Review: Tableau 8.1

Kunal Jain 17 Apr, 2015
3 min read

As a Business Analyst, I have been a predictive modeler for most of my career. Majority of this time was spent on SAS along with tools like CART.

My usage of in memory BI solutions / mashups started with Qlikview about 2 years back. I found it simple to use, which along with its slicing and dicing capabilities helped faster data discovery. I also started using Tableau about a month back and was impressed by its native ability for geo-spatial analysis and simplicity of use (no coding required!).

I have used these tools in broadly 2 ways:

  • Deploying dashboards across an Enterprise
  • Using mashups to explore data – popularly known as data discovery

Yesterday, Tableau Software announced a new version of their tool (Tableau 8.1). The new release has a bunch of advances over the last version. I have spent some time going over the new features and here are my thoughts about them. Please note that this is my initial impression. I’ll update the article, in case my view changes.

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List of new features:

[stextbox id=”section”]1. Improvement in Analytical capabilities:[/stextbox]

Tableau now integrates with R. This in my mind is one of the big bets for Tableau in this version. As an analyst, I always missed some of the advanced analytical functions in the mashups. For example, features like clustering and correlation matrix can make data exploration lot more meaningful. So, when I heard about this feature, I got really excited. What this means is that now I would be able to run clustering through Tableau with use of SCRIPT_ command. There are still some limitations to this integration:

  • It is not possible to export data from Tableau to R outside of SCRIPT functions
  • It is also not possible to import data from R to Tableau directly

This looks like a welcome feature which will expand the capabilities of Tableau. This also enables me to now monitor my models in R through a set of dashboards on Tableau.

Box and Whisker plots on click of a button. Again, as an analyst, I am used to looking at these plots and these would enable better representations about the distributions. However, they are primarily used by statisticians and analysts. The larger business community would not be able to take out inferences from these charts.


Ranking and (1 click) percentiles. These are some features which are widely used in dashboards. Having them easily accessible will help creation of better dashboards and analysis.

[stextbox id=”section”]2. Better visualization:[/stextbox]

I think Tableau already does a good job at visualization. Hence, I didn’t expect too much improvement. I think most of the improvements in this area are either incremental in nature or are filling gaps about features, which should have been there earlier. The list includes:

  • Copy content within workbooks
  • Presentation mode
  • Dashboard transparency
[stextbox id=”section”]3. Improvements in data integration:[/stextbox]

There are 2 features I would want to call out here:

  • Dateparse functions: Convert text strings into datetime
  • Google Analytics segments: Advanced segmentation now available in GA connector

I think both the features were expected from perspective of making the tool comprehensive.

[stextbox id=”section”]4. 64 bit support:[/stextbox]

Entire Tableau product suite is now available on 64 bit support. Given the amount of machines using 64 bit architecture, this was expected. Should provide some extra speed on these machines now.

[stextbox id=”section”]5. Web authoring in android app: [/stextbox]

Now you can edit views in your android app, which would enable you to perform better slicing and dicing of data on the go. I think this is a cool feature, given the increased usage of mobile devices to access information.

[stextbox id=”section”]Conclusion:[/stextbox]

Overall, I think Tableau has made enough changes to continue its good run in the industry. Integration with R and web authoring in Android app are the highlight for me in this release. I think Tableau makes an attempt to improve its analytical capabilities, and improves it to some extent, but is still away from a place where it could become the only tool to perform all data exploration (especially for model building).

Would this release force other mashups to integrate seamlessly with advanced analytics engines? What are your views about Tableau 8.1? Were you expecting some additional features as part of this release? Please let me know through comments below.

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Kunal Jain 17 Apr, 2015

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Responses From Readers


sai 22 Nov, 2013

hi Kunal, Very nice review and thoughts on the new features. As the product makers, Tableau constantly tries to improve the product experience every year. infact in the community space, tableau has taken out a survey to see what the users would like to add to Tableau for better experience and kindly follow the link to see the suggestions: Thank you for your effort in giving us your two cents :) Warm Regards, Sai Kumar. C (Goldstone)

Abhinav 22 Nov, 2013

Great analysis Kunal! ..that too in such a shorter time span..yesterday i read this news of new version and today i saw your post!! great work brother!! thanks

Mohd Fareed Ahmed
Mohd Fareed Ahmed 26 Nov, 2013

Kunal that was the best way to express your thoughts on Tableau:)

Priyank 10 Jun, 2014

Hi Kunal, Good review. What are your thoughts on Tableau data integration over Qlikview. We are in process of buying either one for our data visualization and reporting needs. I like the Tableau visualization better than Qlikview, but there are many challenges on data integration with Tableau and that is the primary reason I am more inclined towards Qlikview. As you know most of the organization and so user like us struggle to get all the data at one place and we have multiple databases located in different servers and we do lot of clean up and data mesh up by our self during the reporting. Thanks, Priyank

Mayank Patel
Mayank Patel 02 Oct, 2014

Hi Kunal, Great articles (all over the website) Kunal. I had some queries. I am a software tester in an MNC for about 20 months and have done testing on data and reports processed and developed using MSBI (SSIS, SSRS, SharePoint services). I want to learn data analytics (as i want to do MS in MIS in future) and am researching for the same. Initially i wanted to start with R as its a programming language and i would learn from scratch but as i read your article comparing R vs Python vs SAS, i thought SAS was a good option for me to start. I browsed through the net and found that i can start with SAS Base Programmer 9.0 certification, for this SAS offers SAS Prep guide (worth 9K :-( ) but also the reviews on the net say "Its not the best but its the only source". Questions: 1. Am i correct in starting with SAS over R considering my future ambition ? 2. Do you know any other good sources for learning for SAS ? Thanks in advance bro :-)

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