What is Tableau? – A Comprehensive Guide

Last Modified: December 29th, 2022

What is Tableau - feature image

Data Visualization is an important way of presenting data simply for ease of understanding even by non-analysts. It blends aesthetic elements like dimensions, colors, and labels to create visual masterpieces, which reveal useful insights that businesses can use to make sound decisions. 

As businesses generate more and more data, business managers are embracing Data Visualization tools that allow them to present trends visually and extract quick insights. Tableau is one of the Data Visualization tools. It is a fast-evolving Data Visualization tool. In this article, you will get an in-depth understanding of it. 

Table of Contents


This is what you need for this article:

  • Tableau Desktop or Tableau Server/Tableau Online Account. 

What is Tableau?

Tableau logo
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Tableau is a modern Data Analytics and Business Intelligence platform. It is an easy-to-use tool, hence, it offers a smooth experience to its users. Some of Its amazing features include real-time analytics, quick responsiveness, and interactive dashboards. 

It also offers simple yet appealing graphics/visualizations that you can use to present your data pictorially. It comes with all the features needed for data extraction, data processing, and generating reports and dashboards. 

It also offers a drag-and-drop functionality that makes it faster than other BI tools. It is also a very scalable tool, which gives it the capability to adapt to both individual and enterprise needs. You can also connect it to multiple data sources without the need to purchase a license. It is mobile compatible and it comes with an online version. 

It can be used by all kinds of users and no specific skill or knowledge is needed to work with the tool. Users from any department in your company can use it for Data Analysis and Data Visualization. 

Benefits of Tableau

Business Intelligence processes play a key role in the organization of data which makes it easier to access and analyze the data. The decision-makers can accordingly make an educated decision after digging into the customer data to extract actionable insights. Here are a few benefits of Tableau:

  • Increased Organizational Efficiency: It allows you to benchmark the results against the larger organization through a holistic view of your operations. This lets you discover the areas of opportunity. Since Tableau ensures that you spend less time compiling reports, you can utilize this time to innovate on new programs and products to steer business growth. For instance, Pfizer is utilizing BI platforms to work with the different departments and developed models to increase the efficiency of patient diagnosis and devise better ways to undertake clinical trials.
  • Improved Customer Experience: Tableau plays a very important role in affecting customer experience and satisfaction. Here is an example to display its tangible effect. Verizon utilized these BI systems to create over 1000 Dashboards across all of its departments. These Dashboards extracted text data from customer support and data from operations. This data was used by Verizon to identify the areas of improvement which led to a significant cutback on customer support calls by 43%.
  • Improved Employee Satisfaction: Previously, the Data Analysts and IT departments spend a very small amount of their time responding to the requests of business users. This has since changed as departments that didn’t have access to their data without the help of Data Analysts, can do so with very little training in Data Analysis. The intuitive user interface encourages the non-technical users to dig into the data leading to greater employee satisfaction.
  • Competitive Edge: The knowledge of one’s position in the market and one’s performance enables an organization to be more competitive. Tableau allows you to keep up with the changes in your industry, correctly anticipate the user needs and accordingly tweak your marketing campaign to align with the user needs.

Tableau Products

Tableau offers 5 different visualization products to meet the different visualization needs of individuals and enterprises. They include the following:

  • Tableau Desktop: This tool is good for individual use. It comes in two editions, Professional and Personal edition (lower cost). This product comes with a 14-day free trial period, after which you must pay to continue using the software.
  • Tableau Server: This tool is good for collaboration in any organization. This product comes with a 14-day free trial period, after which you must pay to continue using the software.
  • Tableau Online: This is used for performing Business Intelligence in the cloud. It attracts an annual subscription fee for a single user, and it scales very well to support up to thousands of users. 
  • Tableau Reader: You can use this for reading files stored/saved in the Desktop version. You can get this free of cost.
  • Tableau Public: You can leverage this for publishing interactive data online. This product can be obtained free of cost. 

If you want to try it, download its Desktop version from its official website. After the expiry of the 14-day free trial period, you can switch to the Public version for free but you’ll have to share your data publicly and it also comes with limitations. 

Tableau Dashboard Explore Page
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Tableau Data Connections

You can connect Tableau to multiple data sources such as Excel files, text files, database management systems, and even cloud storage. You can then pull data from there and use it to create visualizations. 

The process of connecting to data sources differs from one product to another. In the Desktop version, there is the “Connect” option on the left side of the window. Below this option is the different data sources that you can connect to. 

Tableau Data Connections
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You simply have to select the data source that you need to connect to. You will be taken through on-screen instructions to establish a connection to the data source. Once the connection has been established, you can pull data into it for visualization. 

To connect to the Server product or the Online product from Tableau Desktop do the following steps:

  • Step 1: Click the “Tableau Server” option located below “Search for Data” under Connect. 
  • Step 2: A small window will pop up. To connect to the Server product, simply enter the name of the server and click Connect. 
  • Step 3: If you need to connect to the Online product, simply click the “Tableau Online” option located below Quick Connect. For the Server product, use your username and password to sign in. For the Online product, use your email address and password.  
  • Step 4: You can then select the data source that you need to connect to. 
  • Step 5: If you are using the Server or the Online product of Tableau, you will create the connection using a web browser. You can find the Tableau Catalog in the Data Management Add-on. If you enable it in your environment, you’ll be able to connect to tables and databases from Search for Data results on the Desktop product. 

Tableau Dashboards

Tableau Dashboards
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A Dashboard is a collection of views or visualizations. You can get elements from different worksheets and put them in a single Dashboard. You can add relevant graphs and charts to a Dashboard and use them to extract insights from your data. 

The following steps can help you create a Dashboard in the Desktop product:

  • Step 1: Click the “Dashboard” option shown on the menu bar, and choose “New Dashboard”. 
  • Step 2: This will open a new window named “Dashboard 1”. 
  • Step 3: Add a new sheet to the dashboard by dragging and dropping a sheet from the Sheets column of the Dashboard tab from the left. The sheet will come with all the visualizations added to it. 
  • Step 4: Follow the same procedure to add as many sheets as you want to the dashboard. Arrange the sheets properly the way you want them to be laid out. 
  • Step 5: Add objects to the Dashboard from the Objects section located just below the Sheets section on the left side of the Dashboard. Some of the objects that you can add to the Dashboard include a button, a web page, extension, text box, etc. After adding an object such as a learned button, add an action to it to specify what the button will do when clicked. 
  • Step 6: Once the dashboard is ready, view it in the Presentation Mode by pressing the F7 key on the keyboard or by clicking the icon on the bar at the top 
  • Step 7: You can share the Dashboard with others by clicking the Share icon located at the top. You will be prompted to enter the address of the Tableau Server. 

How does Tableau work?

Tableau supports integration with almost all the data sources. One can use Tableau to extract data from any platform and analyze it. Pulling data from simple CSV files, PDFs, spreadsheets to complex Databases such as Oracle and Cloud Databases and Data Warehouses can easily be accomplished with the help of Tableau.

Tableau keeps developing new data connectors to provide more data accessibility and flexibility to users. Depending on the version of Tableau that you have, the number of supported data connectors varies.  

All the data extracted by Tableau can be connected live or extracted to Tableau’s data engine to a Tableau Desktop. After receiving the information, Data Analysts, Data Scientists, Business Analysts can pull this data and generate visualizations from it to get insights from the data. 

Tableau offers many customizable and pre-built dashboards for different use cases, and users can also build design dashboards from scratch. All the data get visualized on these dashboards. The dashboards are shared with the users as a static file, and users view the dashboards using Tableau Reader.

Tableau Server is an enterprise platform that handles distribution, collaboration, governance, security, automation features, models, and users can publish data from Tableau Desktop to the server.

Tableau Uses

In this section, you will go through some of the applications and uses of Tableau. Some of the main uses of Tableau are listed below:

  • Data Blending
  • For managing the metadata of large and complex datasets
  • For query translation into intuitive visualization
  • Data Visualization 
  • Businesses Intelligence 
  • Data Collaboration 
  • Real-time Data Analysis 
  • For importing large datasets

Excel Vs. Tableau

Excel and Tableau are widely used Data Analysis tools by enterprises but both have something unique that makes users decide one tool between the two. Excel and Tableau use a unique Data Exploration approach, though the analysis in Tableau is more efficient than excel.

Exel uses simple rows and columns in spreadsheets whereas Tableau allows exploring Excel data with the help of its easy drag and drop feature.

PurposeIt is used to manipulate the data.It is a tool used for Visualization and Analysis.
UsageUsed for analysis of structured data.To quickly understand and simplify Big Data issues.
User InterfaceMacro and basic scripting are needed to fully utilize Excel.No coding is required.
Business needWork best with small data and create reports.Works best when used for Big Data.
ProductsComes along with MS Office.Offers its different versions – Tableau server, cloud, and desktop.
IntegrationSupports 60+ applications.Supports 250+ applications.
Real time data explorationYou need to have an idea of where your data takes you to get to know the insightsYou are free to explore data without even knowing the answer that you want. With the in-built features like data blending and drill-down, you will be able to determine the variations and data patterns.
Easy VisualizationsWhen working in excel, we first manipulate the data that is present, and then the visualization such as the different charts, graphs are created manually. To make the visualizations easily understandable, you should understand the features of excel well.Whereas in Tableau, the data is visualized from the beginning.

Limitations of Tableau

Tableau is well known for its designing and visualizing capabilities with a user-friendly intuitive user interface that makes it an indispensable Business Intelligence tool. Despite this, there are still a few areas where Tableau lacks. The following are the challenges associated with Tableau:

  • Limited to Visualizations: It is only a Data Visualization tool and it can’t work on uncleaned data. For it to generate proper visualizations, you must clean the underlying database first. 
  • Lack of Version Control: No version control and collaboration when creating Dashboards. 
  • Lack of Connectors: It lacks connectors to some data sources, hence, you can’t pull data directly from such sources. 
  • Security Issues: Tableau falls short when it comes to providing centralized data-level security. Tableau currently offers a more granular security namely row-level security, for all of its users. But the increase in the number of accounts increases the chances of the system being hacked.


This article talks about Tableau as a Business Intelligence tool in explicit detail. In this article, you have explored the benefits of leveraging Tableau as a part of your Analytics pipeline, the different products offered as a part of the Tableau suite. It also shed light on the different data connections you can establish with Tableau, Tableau Dashboards wrapping up with its limitations.

Extracting complex data from a diverse set of data sources to carry out an insightful analysis can be a challenging task and this is where Hevo saves the day! Hevo offers a faster way to move data from Databases or SaaS applications into your Data Warehouse to be visualized in a BI tool such as Tableau. Hevo is fully automated and hence does not require you to code. You can try Hevo for free by signing up for a 14-day free trial. You can also have a look at the unbeatable pricing that will help you choose the right plan for your business needs.

Nicholas Samuel
Freelance Technical Content Writer, Hevo Data

Skilled in freelance writing within the data industry, Nicholas is passionate about unraveling the complexities of data integration and data analysis through informative content for those delving deeper into these subjects.

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