The roadshow theme is “Smart Meets Fast.” Catchy from a marketing standpoint but as with other products over time, Tableau’s power has increased along with its complexity. Eventually every tool becomes a programming language of sorts. World analytics complexity represented in software convolutes the original design faster than the world evolves. However, the software is still very usable and I personally like the experience better than a number of competing products. Plus, I’m used to it and the learning curve for any new product is always steep.

The audience for this particular roadshow is about 1/3 people who haven’t used Tableau, a 1/3 who have already started using 9.0 and it’s assumed the rest are using older versions or didn’t raise their hands.

The sales talk bullet points are new data connectors and better data prep, easier to use and deeper analytics, smart maps and enhancements to Tableau Server and Tableau Online. Very similar to other presentations I’ve seen from the company. The person doing the session says awesome a lot.

The Tableau start experience has been re-designed. The links to resources and help are useful at the start page although I typically don’t need these until I’m actually working on a viz. Visually and practically this is a nice addition but for myself, a relatively experienced user, probably not that useful. The temptation and the necessity of getting the work done means that I typically go right into the worksheet rather than viewing learning materials first. Resources as part of the start experience will likely be more useful for new users or those that download the demo and want to get a quick start on trying the product.

There are apparently new performance features throughout the product – apparently radically improved performance enhancements – not clear though if this are across all platforms but I would assume that it is the case. At this point, I haven’t done any direct or scientific comparisons between versions but my perception is that the performance is similar. I haven’t noticed any degradation with 9.0 which on any new software update is just as important as improved performance.

You can now type rows and columns directly into a shelf so you don’t have to do as much dragging and dropping. I like this change – nice improvement for productivity. This works for calculations and you can type them in directly in the shelf or utilize the new re-designed calculation window. Overall these are a great increase in usability. Caveat – if you’ve been good with the structure of your naming conventions in your data warehouse it makes typing in field names a lot easier.

A new analytics pane has been introduced. Easy to find, analytics in the same place and new drag and drop functionality with components such as trend lines. I like these too – great improvement from having to access these features from other menus and the drag and drop functionality for these makes it much easier to integrate them at the onset into visualizations. I was working on some visualizations on average receipting times and the ability to drag and drop averages, medians directly into the worksheet was very intuitive.

Concept of “instant analytics” – you can use the mouse to select groups of data points and the analytics such as trend lines update on the fly. This is another good improvement in your ability to interact directly with your data.

Data preparation has been improved, particularly when you’re using spreadsheets. If you are – a better strategy is to have this data prepped in your data warehouse and avoid the use of spreadsheets altogether. This is part of Tableau’s product strategy – they like to refer to “spreadsheet hell.” Moving customers from spreadsheets to Tableau is profitable for them and the most common “analytics platform” is still Microsoft Excel with well over 400M users.

Maps – click and drag, new selection tools such as radial selection and other lasso tools make the use of these much easier to select subsets of a map. Universal search has been added to maps – you type in a search term – the map zooms. The search is context aware. Another good set of improvements if you’re using GIS information such as donors by geographic areas.

Level of detail expressions have been added. Level of detail expressions allow you to do analysis on cohorts. For example: How are donors that gave their first gift in 2006 giving today? Understanding how to utilize these expressions needs a deeper dive and some experimentation, but it’s recommended that you make the effort on this as cohort analysis is particularly valuable for donor populations. There are lots of other uses for level of detail expressions – the audience was definitely excited about these calculations.

Printing – and I know that Tableau is not designed for printing but our Board likes printed copies of their dashboards. I had some challenges with the last version, which seemed to break the printing. I had submitted a support ticket and spent a number of hours with Tableau support trying to get this fixed but even with the point updates for 8.0 it didn’t work.

I was happy when I tried printing in 9.0 and all was working again particularly with printing entire workbooks. I had to experiment with some of the margins and other settings but once I got one to work I was able to replicate across other dashboards. It is a little painful to have to do this, but much better than having to print one dashboard at a time.

There have been a number of other improvements in all products and the online offerings. We won’t go into the details of these here but there are a lot and the usefulness to you will depend on how you’re using the software and whether it’s a desktop version or enterprise wide.

In summary, Tableau continues to make improvements in all of their product offerings. Improvements tend to be incremental rather than revolutionary which does make the adoption easier when a new release comes out. Quite frankly, if you’re using the product, the annual maintenance is a great investment and the enhancements in 9.0 prove this out again.

We probably could have done a video, but there are already a lot of materials and examples out there on this new release.

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About
Brian W Dowling has invested more than 25 years working in advancement services, development services, finance and administration and operations for nonprofit organizations.

His management experience includes: technology and information systems, software conversions, gifts and records processing/management, prospect research, document imaging, web sites, online programs, finance, investments, working with senior management teams, strategic planning, boards and committees and other duties that help organizations manage their fundraising, constituent engagement and sustainability.

Brian’s current role of Senior Vice President for Finance and Information Systems at the VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation started in 2008.

Brian worked previously at the University of Michigan and was responsible for managing the technological infrastructure, gift processing and records administration for the Office of University Development. This was in support of a $3.1 billion campaign with annual fundraising revenues of $250-$370 million. The database contained over 1,000,000 entities and over 184,000 gift transactions were processed annually.

Prior to that, Brian worked at The University of Toronto. The University’s $1 billion plus campaign was Canada’s largest and most successful philanthropic effort in higher education. The database of over 700,000 entities supported a large-scale decentralized advancement operation.

Brian also worked at a number of other institutions and businesses in the United States and Canada, where he gained knowledge and perspectives of managing in small, medium and large shops. This experience included multiple system conversions, website development, budgetary and financial responsibilities, operations management and more.

He provides consulting services in Canada, the United States, Asia and Australia, has written many articles, is a published author and speaks at conferences and through webinars. He was a founding board member of the Association of Advancement Services Professionals and a founding committee member of the BC Blackbaud Users Group.
My Organization(s)
SupportingFundraising.Com, SupportingAdvancement.Com, VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation

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