In my organization, we use a BI tool as a gateway to our data warehouse. Some use cases include: ad hoc analysis, dashboarding to report high-level KPIs, and operations. In addition to being a Salesforce product, Tableau has many advantages as a BI tool.
We decided that it was worth taking the plunge to switch, despite the body of work we had accumulated in a competitor’s offering. We knew that with the right project management skills, data engineering, and analytic support, it was possible to switch to Tableau and build compelling and useful dashboards to serve all of our business needs. This article will explain why we decided to switch our organization’s BI tool to Tableau, and how our team accomplished the transition.
Why switch to Tableau as your BI tool?
1. It’s user-friendly without sacrificing sophistication
One of the first things that our stakeholders noticed about Tableau was how easy it is to go from a dataset to a beautiful and compelling data visualization. It’s quite intuitive — we found that new users could jump in and spin up a useful chart in a matter of minutes using built-in helpers like the “show me” feature. It’s even easy for a novice user to perform actions like data blending or creating custom calculations.
We also have data-savvy users in our organization that want more advanced options. The special thing about Tableau is that an advanced user can use the same basic concepts to perform more complex functions. For example, a table calculation, which can be as simple as adding two columns together, can be used for something more complex like filtering out accounts with aggregated billings greater than $100. In the same way, a simple visualization can be endlessly customized to fit the specific use case. For example, we frequently use parameters in our visualizations to toggle between different timeframes or metrics. We also like to build supplemental information into charts by using action filters and adding details to data points.
The sky’s the limit with how complex and beautiful you can make your dashboards and visualizations. There are some incredible and topical examples on Tableau’s Public Gallery of visualizations, like this visualization of the the best jazz trumpeters of all time.
2. There’s a plethora of resources and a vibrant community
As we began to communicate our transition plan to our stakeholders, we put together a list of resources for them to get started with learning Tableau. We were impressed about the volume of resources available on Tableau’s website that ranged from detailed training sessions to topic-based articles. It gave the team the flexibility to start from scratch with a learning plan or to search for answers to specific questions. Because Tableau has such a large market share in the BI world, there are tons of additional resources like blogs and trainings developed by Tableau users in the wild. If you have a novel question or use case, there’s a vibrant community to ask — much like the Trailblazer Community we know and love.
3. Democratize your data while still keeping an eye on security
We are using Tableau Server and we love how simple it is to share content across our organization. It’s easy to publish a dashboard or data source onto the server to share with team members or across teams. We also love that Tableau is flexible enough to build integrations with Python and R. The team has built a lot of models in Python and we’re fired up that Tableau makes it easy to circulate our results without requiring the viewer to have any special software installed.
In terms of security, we have a few specific dashboards that we prefer to keep private. It’s simple to define who can see them with dashboard and folder-level permissions. Another great feature in Tableau is row-level security. We can withhold some specific rows of our datasets but keep the rest of the data available for our users to see.
How to project manage your transition to Tableau
1. Project scope is key
We knew that in order to have a successful migration, we needed to be crisp about what the project entailed and our definition of success. The ultimate goal of the project was to move our users’ critical dashboards from our old tool to Tableau. Defining the scope of the project took about a month and involved determining impacted stakeholders, what content needed to be transitioned, responsible parties in the transition, and the timeline.
First, we needed to identify who was actively using our BI tool and what content on the platform they needed to perform their jobs. We depended heavily on feedback from our stakeholders to assess what was important and what could be “retired” after we moved away from the old BI tool. We found that there was plenty of existing content that was no longer needed or useful.
After getting a sense of the volume of dashboards and data models that needed to be transitioned, we established the core team that would be responsible for the transition. Our team included data engineers, an engineering manager, data analysts and an analytics manager that acted as a project manager. We built a RACI to establish which teams would be responsible for the major workflows of the project: building the underlying data models in Tableau (engineering), building the UI portion of transitioned dashboards (analytics), and final sign-off on dashboards (stakeholders). After establishing the RACI, we developed a timeline for each of the major workflows. Building the timeline needed to be considered very carefully because there were many moving parts and dependencies across the involved parties.
2. Use this as an opportunity to refresh and refine your dashboards
Because of slight differences in the tooling, it was not alway possible to directly replicate each of the dashboards that we needed to transition. Our major takeaway from the UI rebuilding process was to take a step back and evaluate the user’s original intent rather than make a direct copy of the original dashboard.
We learned that often a dashboard could be improved or streamlined compared to the original, and it was helpful to ask ourselves the following questions while replicating dashboards:
- Why did the user build this dashboard?
- What business question are they trying to answer?
- Can we make this dashboard cleaner or more succinct by using Tableau functions like dashboard filters or parameters?
3. Enable your stakeholders
As we transitioned tools to Tableau, we wanted to make sure that our stakeholders were confident and prepared to use a new tool. We were intentional about setting time aside to enable our stakeholders to build their own content and guide them on how their data was stored and organized on Tableau Server.
We had training sessions and regular office hours for users to come in and ask questions about best practices, how to build their content, or about connection issues. We also had a Slack channel dedicated to the transition where users could ask questions or leave comments. However, as part of these resources, we were careful not to “reinvent the wheel” when it comes to basic Tableau training. We wanted stakeholders to utilize the excellent training on Tableau.com/learn to learn about the product.
With its beautiful yet easy-to-build dashboards, there is ample reason to switch to Tableau as your organization’s BI tool. Strategic and thoughtful planning will help to make the switch easier. Capitalize on the transition to refresh your dashboards and get rid of any stale or unused content. And by enabling your stakeholders, they can be as enthusiastic about getting on the Tableau Train as you are! 🚂
About the author
Sarah Macdonald is a Senior Analytics Manager at Salesforce where she focuses on business analytics for Heroku and BI tool management. She has a MS in Applied Statistics and is a Certified Scrum Master. In her free time, you can find her testing out new recipes or at the yoga studio.