8 min read

Tableau is one of the leading BI tools used by data science and business intelligence professionals today. You can not only use it to create powerful data visualizations but also use it to extract actionable insights for quality decision making thanks to the plethora of tools and features it offers.

We recently interviewed Joshua Milligan, a Tableau Zen Master and the author of the book, Learning Tableau. Joshua takes us on an insightful journey into Tableau explaining why it is the Google of data visualization. He tells us all about its current and future focus areas such as Geospatial analysis and automating workflows, the exciting new features and tools such as Hyper, Tableau Prep among other topics.  He also gives us a preview of things to come in his upcoming book.

Author’s Bio

Joshua Milligan, author of the bestselling book, Learning Tableau, has been with Teknion Data Solutions since 2004 and currently serves as a principal consultant.  With a strong background in software development and custom .NET solutions, he brings a blend of analytical and creative thinking to BI solutions.

Joshua has been named Tableau Zen Master, the highest recognition of excellence from Tableau Software not once but thrice. In 2017, Joshua competed as one of three finalists in the prestigious Tableau Iron Viz competition. As a Tableau trainer, mentor, and leader in the online Tableau community, he is passionate about helping others gain insights from their data. His work has been featured multiple times on Tableau Public’s Viz of the Day and Tableau’s website. He also shares frequent Tableau (and Maestro) tips, tricks, and advice on his blog VizPainter.com.

Key Takeaways

  • Tableau is perfectly tailored for business intelligence professionals given its extensive list of offerings from data exploration to powerful data storytelling.
  • The drag-and-drop interface allows you to understand data visually thus enabling anyone to perform and share self service data analytics with colleagues in seconds.
  • Hyper is new in-memory data engine designed for powerful query analytical processing on complex datasets.
  • Tableau Prep, a new data preparation tool released with Tableau 2018.1, allows users to easily combine, shape, analyze and clean the data for compelling analytics.
  • Tableau 2018.1 is expected to bring new geospatial tools, enterprise enhancements to Tableau Server, and new extensions and plugins to create interactive dashboards.
  • Tableau users can expect to see artificial intelligence and machine learning becoming major features in both Tableau and Tableau Prep – thus deriving insights based on users behavior across the enterprise.

Full Interview

There are many enterprise software for business intelligence, how does Tableau compare against the others? What are the main reasons for Tableau’s popularity?

Tableau’s paradigm is what sets it apart from others. It’s not just about creating a chart or dashboard. It’s about truly having a conversation with the data: asking questions and seeing instant results as you drag and drop to get new answers that raise deeper questions and then iterating. Tableau allows for a flow of thought through the entire cycle of analytics from data exploration through analysis to data storytelling.  Once you understand this paradigm, you will flow with Tableau and do amazing things!

There’s a buzz in the developer’s community that Tableau is the Google of data visualization. Can you list the top 3-5 features in Tableau 10.5 that are most appreciated by the community? How do you use Tableau in your day-to-day work?

Tableau 10.5 introduced Hyper – a next-generation data engine that really lays a foundation for enterprise scaling as well as a host of exciting new features and Tableau 2018.1 builds on this foundation.  One of the most exciting new features is a completely new data preparation tool – Tableau Prep. Tableau Prep complements Tableau Desktop and allows users to very easily clean, shape, and integrate their data from multiple sources.  It’s intuitive and gives you a hands-on, instant feedback paradigm for data preparation in a similar way to what Tableau Desktop enables with data visualization.

Tableau 2018.1 also includes new geospatial features that make all kinds of analytics possible.  I’m particularly excited about support for the geospatial data types and functions in SQL Server which have allowed me to dynamically draw distances and curves on maps.  Additionally, web authoring in Tableau Server is now at parity with Tableau Desktop.

I use Tableau every day to help my clients see and understand their data and to make key decisions that drive new business, avoid risk, and find hidden opportunities.  Tableau Prep makes it easier to access the data I need and shape it according to the analysis I’ll be doing.

Tableau offers a wide range of products to suit their users’ needs. How does one choose the right product from their data analytics or visualization need? For example, what are the key differences between Tableau Desktop, Server and Public? Are there any plans for a unified product for the Tableau newbie in the near future?

As a consultant at Teknion Data Solutions (a Tableau Gold Partner), I work with clients all the time to help them make the best decisions around which Tableau offering best meets their needs.  Tableau Desktop is the go-to authoring tool for designing visualizations and dashboards. Tableau Server, which can be hosted on premises or in the cloud, gives enterprises and organizations the ability to share and scale Tableau.  It is now at near parity with Tableau Desktop in terms of authoring. Tableau Online is the cloud-based, Tableau managed solution. Tableau Public allows for sharing public visualizations and dashboards with a world-wide audience.

How good is Tableau for Self-Service Analytics / automating workflows? What are the key challenges and limitations?

Tableau is amazing for this. Combined with the new data prep tool – Tableau Prep – Tableau really does offer users, across the spectrum (from business users to data scientists), the ability to quickly and easily perform self-service analytics.

As with any tool, there are definitely cases which require some expertise to reach a solution. Pulling data from an API or web-based source or even sometimes structuring the data in just the right way for the desired analysis are examples that might require some know-how. But even there, Tableau has the tools that make it possible (for example, the web data connector) and partners (like Teknion Data Solutions) to help put it all together.

In the third edition of Learning Tableau, I expand the scope of the book to show the full cycle of analytics from data prep and exploration to analysis and data storytelling. Expect updates on new features and concepts (such as the changes Hyper brings), a new chapter focused on Tableau Prep and strategies for shaping data to perform analytics, and new examples throughout that span multiple industries and common analytics questions.

What is the development roadmap for Tableau 2018.1? Are we expecting major feature releases this year to overcome some of the common pain areas in business intelligence?

I’m particularly excited about Tableau 2018.1. Tableau hasn’t revealed everything yet, but things such as new geospatial tools and features, enterprise enhancements to Tableau Server, the new extensions API, new dashboard tools, and even a new visualization type or two look to be amazing!

Tableau is working a lot in the geospatial domain coming up with new plugins/connectors and features. Can we expect Tableau to further strengthen their support for spatial data? What are the other areas/domains that Tableau is currently focused on?

I couldn’t say what the top 3-5 areas are – but you are absolutely correct that Tableau is really putting some emphasis on geospatial analytics.  I think the speed and power of the Hyper data engine makes a lot of things like this possible. Although I don’t have any specific knowledge beyond what Tableau has publicly shared, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some new predictive and statistical models and expansion of data preparation abilities.

What’s driving Tableau to Cloud? Can we expect more organizations adopting Tableau on Cloud?

There has been a major shift to the cloud by organizations. The ability to manage, scale, ensure up-time, and save costs are driving this move and that in turn makes Tableau’s cloud-based offerings very attractive.

What does Tableau’s future hold, according to you? For example, do you see machine learning and AI-powered analytics platform transformation? Or can we expect Tableau entering the IoT and IIoT domain?

Tableau demonstrated a concept around NLQ at the Tableau Conference and has already started building in a few machine learning features. For example, Tableau now recommends joins based on what is  learns from behavior of users across the enterprise. Tableau Prep has been designed from the ground-up with machine learning in mind. I fully expect to see AI and machine learning become major features in both Tableau and Tableau Prep – but true to Tableau’s paradigm, they will complement the work of the analyst and allow for deeper insight without obscuring the role that humans play in reaching that insight.  I’m excited to see what is announced next!

Give us a sneak peek into the book you are currently writing “Learning Tableau 2018.1, Third Edition”, expected to be released in the 3rd Quarter this year. What should our readers get most excited about as they wait for this book?

Although the foundational concepts behind learning Tableau remain the same, I’m excited about the new features that have been released or will be as I write.  Among these are a couple of game-changers such as the new geospatial features and the new data prep tool: Tableau Prep. In addition to updating the existing material, I’ll definitely have a new chapter or two covering those topics!

If you found this interview to be interesting, make sure you check out other insightful articles on business intelligence:


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