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What is Tableau?

If you are here, it must be because you, too, have heard the buzz surrounding Tableau. This inevitably brings us to the question, what is Tableau?

Tableau is a revolutionary data visualization and Business Intelligence tool which has become the software of popular choice across industries. It is a tool that converts the raw data into powerful visualizations or “vizzes” from which professionals or individuals from various backgrounds can draw insights into the data.

Tableau software has been elected as a leader among the business intelligence tools for seven consecutive years before settling down to number two position in 2019.

The tool efficiently converts data into easily understandable representations. The IT professionals, students, statisticians, teachers, writers, economists, or anyone who has an interest in how the data plays out can easily understand the vizzes.

The top features of Tableau are:

  • Data Blending
  • Performing Exploratory Data Analysis (EDA)
  • Real-time analysis
  • Generating Reports

Who developed?

Founded in 2003, by four researchers of the computer science department – Christian Chabot, Chris Stolte, Andrew Beers, and Pat Hanrahan, Tableau is now patented software owned by Salesforce.

However, Tableau Public and Tableau Reader are the open-source and free editions.

That said, Tableau Public is the only free tool that allows the users to publish reports on the Tableau Server.

Tableau uses the AJAX-based JavaScript application to create the visualizations.

What is data visualization?

Most of us agree that a picture is worth a million words. Humans have always been hugely interested in creating and interpreting images to relay meaningful information across generations. And data visualization is a powerful medium to make immediate insights through our brain’s impressive visual processing system.

What is Tableau used for?

Tableau is an ideal tool to create powerful visualizations within a matter of seconds. It transforms the raw data into graphs, dashboards, reports, and stories.

It is next to impossible to study the millions of rows of data to draw meaningful insights. Data visualization is a much-simplified technique to analyze the data in a split of the second.

What’s more, it doesn’t take an expert to be able to make interpretations from the visualizations. Individuals from every walk of life will be able to read and draw inferences from the vizzes, be it, IT professionals, a student, statistician, blogger, salesperson, or a data scientist.

So, what can one achieve through Tableau?

  • Tableau can convert large datasets into simple yet comprehendible visualizations.
  • It can connect to any kind of database.
  • Enables quick visualizations without any coding.
  • It can import data of all sizes.
  • Ideal for report generation and making presentations.
  • It provides a quick overview of the data, which means the interpretations can be made within seconds.
  • A breather for people from a non-technical background as it makes the perception of data quite easily.

Who is the targeted audience?

Anyone who has an interest in understanding the behavior, pattern and trends in data can use Tableau. However, the tool is ideal for

  • Data Scientists/Analysts
  • Statisticians
  • Journalists
  • Marketing personnel
  • Bloggers
  • Economists
  • Bankers
  • Team Leads
  • ETL developers

The list goes on…

What are the prerequisites to learn Tableau?

Basic knowledge of Excel, SQL, and the ability to read and interpret graphs can learn Tableau.

Why Tableau?

The Tableau definition goes like this…

It is an ideal tool to make impressive visualizations by first and foremost establishing a connection to the databases. That said, Tableau can connect to a wide range of data sources beginning from Oracle, AWS, to Excel and CSV files.

Tableau connects to any databases and extracts the data from it. This means Tableau can stream data from live databases to the data engine, the Desktop product. This is the space where the Data analysts or scientists play with data to generate graphs, charts, dashboards, etc.

The Tableau Reader enables sharing the dashboards thus generated as static reports.

However, when published to the Tableau Server, the end-user can be able to access the published vizzes from any location, device, or organization. The Tableau Server is essentially an enterprise platform that enables security, collaboration, distribution, and governance features.

The data analytics performed on Tableau can be described in two steps:

Step 1: Developer tool

Tableau is used as a platform to create visualizations, dashboards, reports, etc. Tableau Public and Tableau Server enable these,

Step 2: Sharing tool

The reports/dashboards thus generated can be shared and circulated among the groups or published publicly. Tableau Reader, Tableau Server, and Tableau Online editions help achieve this functionality.

Tableau Product Suite

As mentioned in the earlier section, there are two ways in which Tableau can be perceived; one, as a developers’ tool and the other as a sharing tool. In all, there are five Tableau products:

Tableau Desktop – A data engine which is a platform for data analysts/data scientists create a wide range of visualizations to understand and draw inferences from the data. It is the commercial product of Tableau ideal for personal and professional use. Reports created can be either stored locally on the server or cloud. This product further offers two editions – Desktop Personal and Desktop Professional.

Tableau Public – The free version of Tableau data engine, which comes with most of the functionalities of the commercial product, Desktop. But, it has limitations in terms of connecting to databases, accessing the data, and publishing the reports. With Tableau Public, the users can only publish reports on the Server and open it to the public.

Tableau Online – This edition saves published reports on the cloud server of Tableau. The group ensures that the security and access of the published reports on Tableau Online.

Tableau Server – This is a sharing tool where the reports created in the Desktop edition or Public can be accessed once the links to the vizzes are shared with anyone interested.

Tableau Reader – This is a read-only version that enables the viewing of published reports as static images.

In the next section, let’s explore each Tableau product individually.

1. Tableau Desktop

The desktop product is the commercial and feature-rich edition of Tableau.  It essentially allows the user to create vizzes, generate reports, and put it all together in dashboards.

So, let’s start from the beginning…

The Desktop edition enables data connectivity to the databases for live analysis. This basically means, that whenever there is an update in the database, it will immediately appear in the Tableau viz.

The data scientists, analysts, statisticians, BI professionals play with the graphs and data to make meaningful insights

The Desktop edition allows the user to save the reports thus generated either locally or on the Server.

Based on the database connection and publishing option, the Tableau Desktop can be further divided into two products:

Desktop Personal:

While almost all the features are the same as the Desktop version, the difference is that the reports can be saved only locally and cannot be published on the server publicly online.  However, if you do wish to share, it can be done either offline or through Tableau Public.

Desktop Professional:

Coming to the Professional version, this product enables you to share the work created online as well as on the Server. This version also allows the user to make use of all the datatypes. It is an ideal product for those who hope to publish their reports on Tableau Server.

2. Tableau Public

This edition is an open-source and free version where the differences manifest in terms of connecting to the data source. This edition does not permit the connection to the databases. However, it can establish a connection with Excel files, CSV, Google Sheets, statistical files, PDF, etc.

When it comes to publishing the reports, they can be saved to the cloud and are accessible by everyone. There are no privacy settings, and hence everyone can download the reports. This product is ideal for those who hope to learn the tool or for those who intend to publicize their work.

3. Tableau Server

This is a sharing tool. This product is essentially used to share the workbook, dashboard, or reports generated in Tableau Desktop with groups across the organization. The catch here is the private work of the users should be first published in the Desktop edition.

Once the work is published on the Server, it can be viewed only by those who have permission. Now, the question here is, do the people who hope to access the shared viz need to have the Tableau Server installed?

The answer is no. They don’t need to have the Tableau Server installed per se. But, they should have the login credentials with which they should be able to check the vizzes shared privately on the web browser itself.

Tableau Server ensures high-security and enables the quick sharing of the reports at the organization level. The Tableau administrator of the organization will have complete control of the hardware and software maintained in the organization.

4. Tableau Online

This is also a sharing tool for Tableau. Similar to the Tableau Server, the Online edition also enables storing of the reports in the cloud, which is maintained by the Tableau group.

That said, there is no storage restriction to the number of reports stored in the cloud. However, as in Tableau Server, the Online edition also requires the reports to be first published in Tableau Desktop.

Furthermore, Tableau Online can establish a direct link to over 40 data sources hosted in the cloud that includes MySQL, Hive, Spark SQL, and so on.

Tableau Online also supports data streaming from web applications like Google Analytics and Salesforce.com, etc.

5. Tableau Reader

This is another free tool for Tableau. However, this enables only the viewing of the reports and vizzes as static files created on Tableau Desktop and Public on the Reader.

It supports data filtering, filtering; editing the vizzes and modifying them is not allowed.

The security is another threat with Reader as anyone who gets the link to the workbook can view it.

It is an ideal tool for CEOs and CFOs who are more interested in viewing the final reports to gain understanding but do not indulge in making presentations or modifications. To view the reports, they should have Tableau Reader installed in their system.

Excel Vs. Tableau

Excel has always been used as a data analysis tool. However, when compared to Tableau, the latter has more potential to perform an in-depth analysis.

Tableau, in fact, uses the data from an excel file. And with simple drag and drop of the data thus uploaded it creates the vizzes within a few seconds.

Let’s see the differences between Excel and Tableau below:

Data Analysis is one of the applications of ExcelDedicated visualization tool
Ideal for analyzing the structured dataSuited for generating quick and easy representations of Big Data.
Moderate speed of execution without any option to increase the speed.Moderate speed of execution, however, enables optimization as the operation progresses.
Security is moderate, and the security features need to be updated regularly.Numerous security options. Supports row-level security and other permissions.
Requires Visual Basic scripting knowledge and understanding Macros to utilize the full potential of ExcelTableau can be used without any coding knowledge.
Can work on small data setsWorks on large data sets
Part of MS Office SuiteIs available in different editions such as Desktop, Server, Public, Reader, and Online.
This can integrate with around 60 applicationsCan integrate around 250 different applications.
For visualizing data in Excel, first, the users should work on data, then manually prepare graphs for better visualization. Requires in-depth knowledge of Excel.Visualization happens from the very beginning.

Tableau leaves Excel far behind in terms of ease of operation, productivity, speed, efficiency, and effectiveness.

How it work?

Work on Tableau first starts with establishing a database connection. Tableau can connect to a wide range of data sources, including simple Excel, CSV, Google spreadsheets, PDFs to large databases such as Oracle, Google Cloud SQL, AWS, Microsoft Azure SQL, and many more.

With the data connectors which vary with the Tableau product you launch, the number of data connections can be established.

Tableau then uploads the data into the data engine such as Tableau Desktop, where the data analysts, scientists, managers, statisticians work and play with data to develop visualizations.

The vizzes thus created can be published to the server, ensuring security, distribution, governance, and collaboration. With Tableau Server, the users can experience the comfort and ease accessing the shared vizzes from Desktop, mobile, or an email

Do you know?
1. What is Tableau?
2. What is Tableau Public?

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