Category Archives: Tableau

From Business Intelligence to Visual Analytics
Craft a Winning Data Strategy

Stephen McDaniel and Eileen McDaniel, Ph.D.
Freakalytics, LLC

Topics: Data Analysis, Visual Analytics and Business Intelligence

This was originally published in the
TDWI FlashPoint Newsletter in August of 2014
Italicized sections, images and their captions were not part of the TDWI version.

Until recently, visual analytics was considered a niche area. Those days are quickly passing; almost every major analytics and BI vendor is either launching or developing a product focused on visual analytics.

As a data professional, you’ll face challenges in integrating these products into your existing BI infrastructure. How can you successfully implement new visual analytics tools and keep your business customers engaged and happy? Step in front of the inevitable progression to visual analytics by crafting a winning data strategy.

We suggest starting in these three areas:

The growth of WalMart as an interactive dashboard

1. Learn the basics of the visual analytics tools used by the business analysts in your organization. Follow the process of how a real-world project is executed. Solving a typical business problem will give you a chance to experience firsthand what users are doing. You will be surprised at how the tools change your view of the data warehouse and “proper” data structures.

We’ve had many data professionals attend our analytics workshops. Even those with years of experience in the field tell us that managing code and databases is a completely different way of thinking about data compared to analyzing an issue, which has drastically different constraints and goals. Investigating a real problem that the business is facing should help you to see many possible ways that your data stores can be adjusted to enable successful analysis.

Check out our book on the principles of visual analytics, grounded in the scientific method, The Accidental Analyst.  Stephen Few called it, "... a wonderful book, filled with practical advice."

Tools to consider include Qlik Sense, SAP Lumira, Tibco Spotfire, Tableau and Microstrategy Analytics Desktop.  We have successfully used all of these tools in our work with various clients. They all have differing strengths, workflows and design philosophies.  Read more about these products and others in our Candid Quadrants report.


2. Find an ally in each of your key business areas, preferably one that is an expert analyst for a viewpoint from “the other side.” Leverage these analysts for invaluable knowledge to design better data structures in the form of tables, graphs, and system maps in your data systems. This is far more effective than decoding the whole process by yourself. When building data warehouses and downstream analytic data stores, we’ve discovered that expert analysts are often excited and motivated to collaborate on improving the efficiency and value of the data sources in their analyses.

Unlike traditional BI projects, data projects are now a journey with many twists and unexpected turns. Working closely with business allies that understand the data teams and the business are key to success.

Read more about collaborating with business and data teams in our previous TDWI article.


3. Commit to the reality that self-service data management with desktop spreadsheets and databases among business users is not going away. Instead, it will only continue to accelerate over the next few years. Part of this reality is driven by the fact that the appropriate data structure is often dependent on the analysis problem at hand. Another reason driving this growth is that more data streams are flowing into organizations, often at a rate that is overwhelming for analysts and data teams alike.

In our experience, when we help business users improve their data management skills, they are less likely to make mistakes or inaccurate assumptions about the data. They also better comprehend and appreciate the hard work involved in maintaining central systems.

Seize the opportunity to be more successful in your career as a data professional by understanding and incorporating the new landscape of BI and visual analytics into your data warehouse and collaborating closely with business users to establish a strong environment for analytics. Ultimately, data warehouses are about making better decisions in a timely manner, and these suggestions can help you further the utility of your data warehouse.

Excel is a powerful ad-hoc data cleansing tool
Excel has been bashed by statisticians and data teams for years. However, it's a powerful tool for one-off data review and rapid cleansing of data for an urgent analysis. It's also ubiquitous, both in presence and knowledge amongst business analysts. Tread carefully if you think you can "take it away". You can definitely reduce reliance with better tools, training, support and evangelism.

Learn more about Excel for business analytics in our free, recorded webinar.


Stephen McDaniel is an Chief Data Scientist at Freakalytics, LLC and author of several books on analytic software. Eileen McDaniel, PhD, is author of The Accidental Analyst and Director of Analytic Communications at Freakalytics. Both work with clients on strategic analytic projects, teach courses on analytics and are on the faculty at INFORMS.

Join us at the Qlik 2014 World Conference

Click image for larger view

Eileen and I have been invited to attend the launch of Qlik® Sense at the Qlik 2014 conference in Orlando. As featured speakers, we are holding a session on The Accidental Analyst®, a reliable framework for building analyses to answer real-world business questions. I will also be on an expert data visualization panel with Alberto Cairo. We will discuss what makes data visualizations stand out to clearly inform decision-makers.

We had a great briefing with Qlik CTO Anthony Deighton about Qlik Sense.  So we dove right in and created a dashboard example from a data source that is included with Qlik Sense Desktop. We look forward to seeing what people are already doing with Qlik Sense and hearing about the future directions they may go with it.

Click image for larger view


Build a Basic Dashboard in Tableau 8
Excerpt from Rapid Graphs with Tableau 8

Freakalytics_Dashboard_Tableau_8_BasicAppendix #2—Build a Basic Dashboard

We’ve taught entire courses on how to design and build dashboards in Tableau over multiple days, so the topic can be quite complex. In this section, you will learn the basic functionality so you can get started. For more advanced dashboards, visit

Dashboard Audience
VP of Sales at a cheese maker that sells to the public and to gourmet retailers

Overall Objective of Dashboard
Sales updates for monthly review by Sales Vice President (VP)

The Sales VP has four questions:
1. What are sales by state?
2. What were sales by customer contact method in 2013 compared to 2012?
3. What are the actual sales by item versus the target sales?
4. What are the actual sales by customer contact method versus the target sales?

Download the Cheese Factory sales data packaged workbook from

Included in the workbook:
Data source contains two years of sales data for 2012 and 2013.
Four worksheets with views answering the four questions above.
The final dashboard is illustrated at the end of this appendix.

Build the dashboard
Open the workbook, and in any one of the worksheets, on the main menu, select Dashboard → New dashboard. In the Dashboard pane on the left side, double-click on each of the four worksheets in the numbered order. Also in the Dashboard pane, in the Dashboard Size section at the bottom, change Desktop to Automatic so the 4 views fit within the workspace. The worksheets are arranged in the order added and the legends for Q1 and Q2 are on the right.

Adjust containers

Dashboards are comprised of containers that contain the views, legends and filters and are outlined by solid lines when you click on them. First, move the legends to the left side of the dashboard. Continue reading

PowerTrip Analytics™ 2014
Candid Quadrants™
Based on three-year visual analytics cost estimates

Click for full page image

Detailed cost comparisons across all seven visual analytics offerings
at PowerTrip Analytics™ pricing review tables.

Read individual product details, highlights and examples:
Microstrategy Analytics Desktop,
SAP Lumira,
Tibco Spotfire,
Microsoft Power BI,
Tableau Desktop,
QlikView, and
SAS Visual Analytics.

Download data to predict gender using first name (US data)

Download US American first names and initials to predict gender sex 1Do you have data with just first names or even just first initials but no information on the person's gender/sex? If you would like better insights on your customers, based on whether they are likely male or female, then this data download is a great way to maximize your ROI! Download it today and begin using it to tailor your messaging and improve future communications.

There are three licenses available for this data- individual, corporate and corporate for multi-company consumers. The individual version is available free (with discount code) for a limited time. Simply select the Individual license for purchase and use discount code discfreepers at the checkout page- this will deduct $3.99 from your purchase price.

The primary table in this data download is First names by Freakalytics with 5164 rows (distinct names and common misspellings). You can use this data to guess if someone is a male or female based on their first name or find the probability that they are male or female based on their first name.

Here is the column information and simple summaries for this table:

Data Column Max Min Average Median Mode
Name mixed case Zulma Aaron N/A N/A James
Most likely gender Male Female N/A N/A Female
Rank Overall 4,019 1 2354 2397 4019
Male Probability 100% 0% 22% 0% 0%
Female Probability 100% 0% 78% 100% 100%
Count Either Gender 99,989 32 1,079 127 32
Male Count 99,671 0 524 0 0
Female Count 83,718 0 555 64 32
Male Probability Within 3.68% 0.00% 0.08% 0.01% 0.00%
Female Probability Within 2.92% 0.00% 0.02% 0.00% 0.00%
Male Rank 1,054 1 584 608 1,054
Female Rank 3,052 1 1,825 2,131 3,052
Name first initial Z A N/A N/A J
Name upper case ZULMA AARON N/A N/A JAMES

The top few rows from this table (as a snapshot of the data in Excel 2003 format and in text):

Download US American first names and initials to predict gender sex 1

Access this valuable data download here.

Top News – Analysis & Commentary
Data, Data Warehousing, Analytics & BI

Five Business Intelligence Predictions
from Paxata for 2014

January 26th, 2014
Stephen McDaniel
Chief Data Officer Advisor at Freakalytics, LLC

Paxata logo blue 201401Finding it hard to make time to keep up with the rapidly changing world of data, data warehousing, analytics, data science, business intelligence and visual analytics? We understand! Here’s a top new story worth reading and that we considered noteworthy enough to add commentary and analysis by Freakalytics (in purple).  A summary of the article and excerpts that I comment on are in black.

In this commentary and analysis, we cover the growth of Tableau and QlikView, the opportunities that exist for Microsoft to disrupt the second-generation business intelligence market and how self-service data integration will likely make data scientists & data enthusiasts much more productive- enabling wide swathes of Accidental Analysts to quickly answer tactical business questions.

Five Business Intelligence Predictions For 2014 (from the CEO of Paxata)
The dust is finally beginning to clear from the big data explosion, which is a good thing. One of the problems with big data is that it’s been led by technology, not business requirements. And business requirements will be the focus in the 2014 business intelligence (BI) ecosphere—to enable enterprises to achieve results with data mining and analytics and to prove those results.

I found this article a fascinating glimpse into the strategic thoughts of a CEO of a promising, second-generation, cloud-based data integration company- Paxata.

Continue reading

2014 US growth forecasts of Business Intelligence vendors

There are many ways of measuring the growth of business intelligence vendors. One approach of interest in the era of self-service analytics is to measure the growth in web search volume. Derived from web search volume data from Google, the following analyses can serve as a useful reference to understand which companies/products are growing in popularity and which may be falling out of favor.

The estimates in all of the following analyses are based on simple web search volume indices from the United States through the end of November, 2013. Using historic search volume data, forecasts were built for each company/product and growth rates for 2014 were derived from these forecasts.

I would group these companies into three categories
fast growers- Tableau, PowerPivot, Qlikview, BIRST and GoodData;
the growers- Spotfire and Microstrategy,
and mature products- Oracle BI, SAS, Cognos, SPSS, SQL Server, Actuate and Business Objects.
Continue reading

Upcoming analytics courses, free webinars and articles
December 2013 newsletter

Thanks for your interest in our newsletter, please forward it to colleagues that may benefit from it. Please join us for our upcoming webinar next Monday on common analytic issues and mistakes in Tableau 8.

Eileen and I are excited to share our new courses on Tableau, Microstrategy Analytics Desktop (a free alternative for visual analytics and dashboards), SAS programming and data exploration and visualization are all available for on-site instruction.

We are booking engagements with clients for on-site training and strategic consulting projects throughout Q1 and into Q2 of 2014, please let us know if we can help you in 2014!

Data Management and Visual Analytics with Tableau (2 days)
January 28th-29th, 2014—Chicago, Illinois
Everyone can benefit from learning a reliable, flexible and repeatable method to analyze real-world data. Combine this with a solid grounding in the flow and core features of Tableau to achieve great returns with this course. In just two days, you will complete multiple real-world case studies with Tableau paired with supporting data management capabilities of Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Access.

Data Management and Visual Analytics with Microstrategy Analytics Desktop (2 days)
Microstrategy Analytics Desktop is an exciting new offering of Microstrategy, an established leader in business intelligence. Available as a free product for both personal and professional use, Freakalytics considers this new product a good alternative to other leading products in visual analytics and analytic dashboards. It is capable of working with local data sources such as Excel, text files and Access databases in addition to remote, big data sources such as SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL and Hadoop.

Continue reading

Eight common analytic issues and mistakes in Tableau 8

Understand them, avoid them and correct them
December 23rd, 2013 --- 11 AM Central, Noon Eastern, 9 AM Pacific, 5 PM London
Click here to register

tableau_public_Freakalytics_launchIn this webinar, Stephen reviews common shortcomings and misunderstandings that can prevent effective use of Tableau. These issues can result in misleading or just plain wrong answers being presented to your analysis audience, most without any warning messages or signs.

This webinar is relevant for all experience levels of Tableau users. Attendance at this webinar is free, compliments of Freakalytics and their upcoming, in-person Chicago Workshop in late January, Data Management and Visual Analytics with Tableau. This webinar is planned to run 90 minutes, with the presentation approximately 70 minutes in length and 20 minutes planned for Q&A. Please use an affiliated e-mail address to receive an attendance link. 

About Freakalytics
Freakalytics offers two public and on-site training seminars on Tableau: Data Management and Visual Analytics with Tableau (2 days) and the original Complete Tableau Training (4 days), authored and taught exclusively by Freakalytics since 2009.

The Complete Tableau Training is the course that many early adopters of Tableau attended, both in public venues and on-site, and that Tableau endorsed in 2009, with Freakalytics as the founding Tableau Education Partner. Since Stephen left Tableau as Director of Analytics in 2013, we are now the world’s leading provider of independent Tableau training expertise, able to objectively train and advise clients on how best to utilize Tableau in conjunction with other leading data visualization, data storage and analytic products.

Register for this webinar

Top News – Data, Data Warehousing, Analytics & BI

November 11th, 2013
Stephen McDaniel
Chief Data Officer Advisor at Freakalytics, LLC

i5_2Finding it hard to make time to keep up with the rapidly changing world of data, data warehousing, analytics, data science, business intelligence and visual analytics?  We understand! Here's our curated summary of relevant news that could help with your future data and analytic projects. We also add commentary on the topic, a summary of the article and the link to read the full article.

There are seven articles in this update:
     How Big Data Is Changing Science (and Society)
     Big data blues: The dangers of data mining
     2014 INFORMS Conference on the Business of Big Data
     Facebook System for Massive Big Data (Hadoop FS) Offered Free to World
     Paxata Launches Industry’s First Adaptive Data Preparation Platform
     C-Suite and Trust Both Affect Financial Returns on Analytics, Big Data
     Meeting a VAST challenge – Lincoln Laboratory staff create winning visualization
i6How Big Data Is Changing Science (and Society)

Traditional statistical approaches that long dominated scientific research are being challenged and augmented by new approaches from the fields of big data and data science.

HOW CAN YOU PREDICT something without understanding it? Simple: Continue reading