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Tableau Server Review

3

Yes, Tableau can make you feel "Tab - Blue" At Times

Great for data visualization, especially geospatial data. We used the product to create dashboards enabling near real-time visualization of the health of a wireless network of millions of devices. However, it's not ideal for summarizing very large data sets (>1 million rows). There were also issues connecting to Teradata using custom SQL.

Overall Satisfaction

On a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to recommend Tableau Server if asked by a colleague?  What advice would you have for that colleague?

6/10
This review6
Tableau Server Average9.2
Business Intelligence/Analytics Average8.5
Some additional details on the Tableau project I worked on at Southern California Edison (SCE):


During implementation, I was heavily involved with the Tableau consultants, stakeholders, and project managers to make sure that all requirements were met.  I did testing myself and signed off on testing that others did.  I provided my manager with constant feedback on our progress.  We were able to get Tableau installed in one month based on a very aggressive deadline set by management.  During this phase, I spent countless hours side by side with Tableau consultants to describe the performance issues we were facing at the time.  Here are two of the main hurdles we faced during implementation:   One of the main issues we faced was the use of Custom SQL to build our visualizations.  Because the roles within my team were highly segmented, we preferred using Custom SQL vs. connecting live to the data.  The reason for this is because I was tasked with building the visual.  I was not tasked with building the query.  The DBA I worked with would hand me the query and I would build the visual from there (creating the necessary calculated fields and formatting the data).  Tableau advises its clients against the use of Custom SQL for performance reasons.  In addition to performance, there are other drawbacks.  We would notice that certain functions in the SQL statements themselves would not get translated correctly into Tableau’s Native SQL (there are workarounds for this).  This issue was starkly apparent when connecting to Teradata.  Towards the end of my role at SCE, I was working daily on improving the connection to Teradata.  Before I left, I was able to take certain reports built in Business Objects and build them in Tableau (but this was only accomplished when connecting live to the data).  Another issue was refreshing certain dashboards that were meant to run 24/7.  Tableau has the capability to refresh the data behind the visual as frequenly as every 5 minutes (I believe).  But that refresh does not update the visual.  In order for the refreshed query to update the visual, you are required to force the browser to update on an interval of your choosing.  It is only with this combination that you can come close to seeing what is happening in real time.  The workaround for this issue was to create an .html file that had the URL of the dashboard, which was published to Tableau server embedded in it.  From here, you simply double click on the .html file and you would have your dashboard updating both the data (handled by Tableau Server) and the visual (handled by the browser).    


Here is a list of the data sources that I would connect to when building visualizations:  
1.     MS SQL Server
2.     Oracle  
3.     MS Excel  
4.     Teradata  
5.     MS Access  

Data Blending – There were several instances where business requirements made it necessary to join data from two separate data sources (i.e. - MS SQL Server and Oracle or MS SQL Server and MS Excel).  Tableau has an intuitive capability to recognize a data blend.  This will be indicated by the use of the link icon next to the primary data source (it looks like an infinity sign).  The ability to blend data together was very appealing in the conceptual sense.  But there are limitations on the number of rows that you can blend together (I noticed a significant deterioration in performance after 100k rows).  This seemed to always be our problem at the SmartConnect Operations Center.  We would relentlessly push Tableau’s performance only to find out that our local machine didn’t have the RAM necessary to do what we wanted or that Tableau was not intended for that specific application.  Regardless, I learned a tremendous amount about how the application behaves in different scenarios. 


Incremental Refresh – Sometimes it can be useful to use a Tableau generated extract.  This is essentially a mini-Tableau database.  My manager tasked me with building a report that would store historical data.  The purpose of this report was to keep a running total of certain events in the network.  The benefit of this report would be that it would automate a manual process that the end users were responsible for on a daily basis.  Prior to the implementation of this new report, the end users were tracking the historical data using MS Excel.  The challenge I faced was to find a way to store data from the daily query results.  Because the original data source did not store historical data, it was necessary for me to take advantage of the “Incremental refresh” option available in Tableau.  I do not advocate this method if the daily query results are on the scale of several hundred records of greater.  This solution was feasible because the number of records were less than 100 per day.  In addition, I worked with the end users and their team lead to create a backup method to get to the final row count in the instance that the Incremental Refresh option failed.  


Experience with Teradata – SCE’s 5 million meter network produces around 15 million records per day in just one its tables.  The data warehouse team built a set of views that could be accessed within the Teradata schema.  After several attempts to connect to Teradata (unsuccessfully) using Custom SQL, I worked with both Tableau’s technical staff and SCE’s DW team to diagnose the problem.  We spent multiple WebEx sessions documenting application behavior under various scenarios.  Initially, my thoughts were that the problem was that the client application was trying to connect to a View versus a hard coded table.  But Tableau assured me that the client application has no problem connecting to views.  In this instance, the workaround was to connect live to the data.  This worked on certain tables (with several joins in place) but not all.  Finally, I was able to re-build a few reports taken from Business Objects.  In order to do this, I extracted the SQL from the BO reports and then connected live to the same tables.  The result was a visual that came very close to what was found in BO.  The report reflected data that was aggregated in the form of a percentage.  The percentage represented the performance of a particular district over a time interval (i.e. – 98.99% over a 3 day period).   


Integration with ArcMap – The SmartConnect Operations Center’s business requirements made it necessary for me to find ways to enhance the mapping capability within Tableau.  The default background map that is offered by Tableau falls short in the areas of zooming and satellite imagery rendering. Therefore, Tableau offers its users the ability to connect to a geospatial (WMS) server.  To Tableau’s credit, the steps and information needed to connect to a WMS server are very simple.  If you have the URL of the WMS, then you can connect to the server.  In my experience, the biggest problem with using the layers from various WMS servers is in the rendering of the image.  If your application requires a certain level of detail and/or the ability to zoom in to a certain extent, you may find that the static image stops rendering at a certain zoom level.  In the SOC’s application, it was necessary to validate the latitude and longitude of meters in the field and their proximity to other meters (aka – the “mesh” network in wireless meter terminology) by visual inspection.  When I left the SOC, I was in high-level discussions between Tableau’s technical team and SCE’s GIS team regarding the rendering of the different layers available through SCE’s internal WMS servers. 

Please provide some examples of things that Tableau Server does particularly well.

  • Allows you to quickly visualize your data.
  • Great for viewing data that has geospatial elements.
  • Easy to share with others via publishing to Tableau Server.

Please provide some examples of areas where Tableau Server has room for improvement.

  • Not a one stop shop for summarizing large data sets (>1 million rows).
  • Does not work well with Teradata (in my experience). There was a host of connectivity issues that were logged by Tableau support as bugs/defects that were going to be addressed.
  • Performance is solely based on the amount of RAM your individual machine running the client app has (I would regularly see the Out of Memory error when trying to connect to Teradata).
  • Requires customization in order to force a refresh of the the webpage when publishing the dashboard on Tableau Server (data refreshes in the background but webpage does not update at the same time).

What positive or negative impact (i.e. Return on Investment or ROI) has Tableau Server had on your overall business objectives?

Through some customization we were able to monitor the network on a dashboard 24/7.

On a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to renew your use of Tableau Server?  Why do you give it this rating?

9/10
I can only speak for myself.  Even though it has its shortcomings, Tableau is headed in the right direction by making large amounts of data available to the traditional business user.  I dont think its simple to learn Tableau; but its not extremely difficult either.  With some training and help from Tableau support, you can improve your ability to provide analysis to your team or department.
This review9
Tableau Server Average9.8
Business Intelligence/Analytics Average8.7

Product Usage

How many people in your company use Tableau Server?   What business functions do they represent?

15 - Operations support and analysis.

How many people do you have in-house to support Tableau Server on an on-going basis.  Describe the types of people or skills required to support Tableau Server.

1 - Analysts with an IT background.

What are the 3-5 most important use cases for this product in your organization?

  • Allows analysts and managers to get a near real-time reading on the health of a wireless network of millions of devices.
  • Allows for creation of dashboards that provide analysis from a geospatial and a performance view.
  • Serves as a way to store data historically (using a Tableau generated extract) when your source system does not store data historically.

What are some unexpected or innovative ways that your organization has been able to use Tableau Server?

What are some additional ways that your organization might be able to use Tableau Server in the future?

Evaluation and Selection

Did Tableau Server replace another product in your organization?  What products did you replace and why did you want to replace them?

We were using Business Objects and Excelsius prior to Tableau implementation. - We needed a way to view dashboards in near real-time on the Hiperwall (A wall of TV screens that measured different aspects of the Networks performance.

Which other products were on your short list as alternatives to Tableau Server?

Which factors were most important in your decision to purchase Tableau Server?

If you had it to do over, how might you change the evaluation and selection process that you went through?

Implementation

On a scale of 1-10, how satisfied were you with the implementation?  Do you have any key insights regarding implementation of Tableau Server?

7/10
We got it working which was the main goal, but we had to create a workaround for a key dashboard that would run 24/7.  In order for the view to refresh every X minutes with the updated data, we created a .html file that instructed to the browser to refresh itself every X minutes.  This was a pretty simple workaround but it was something we were hoping to avoid.
This review7
Tableau Server Average8.7
Business Intelligence/Analytics Average8.5

How did your organization implement Tableau Server?  If you used a professional services company, what company performed the implementation?

  • Vendor implemented
  • Professional services company
There was a third party consulting firm that handled the project management aspect of the Tableau implementation.  We got it installed in a month.  I don't think you need a third party to install this tool.  It's like having monkey in the middle.  I was the main point of contact for Edison during the installation and I worked directly with the Tableau folks to get Tableau Server set up.  The professional services company just relayed messages back and forth and added an extra layer of communication that wasn't necessary.

Was the implementation broken up into phases?

Was organizational change management a big part of the implementation?

What were the most significant issues encountered during implementation?

Training

What kind of training did your organization get on Tableau Server?

  • Online training
  • In-person training
  • Self-taught

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the in-person training?  Why do you give it this rating?

7/10
In our case, they hired a private third party consultant to train our dept.  It was extremely boring and felt like it dragged on.  Everything I learned was self taught so I was not really paying attention.  But I do think that you can easily spend a week on the tool and go over every nook and cranny.  We only had the consultant in for a day or two.
This review7
Tableau Server Average8.3
Business Intelligence/Analytics Average8.4

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the online training?  Why do you give it this rating?

7/10
The sales consultants do an amazing job of introducing the tool and its capabilities.  They are also helpful in explaining the layout of the desktop client and its different functionality.

Keep in mind that they use a sample data source (MS Excel) with a very small amount of data to show off what it can do.  What you have to remember is that you are buying the tool so that you can connect to large amounts of data (and possibly blend data together from different databases).
This review7
Tableau Server Average9.3
Business Intelligence/Analytics Average8.3

Was the product easy to learn without training? Would you recommend this approach to others?

The only way I have learned anything was through trial and error.  Its nice to have formal training but at the end of the day they won't be available to help you out every time you get stuck.

Configuration

On a scale of 1-10, how configurable is Tableau Server?

Do you have specific recommendations or "best practices" for configuring Tableau Server?

Have you customized the user interface?

Have you added any custom code to Tableau Server?

Any additional configuration or customization that you did for Tableau Server that you want to mention?

1. We needed the view and data to be refreshed in synch on a key dashboard, hence the .html file
2. The default maps that come with Tableau desktop did not offer the level of detail we needed in order to do our analysis and therefore needed to connect to our own maps using a WMS server.  This was another area that had some issues that we were in talks about when I left.

Support

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the overall support for Tableau Server?  Why do you give it this rating?

6/10
I think the folks that work in support are generally pretty good at what they do (when you get them on a WebEx).  But the process of reporting issues to them and waiting for a response (via email only) is a hassle.  I never understood why you can't just call them up and discuss the issues with them.  It would take a handful of email exchanges before they would agree to a WebEx session.  That was frustrating.
This review6
Tableau Server Average8.8
Business Intelligence/Analytics Average8.1

Please rate customer support for Tableau Server for each of these factors .

/10
PositivesNegatives
None
None

If available, do you pay for premium support?

Not Sure

Have you ever reported a bug with Tableau Server?

Can you describe a time when Tableau provided you with exceptional support for this product?

Usability

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate Tableau Server's overall usability?  Why do you give it this rating?

7/10
When it works, it works great.  The drag and drop functionality is seamless.  Creating calculated fields is also simple.  
This review7
Tableau Server Average8.9
Business Intelligence/Analytics Average8.6

Please rate Tableau Server for each of the factors on the System Usability Scale.

/10
PositivesNegatives
None
None

What functions are particularly easy or elegant to perform using Tableau Server?

What functions are particularly difficult or cumbersome to perform using Tableau Server?

Does Tableau Server provide a mobile interface?

Reliability

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the product's overall scaleability?

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the product's overall availability?  Why do you give it this rating?

8/10
Tableau Server is very stable.  But Tableau desktop has crashed (or become unresponsive) on a few instances.
This review8
Tableau Server Average9.3
Business Intelligence/Analytics Average9.1

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the product's performance?  Why do you give it this rating?

3/10
Again, assuming that you are working with 100k rows of data or less, it works great.  When you increase the number of rows of data by a magnitude of 5 or 10+, there is a significant deterioration in performance. 
This review3
Tableau Server Average8.3
Business Intelligence/Analytics Average8.3

Integration

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate Tableau Server for ease of integration?

What systems have you integrated or attempted to integrate with?

Are there systems that you would like to integrate with or plan to integrate with?   To your knowledge, do the vendors support or plan to support this integration?

If Tableau can integrate with ESRI's ArcMap that would be amazing
As of April of 2013, there were some rumors circulating that these two vendors were talking about how they could work together.

Which of these integration technologies have you used with Tableau Server?

What advice do you have regarding integration with Tableau Server?

Vendor Relationship

On a scale of 1-10, how easy was the vendor to work with during the sales process?  Why do you give them this rating?

The vendor went the extra mile for us during the sales process.  They continuously extended my trial version in order to allow me to keep building dashboards and reports for our dept.  

Post Sales was different - They were still attentive to our needs via email (mainly) but it took much longer to get their attention and get resolution on issues we were facing with the tool.  

On a scale of 1-10, how easy was the vendor to work with after the sale?

What were the principle terms that you were able to negotiate with the vendor?

I cant speak on that.  That was handled by other people in my dept as well as other depts.

Do you have any tips or advice for more effectively dealing with the vendor?

This review covers the 7.0 edition of Tableau Server.

About the Reviewer

About Tableau Server

This review covers the 7.0 edition of Tableau Server.