Matt Lesnak - Oct 27, 2015

Association Analytics at Tableau Conference 2015

We had an amazing opportunity to attend the 8th annual Tableau Conference last week in Las Vegas.  For us, the highlight of the event was a great dinner where we celebrated our partnership with many of our association data rock stars.  We're honored to have such amazing clients.   As we get back to the business of Association Analytics, we'd like to share some of the experience and knowledge from the conference.

Christian Chabot, the CEO and Co-founder of Tableau Software, opened the show and proudly described the growth of the conference which this year numbered over 10,000 participants.  He previewed the event and demonstrated Tableau’s commitment to the future and the mission of helping people see and understand data by noting that Tableau plans to invest more in R&D over the next two years than all the previous years combined.  Keeping with Tableau’s goal to empower people, the first event was “Developers on Stage” – the opportunity to learn about upcoming Tableau features directly from the development teams.

Developers on Stage TC15

The developers took the stage with enthusiasm rivaling the audience.

Individual development team lead demonstrated and described features that include:

  • Inclusion of multiple databases in a data source
  • Ability to “Union All” objects in a data source
  • Automatic clustering
  • Easy application of worksheet filters to dashboards
  • Outlier detection
  • Option to exclude table totals from color logic
  • Several additional international zip codes
  • Availability of additional external maps and GIS formats
  • Feature to highlight data based on text search
  • Version control in Tableau Server
  • Personalized Tableau Server home pages
  • Creation of “visualizations within visualizations”
  • Application of global formatting
  • Rapid optimization of visualizations for mobile devices

Factions of the crowd roared with approval as the developers announced their favorite features.  We eagerly signed up for the opportunity to beta test new product releases and continue to keep an eye on the future while understanding the product roadmap as a Tableau Partner.

Breakout Sessions & Hands-on Training

Most of the conference time was dedicated to extremely valuable breakout sessions and hands-on training.  Sessions tracks included Analytics, Big Ideas, Customer Session, Data Storytelling, Developer, IT, Workshops, and Zen Master Session.  I focused on targeted technical areas (some “Jedi level”) that are important to our clients which involve advanced analytics, optimal performance, R integration, and cloud-based architectures, while my colleague Bill Conforti focused on the key areas of analytics culture, adoption, and training which are so vital to association analytics success.

Guided Analytics: A Guiding Light in a Data Desert

This session demonstrated various advanced techniques to align Tableau with diverse analytic workflows such as dashboard interactions, actions between worksheets, and dynamically displaying visualizations based on parameters.

Jedi Strategies Using R-Integration

Tableau provides flexible R integration using script tasks that interact with a server (RServe) and behave similar to calculated fields.  The speaker led a demonstration based on a scenario from a great Tableau-focused blog and included accurately displaying flight paths incorporating the curvature of the earth.  Other great information included basic design patterns and ways to optimize performance.

Revenge of the Nerds: Advanced Analytics and Tableau

Tableau provides a range of advanced analytics capabilities leveraging diverse features.  Examples demonstrated included visualizations based on multiple plots, what-if analysis using stories, forecasting, trend lines, and level-of-detail aggregations.

Programming Tableau: Introduction to APIs

Tableau application programming interfaces (APIs) include a software development kit (SDK) for creating extracts, a JavaScript API for working with views in a browser, a REST API for managing Tableau Server, and JavaScript to develop web data connectors.  The session included demonstrations of examples of each type of API that associations can leverage to integrate with external systems such as conference registration providers and more efficiently create incremental data source extracts.

Turn Your Data Pile into a Data Stack with Tableau Online and Tableau Data Server

Tableau accommodates various architectures and data sources.  The speaker described cloud-based data sources such as Amazon Redshift and built an integration to the Twitter API using Google BigQuery as the intermediate data source.

Getting Your Performance Up

The speakers presented various opportunities to enhance Tableau performance and declared that replicating reports is the #1 reason for performance degradation.  We reviewed the Performance Recorder available within the Help menu along with resulting log files to identify performance bottlenecks.  The speakers listed several scenarios that negatively impact performance including custom queries, filters on table calculations, leverage show relevant values, blending data that can be available in a data source, and wide tables as opposed to tall tables.  They also noted that a good data warehouse can be better than an extract and Tableau visualizations are only as fast as the live underlying database.

Analyzing Data: The Balance of Art and Analysis

This session focused on creatively using features of Tableau to identify opportunities to develop analysis and presentations that business staff may not have considered.

Keynote Speakers

The keynote speakers were incredible and a great fit for the conference as data analytics using Tableau drives data-guided cultures, spawns creativity, provides deep analysis, and transforms work structures.

Daniel Pink, Best-selling author of Drive & host of the TV show "Crowd Control"

Similar to his fascinating books, Daniel Pink described characteristics that drive successful work cultures.  He discussed the key factors of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  He concluded that people do great work when they are engaged, and self-direction is the key to engagement.  He also recommended carving out a few islands of autonomy and introduced the idea of the Autonomy Audit.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist & host of the TV show "Cosmos"

Dr. Tyson was a highly anticipated speaker and was predictably extremely entertaining.  He appropriately spoke on Back to the Future Day and evaluated the accuracy of science-themed fiction movies.  Although it is expected that such films take creative liberty, he stressed examples where filmmakers paid attention to other extreme details while neglecting science.  His main theme was the importance of data to identify objective truths.  Dr. Tyson even spent a considerable amount of time taking questions from the audience.



Hannah Fry, Mathematician, University College London Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis

Dr. Fry provided very insightful observations about the analytics process including “numbers can't speak for themselves, we need to speak for them” and “deeper analysis is needed to ensure what your conclusions are telling you”.  She presented scenarios that exemplify the value of data exploration and visualization where initial conclusions are made based on aggregated data.  For example, outliers influenced a popular study involving public debt driving significant policy decisions by skewing averages.  Dr. Fry also demonstrated revealing map visualizations involving London bike share and other data.



Sir Ken Robinson, Best-selling author, internationally acclaimed expert on creativity & innovation

The dry ironic sense of humor of Sir Ken Robinson was a great fit with the event and kept the audience very engaged as he provided fascinating observations about society, education, and innovation.  He described how traditional education conflicts with high life operates and is based on conformity and not diversity.  He noted that advancements in technology are driving an educational revolution as life is not linear, but organic.  His observations of the power of imagination, how imagination leads to creativity, and the importance of an environment to foster creative potential are very inspirational.  Sir Ken Robinson closed by referring to a Tableau customer testimonial quoted by Christian Chabot earlier in the event to the effect of “Tableau allows me to be creative, and I am not a creative person.”  He confidently noted that this is not correct - everyone has profound creativity in some way.

The Conference provided deep value event and we look forward to next year in Austin at TC16!

Written by Matt Lesnak