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Tableau’s latest quarterly release in Q1 2020 was jam packed with amazing features that have received praise from Tableau developers, administrators, and report consumers alike.  I’ve been scanning Tableau release notes since 2012 and I am in awe how far the product stack has expanded beyond the days of innovative data visualization features.

Tableau continues to improve within their flagship Tableau Desktop application for dashboard-building, while also expanding on a comprehensive platform for consuming analytics on Tableau Server, shaping data using Tableau Prep, and extending functionality with the growing library of APIs.  The quarterly release notes are incredibly long and feature-rich nowadays - which is a great sign of continued innovation! 

To help distill Tableau’s latest release, here are my top 5 new features I’ve been most excited about with Tableau v2020.1!

Dynamic Parameters | Desktop

Without a doubt, dynamic parameters are the headliner features for the v2020.1 release.  This Desktop feature has been requested forever (literally years!) from experienced Tableau developers in the online forums and I am so excited to finally see it’s debut!  

Originally, parameters were static variables that are created by developers to give users freedom and flexibility in their analysis.  Common uses for parameters include threshold coloring, what-if analysis, and string matching.  Parameters are powerful because they are globally-scoped, meaning they aren’t tied to any particular data source.  This comes in handy with more advanced analysis use cases.

Screenshot of edit parameter window in Tableau

Creating a parameter has additional options to allow Tableau to updates values based on a data column

One of the biggest complaints of parameters is that they are static.  In other words, developers were able to create a list of possible values for a user to select, but new/old values would need to be manually edited in the future.  Static values were a huge limitation for parameters because it either required manual update work during each data refresh or an incomplete user experience - not ideal.  

With dynamic parameters available, parameters values can finally be linked to data columns and automatically adjust with changing column values.  It sounds like a minor improvement, but it opens up much-improved (and automated) user experiences.  As a seasoned consultant that delivers ‘future-proof’ solutions for clients, parameters are back in my toolkit because they can morph with changing datasets!

Viz Animations | Desktop

Another big headliner for the latest release is viz animations - the ability to see and understand your data’s movement.  I was initially skeptical about Tableau’s focus on animations because I’ve seen too many reporting products use flashy eye candy to mask otherwise clunky interfaces.  Animation interest grew from recent, popular dashboards (built at Tableau’s annual user conference) offering hacky solutions and Tableau needed a built-in answer to the growing demand. Enter, viz animations!

After playing around with the settings, I am officially a fan for subtle animated effects.  I have found that animations are particularly useful in scatter plots with a time component - I can ‘feel’ the change happen based on speed of movement.  I will be interested to see how the Tableau team expands/improves on subtle animation effects and how consistent they can perform in the browser.

Screenshot of scatterplot

Fixed Level of Detail | Prep

Tableau Prep continues to evolve into a fantastic data preparation tool to reshape and augment data coming into Tableau.  For experienced Tableau users, fixed level of detail (LOD) calculations are a great way to force aggregation of measurements at a specific (aka fixed) level of granularity. 

Screenshot of fixed LOD

The integration of fixed LODs into Tableau Prep will reduce the headache of using aggregate/join steps in prior versions.  The Tableau team also did a great job in creating a visual approach to writing LOD calculations, which will support usage and adoption of new users to data preparation.  

Nested Project Security | Server/Online

Back in 2018, Tableau unveiled nested projects for Tableau Server and Online to support content organization of dashboards and data sources.  Nested projects made it possible to set up department-specific directories and reduce the large volume of top-level projects that were requested by organizational deployments.  Unfortunately, nested projects could only be adjusted to respect the top-level project’s security permissioning.  

With the 2020.1 release, nested projects are greatly improved with customized security for nested projects.  This small tweak opens up huge potential for both organizing and securing Tableau Server content.  

As an example, top-level department projects like ‘Sales’ can now have nested projects with unique permissioning - ‘In Development’ for developers to publish, ‘Production’ for consumers to view, etc.  It’s a perfect opportunity to secure content in an intuitive, organized manner and I’ve already seen a number of clients push for reorganizing their self-service content with this release.

Analytics Extensions API | Developer Tools

Buried in the release notes, Analytics Extensions API is a game-changer!  Over the last 3 years, Tableau has built up capabilities to run R and Python code directly in Tableau Desktop (learn more).  Using the same underlying reference API, the new Analytics Extensions allows developers to integrate languages like Haskell, Javascript, etc. directly into Tableau calculations.  This new API opens up a new world of opportunities for predictive modeling integration with Tableau visualizations.

Screenshot of Analytics Extension Connection window

One of the demo examples I tested was referencing a Javascript function that converts currency based on hourly rates hosted by Open Exchange Rates. The demo took 5 minutes to incorporate into Tableau Desktop and worked flawlessly to convert USD sales into the Euro.  I am excited to see how data science teams can incorporate their predictive scripts into Tableau with this new API.

Version 2020.1 delivered game-changing functionality across the entire Tableau product suite.  It’s great to see the innovative additions that ultimately make creating and delivering insights flexible, user-friendly, and powerful for all.  Check out Tableau’s product release notes to discover more resources to help you and your team get the most out of the latest functionality!

 


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