live with hierarchies in order to get past that limit.

                      • 8. Re: Can you use Tableau as a reporting tool?
                        Christian Schwehm

                        Hello Tim,

                         

                        the columns wouldn't be an issue for us, my biggest fear is the feedback, I got about graphics that are not displayed and the comment, that you can only print out a workbook as a whole or a sheet individually. I really would need to customize the reports as a specific subset of worksheets of one or several workbooks, that would need to be displayed according to a set of parameters. It also might happen that one of those worksheets is displayed twice with two different parameter selections. Was your use case similar?

                         

                        Regards,

                         

                        Christian

                        • 9. Re: Can you use Tableau as a reporting tool?
                          Tim Dines

                          99% of the time my reports were viewed on the screen and then downloaded as crosstab files.  They used it very much like a Crystal Report viewer that was previously in use.

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                          • 10. Re: Can you use Tableau as a reporting tool?
                            Tim Dines

                            Another idea is to create a dashboard that gives a small view of the reports, similar to thumbnails but larger, and have users click to get the larger report.  They can then print that part as a PDF, Crosstab or Image.  There are many creative ways to bring columnar report lovers into the current day.