When you say Business Intelligence it often conjures up different visions.  For example, when I tell people I work in BI, I get reactions ranging from blank stares to “Oh…so computer stuff,” to my personal favorite, my barber asking if that meant corporate espionage.  While I do like to entertain the image of myself as a slightly geeky (and perhaps less fit) James Bond, it probably isn’t what most people think of when they think of working in Business Intelligence.

My bet would be that the image in most people’s minds is probably a visual of an analytic dashboard.  Dashboards, after all, are the face of Business Intelligence.  The software that enables us to convert raw data into dashboards is crucial to enabling business users to consume information in a user-friendly form and then take that information and make informed business decisions.  It’s all about taking data and telling the story in a meaningful, actionable way.  With the release of Tableau 8, one of the leading BI vendors is upping their game.

Tableau Software is rated as one of the leaders in BI vendors according to Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms and this past March they celebrated the release of their best version yet.  I’ve had exposure to lot of different BI visualization tools over the years and Tableau is definitely one of my favorites.  The tools they provide are easy to use, intuitive, and powerful.  This allows for rapid development and deployment of interactive dashboards.  These dashboards give the data context and help make it meaningful to the end user.

While Tableau 8 is jam-packed with new features, I wanted to concentrate on just a few of my favorites.

Forecasting

Visvero is consistently reminding our clients that business intelligence is all about finding the stories hidden with the data.  All data has a story to tell, but without help it can be difficult to understand what that story is.  Giving the proper context to raw numbers allows us to look at historical data and understand the story so far.  However, like that ever frustrating cliffhanger ending or “to be continued…” notation after an enthralling TV show, we are always nagged by the curiosity of what comes next.  What is the next chapter in our story?

In the business world this isn’t just a nagging curiosity.  Many times it comes down to the difference between success and failure.  Without the ability to intelligently look to the future and anticipate the demands of tomorrow, you are endangering the future of your business.  It’s no wonder then that being able to forecast data (predictive analytics) is one of the most popular demands for BI solutions.  In Tableau 8 it is about as easy as it gets.  Simply, with a few mouse clicks, you can add a forecast in seconds, and easily tweak your forecasting model to suit your needs.

New Visualizations

Of course, one of the biggest parts of any business intelligence tool is what visualizations it can create.  In Tableau 8, the visualizations are diverse and very informational.  New options like word clouds and bubble maps are great additions.  However, my personal favorite is the tree-map.  Not only are tree-maps great chart types for giving context, the way Tableau handles tree-maps allows for bar charts of tree-maps.  This combination can be a powerful way to show relative proportions across categories in a beautifully simplistic way.  It’s easily, in my opinion, one of the most powerful of the new view types.

In addition, Tableau 8 now supports overlapping objects on your dashboard.  Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time with visualization tools can tell you, arranging the design and layout of a dashboard can often be a very tedious and frustrating task; especially when trying to make the most of your screen real estate.  Tableau 8 makes laying out the dashboard nearly hassle-free by enabling you to overlap visualizations.  This empowers you to make more efficient use of screen space and easily mold your layout to your needs.

Visual Grouping / Set Improvements

The concept of groups and sets are nothing new to Tableau, but with version 8 they’ve been shined up and improved.  Grouping can now be done visually and on the fly as you select objects in your view.  Those groups are quickly color-coded to “paint” pre-defined selections to help guide the user.  The sets functionality has also been streamlined and improved to allow for more advanced set comparisons.  This gives you more analytic power than ever before.  Pairing dynamic calculated sets with painting using visual grouping makes Tableau 8 even more powerful as an in-depth analysis tool.

Subscriptions

Building the best dashboard in the world isn’t going to be of any use if the users who need them aren’t even looking at them.  We all know that often management is busy in meetings and completely forget to review their reports before heading to the next one.  That’s where the new subscription feature in Tableau 8 comes to the rescue.  This feature allows users to subscribe to one or more worksheets and get scheduled emails with images of your selected worksheets along with links to the live reports at your fingertips.

Tableau is always pushing the limits, and their new version is certainly packed with features to be explored and used.  Check out their website for a more in depth look at the new tool, and try to catch the Tableau team on tour to see more of what Tableau has to offer! These are just a few of the new features in Tableau 8, but they are some of the features I am personally excited to see and use in my own projects.  What features are you excited to try out in the new release?  Let me know below in the comments.