CoolData blog

8 September 2013

Blogging from the Tableau Customer Conference: Why you should care about BI

Filed under: Tableau — Tags: , — kevinmacdonell @ 6:56 pm

I am in Washington DC this week for the Tableau Customer Conference. I’ve mentioned Tableau on CoolData before, and I am a fan of not only the software but the ethos behind the software. Tableau is not a predictive analysis tool, so I don’t write about it much.* But there is a deep and important connection between predictive analytics and business intelligence tools such as Tableau (and Advizor, Spotfire, QlikView …). It’s a connection that has taken me a long time to fully appreciate.

Tableau is a great tool for visualizing your data, and an amazing tool for putting a certain level of analysis into the hands of business users. It can play a role in analysis, for sure, but not statistical analysis or modelling.* So what’s the connection? Well, there’s a connection on two levels.

The first I grasped immediately: Blending predictive model scores with actual results (fundraising results, phone contact results, event attendance results, and so on), for continuous, real-time reporting on model performance post-deployment. End-users wouldn’t get much out of these reports, but I certainly do. (See: Evaluate models with fresh data using Tableau heat maps.)

The deeper connection, the one that has taken me longer to realize, goes like this …

Analytical talent in our sector is as likely, or more likely, to be fostered from within than hired from without. As I see it, the predictive analysts of the future are currently wasting their talents, toiling away at extracting data and reports for end users, often employing Excel in repetitive and error-prone ways. Getting to the point of providing real insights based on data is only a once-in-a-while thing so long as employees are having to spend so much time generating the most basic of reports.

Better tools have arrived, and Tableau is one of them. Let’s start freeing up the creativity and ingenuity of our own employees in the higher education and nonprofit fields.

(BTW, any CoolData readers attending the conference can email me at I would love to learn how your institution is using Tableau.)

* Late-breaking update from the conference: Today (September 9) Tableau announced a range of new features and functionality for all its products in versions 8.1 and 8.2, including integration with the powerful, open-source statistical package R. So much for Tableau not serving up statistics and modelling! New viz options such as box-and-whisker plots will as well add some functionality more associated with stats software.


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