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Data Analysis At the Speed of Thought

Tableau Software delivers breakthrough data visualization.

2 Min Read

The next screen capture, below, focuses on tea profits by region, which shows a loss for green tea in the west. With a simple drag-and-drop operation I was able to use the same bars that displayed profits to show sales as well, encoded as varying intensities of the color green. This display confirmed immediately that the loss wasn't because of especially low sales.

Despite my enthusiasm for Tableau's promising beginning, this initial release certainly isn't complete or perfect. While its greatest strength is the unique way that it enables the analysis process through powerful visualizations and easy analytic navigation, its primary weakness is limited data access. The only enterprise-level relational database that it currently supports is Microsoft SQL Server, and even then the data must first be consolidated into a single denormalized table or view. If your data exists in Excel, a flat file or in one of two OLAP databases — Hyperion's Essbase or Microsoft's SQL Server Analysis Services — you can proceed immediately to analyze data. But if it resides in Oracle or DB2, you'll have to wait until at least version 1.5. Tableau says it plans to add support for direct access to star schemas in a future release.

With one drag-and-drop operation, bars that showed profits changed to display sales as well.

Even in this initial release, Tableau has already incorporated many satisfying features that would be worth description if space allowed, such as:

  • Unlimited undo and redo

  • The ability to break hierarchies when useful for analysis

  • The ability to define groups of data values on the fly, right in the visual display

  • The ability to transform a measure into a dimension by automatically subdividing the full range of values into consecutive bins of equal size

  • The automatic creation of hierarchy levels for date fields (year, quarter, month and so on)

If you're looking for software that allows the analytic process to flow, rather than shuffling along in its usual fits and starts, Tableau Software deserves your full attention.

• Tableau Software 1.0 requires Microsoft Windows 2000 or later release. License ranges from $999 to $1,799, depending on edition. For more product information, go to www.tableausoftware.com.

Stephen Few is the founder of Perceptual Edge, a consultancy that specializes in data visualization for analysis and communication. He's the author of Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten (Analytics Press, 2004). Write to him at [email protected].

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