Lukas Halim

Tableau enables rapid data preparation, analytics, visualization, and secure sharing of analysis. Tableau Desktop is commercial software rather than open-source. However, Tableau Student is free for students. Tableau Public is a free download for anyone. That makes Tableau accessible to everyone

And because of Tableau’s accessibility and wild popularity, there are Tableau user groups in every major city as well as virtual groups and an annual conference that drew 20,000 in-person participants in 2020.

Tableau Desktop Specialist Certification Prep

Last Updated January 2023

  • 51 lectures
  • All Levels
4.6 (3,471)

Practice Exams | Study Guide | Practice Exercises | Transform and Visualize Data with Tableau Desktop | 2023 Updates | By Lukas Halim

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Data preparation

Tableau works on a wide variety of data sources and computing platforms. Tableau can import data from files (Excel spreadsheets as well as CSV and JSON files). It can also connect to a wide variety of databases (Redshift, Hadoop, MySQL, Access, Teradata, you name it). You can combine data tables in Tableau Desktop using the drag and drop interface, which creates SQL joins. Relationships provide an alternate way to combine tables.

Tableau Prep Builder handles more complex multi-step data cleaning and joins. Tableau Prep Builder uses a visual process flow to clean and combine tables.

Data connections can be either live or extract. Live connections query the database directly. Data extract connections query a copy of the data source stored as a file. Tableau stores data extracts in the “hyper” format, with a .hyper file extension. Extracts can be faster, and Tableau can use them without a connection to the original data source, but they must be refreshed to receive updates from the original data source.

People looking at laptop and papers with graphs, data visualization

Data analytics

Once you’ve connected to a data source, Tableau is ready to help you generate insights. Tableau provides segmentation, aggregation, comparison, calculations, filtering, and statistical analysis. For example, Tableau can help us understand the coronavirus epidemic. Our dataset might have demographic detail and dates of diagnosis, hospitalization, and death. Tableau would allow us to answer questions like: 

SQL database queries can answer some of these questions. So can Excel. But neither tool has the geographic information system (GIS) capability to plot cases on a map and showcase density. Tableau does. SQL also does not have a sophisticated time-series analysis to detect seasonal patterns. Tableau does. 

And Tableau’s drag and drop interface gets you to the answer faster. Faster than SQL and faster than Python. Less coding means fewer mistakes. That makes Tableau an efficient tool.

That’s the data exploration when you’re using your data to answer questions. Sometimes data discovery is all you need. If your manager or client asks you a question, you can use Tableau to provide an answer. 

Or you can go further by creating an interactive visualization.

Data visualization

Tableau can present results in a table format, which can be great if you’re just looking to answer a specific question. But often, your audience will prefer a graphical representation. As you add fields to the view, Tableau will automatically choose a chart type appropriate to the data. If you want to change it, you can select a different visualization from the “Show me” menu.

Examples of viz types: 

Adding interactive filters allows your audience to subset the data. Labels, tooltips, and colors are customizable. You can combine tables, charts, and maps in a dashboard. This allows you to compare different views of the data side-by-side.

Tableau’s COVID-19 datahub hosts many examples of stunning visualizations built with Tableau. Here’s an example.

Data analytics + visualization = visual analytics

Data analysis and visualization are not separate steps. When a visualization highlights something unexpected or unusual, you’ll want to investigate. Visual analytics means you can create visualizations to understand your data better. For example:

Secure sharing

Great work deserves to be shared, but sharing files over email creates versioning challenges and security risks. Fortunately, Tableau provides numerous options for sharing:

The Tableau Product Suite

Tableau offers multiple products as well as training, but usually, when people refer to Tableau, they mean Tableau Desktop and Server. Tableau has grouped five products in the Tableau Product Suite as a combined solution for data preparation, visualization, and sharing. Here are the products included in the Tableau product suite:

Other Tableau products

But it’s a great option for people who want to develop their skills and showcase what they’re learning. The Tableau Public website hosts a daily “Viz of the Day” award. You can view and even download Tableau workbooks that other people have created.

So what is Tableau? 

Tableau became a market leader thanks to its pioneering data discovery and data visualization tools. It is still primarily known for these features. It’s what drew more than 20,000 people to the 2019 Tableau World conference. But these data-driven insights and visualizations aren’t possible without data transformation, provided by Tableau Prep, and data management, provided by Tableau Catalog.

Page Last Updated: January 2021

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