Turning data into information is one of the primary goals of business intelligence (BI). Tableau 1.5 is a visual data analysis and reporting tool that quickly and effectively reveals data relationships and anomalies that might take hours, or even days, for a traditional database tool such as Microsoft Excel Pivot Tables to identify. Tableau provides two versions of its analysis tool: Standard Edition and Professional Edition. Both editions have minimal system requirements:Windows 2000 or later, 128MB of RAM, and 50MB of hard disk storage.The Standard Edition offers limited value to the BI professional because it can connect only to data in Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Access, and text files. The Professional Edition is more powerful and useful; it can connect to Microsoft Office files, comma-separated value (CSV) files,SQL Server 2000 and later, Analysis Services 2000 and later,MySQL 3.23 and later, Oracle 9i and later, Hyperion Essbase 7.1 and later, and IBM DB2 and OLAP 8.1 files.

I tested Tableau 1.5 Professional Edition on a Windows XP Professional x64 system with a 3.4GHz processor and 1.5GB of RAM. My system was connected to SQL Server 2005 running the Microsoft Analysis Services component. The installation was simple and effortless and took only a few minutes; the most difficult part of the installation was pasting the lengthy product key into Tableau's setup program. Like Excel, Tableau lets you open and work on multiple worksheets.When you open a new worksheet,Tableau prompts you to connect to an existing data source or to create a new data surcease makes the connection, it automatically populates the Dimensions and Measures schema in its query builder interface.To build queries,you drag and drop items from the Dimensions and Measures schema onto the shelves in Tableau's query window. You can use the standard field labels for the dimensions and measures or you can create custom aliases. Unlike other data analysis tools, Tableau doesn't present you with a daunting display of data. Rather, Tableau automatically builds a visual representation of the query results, as Figure 1 shows.

Tableau displays data in a way that's both meaningful and easy to manipulate and query.The product performed admirably. I added and changed different Dimensions and Measures and Tableau built the resulting graphs almost instantly. Tableau also lets you turn off automatic graphing if you're working with large data sets. Tableau, by default, displays information as a bar graph, but you can select to see the information graphed in a number of ways, including text, Gantt chart, selected shape, or line. If you don't like the default bar graph display but you aren't sure how you want your data displayed, click the Show Me icon on Tableau's toolbar (accessible through the Windows menu bar) and Tableau automatically chooses the best view for the data. If you prefer, you can choose to display the data as a plain text-oriented pivot table.You can also filter the data by changing the colors and width of the bar graphs, which lets you quickly identify data trends and aberrations.You can drill through information if you right-click on a bar graph, and a pop-up window displays the underlying data. Another nice feature is the ability to undo and redo changes that you make while you're building a query. You can print results, save the results as an image, or export the results to Access or Excel.

Tableau's interface lets you find data anomalies quickly, and you don't have to be an analytical genius to use the product effectively. If you're currently using Excel Pivot Tables to perform data analysis, I recommend that you evaluate Tableau 1.5. Its graphical query representation is a powerful tool that you should add to your data analysis toolbox.

TABLEAU SOFTWARE 1.5


PROS: Automatic data graphing, easy to use
CONS: Doesn't support older versions of SQL Server
RATING:
PRICE: $1799 Professional Edition $999 Standard Edition
RECOMMENDATION: Tableau is a graphical data analysis tool that provides a great alternative to text-based pivot tables.
CONTACT:
Tableau Software * 206-633-3400 http://www.tableausoftware.com