Tableau unveils exciting data model enhancements and teases about redesigned user interfaces

Tero Honko Senior Analytics Consultant, Solita

Published 13 May 2024

Reading time 13 min

Tableau Conference (TC24) was held few weeks ago in San Diego. This year’s announcements are very interesting and will significantly change and improve the use of Tableau. In summary, Einstein CoPilot and Tableau Pulse assist users in content creation and data understanding. Data model enhancements make modeling easier and more versatile, enabling more efficient reuse of data contents. Additionally, a glimpse into Tableau’s redesigned new user interfaces seemed promising and reminded me a bit of one of Tableau’s competitors, but more about that later.

The TC24 keynote was kicked off by Tableau CEO Ryan Aytay, who emphasised the importance of the Tableau Datafam community and the free Tableau Public service, which now hosts over 9.5 million visualisations and 4 million user profiles. Related to Tableau public, one significant enhancement was introduced right in the beginning: local file saving. It enables users to save workbooks to their own machines, making it easier to analyse and process confidential data.

Next, Aytay went through the shared values of Salesforce and Tableau and Tableau’s role as part of Salesforce’s AI enterprise building blocks. Ryan described the history and present of analytics as waves, with the first wave being IT-based analytics, where analyses had to be ordered separately. The second wave was self-service, where users could perform analyses themselves. The third wave is the present, where artificial intelligence automatically helps personalise analyses. In this context, a quick introduction was given to Einstein CoPilot for Tableau, and a glimpse of Tableau’s roadmap up to version 2025.1 was also presented.

The announced Microsoft partnership and the integration with Teams and Fabric are very welcomed additions to Tableau’s capabilities. I don’t know whether it was just a coincidence or intentional, but the introduced vision of Tableau’s new direction, especially the centralised view of all analytical workflows, reminded somewhat of Microsoft Power BI / Fabric. Previously in the analytics field Tableau was the often the innovator and Power BI took cues, now the roles seem to be much more even.

Before delving into the actual new features, let’s review Tableau’s vision for the future product suite, “The next generation of Tableau”, the fourth wave. The official unveiling of the product was announced to take place at the Dreamforce conference in the autumn. The presentation showcased several redesigned user interfaces of existing products and one entirely new entity where various data-related workflows were integrated into a single interface. This included discussions about Workspaces and Semantic Models, which reminded me of Microsoft Fabric. Overall, the look and feel of the new interfaces were very modern. Workflows and related tasks were managed via a centralised interface, and from a functionality point of view, it was stated that all kinds of data are supported, including unstructured and streaming data.

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Above: New redesigned Tableau user interface presented in TC24.

Next, I will review the key features highlighted in TC24 and list functionalities presented in TC24 or previous conferences (TC23, TC22 and TC21). These lists do not contain all the features included in previous releases, but the ones mentioned in earlier Tableau Conferences. More info about TC23, TC22 and TC21 introduced features can be found in our previous blog posts:

Note: All the product and feature related images are screenshots from the TC24 Opening Keynote & Devs on Stage session. You can watch the sessions at any time on the Salesforce site.

Workbook authoring & data visualisation

Let’s start with workbook authoring and actual data visualisation related features. The biggest new feature in this domain was the Visualisation Extensions. This is a significant enhancement that brings Tableau in line with many of its competitors, but I still feel that the actual impact to the work we do won’t be so big. This is because: 1) Visualisations should be easily understandable to end users (don’t use too fancy vizzes), and 2) currently, for example, the Sankey visualisation still lacks a native color role (meaning you can’t use dimensions or measures to color the streams).

Other new features in this domain are Spatial Parameters, Google fonts, and Custom Themes. Spatial parameters seem interesting, but it’s still a bit unclear what possibilities they may offer in the future. Google fonts are a very welcome small addition. However, in terms of enterprise-level solutions, I see the greatest impact with custom themes. If they work as I hope, you can easily customise the look and feel of Tableau dashboards by using and modifying theme JSON file. This would be much easier than manually updating or copying styles from one sheet to another. In the roadmap, it was marked as a Tableau Desktop feature, but I really hope it can also be utilised in web authoring for both Server and Cloud environments. 

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Above: Sankey Viz Extension presented in TC24.

Showcased in TC24

  • (From TC21) Viz Extensions (2024.2): Custom mark types, share custom viz types, extension formatting in tableau, but no mark designer mentioned in TC21.
  • TC24 Spatial parameters (~2024.3): Parameter type for spatial objects and new spatial functions for calculation.
  • TC24 New fonts (2024.2): New Google fonts in Tableau.
  • TC24 Custom themes (~2024.3): JSON definition files for themes

Showcased previously and already GA/beta released features

  • TC23 Improved Image role functionality (2023.2): new file types (gif) & expansion to the size limit.
  • TC23 Edit alt text (for screen readers) directly in Data Guide (2023.2)
  • TC22 Image role (2022.4): Dynamically render images in the viz based on a link field in the data.
  • TC21 Dynamic zone visibility (2022.3): Use parameters & field values to show/hide layout containers and visualisations.
  • TC21 Redesigned View Data (2022.1): View/hide columns, reorder columns, sort data, etc.
  • TC21 Workbook Optimiser (2022.1): Suggest performance improvements when publishing a workbook.
  • TC21 Multi Data Source Spatial Layers (2021.4): Use data from different data sources in different layers of a single map visualisation.

Consume analytics & understand data

In this area, a lot of buzz is still going on around Tableau Pulse, where features and user experience are continuously improving. It is nice to see the Pulse Q&A getting closer to ChatGPT and being able to set goals to Pulse metrics is also a sign of maturity. Additionally, there are numerous smaller developments occurring around Pulse, such as metric bootstrapping, meaning you can create Pulse metrics directly from other Tableau content, and the ability to sort and group metrics, among others.

Einstein CoPilot for Tableau stands out as the primary new feature in this domain. With CoPilot, you can request analyses or generate necessary calculations, potentially revolutionizing how self-service analytics is done in the future. It can also be advantageous for other than self-service content developers; you can instruct Tableau to create content, streamlining the process and allowing you to simply review and refine the output. 

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Above: Einstein CoPilot for data exploration presented in TC24.

The great news in that Einstein CoPilot will be released soon in the 2024.2 version.

Showcased in TC24

  • TC24 Tableau Pulse Q&A: and Pulse Goals (2024.2): Ask metric related question in Tableau Pulse and get GenAI created answers and visualisations. Set Goals to Pulse Metrics.
  • TC24 Pulse Metric Bootstrapping (2024.1): Create metrics directly from views (Dashboards etc.).
  • (From TC23) Einstein CoPilot for Data Exploration (2024.2): Rebranded from TableauGPT to Einstein CoPilot. Use GenAI copilot to create visualisations and calculations.
  • TC24 Keyboard viz navigation (2024.2): Navigate visualisation with keyboard (for inclusion & accessibility)

Showcased previously and already GA/beta released features

  • TC23 Tableau Pulse with redesigned metrics (2024.1): New user interface to consume analytics and create, embed & follow metrics.
  • TC22 Data Guide (2022.3): Contains information about the dashboard and fields, applied filters, data outliers and data summary, and links to external resources.
  • TC22 Data Stories (2022.2 & 2022.3): Dynamic and automated data story component in Tableau Dashboard. Automatically describes data contents.
  • TC21 Data Change Radar (2022.3): Alert and show details about meaningful data changes, detect new outliers or anomalies, alert and explain these.
  • TC21 Explain the Viz (2022.3): Show outliers and anomalies in the data, explain changes, explain marks etc.
  • TC21 Multiple Smaller Improvements in Ask Data (2022.2 & 2022.3): Contact Lens author, Personal pinning, Lens lineage in Catalog, Embed Ask Data.
  • TC21 Ask Data improvements (2022.1): Phrase builder already available, phrase recommendations available later this year.

Showcased previously but not released nor mentioned in TC24

  • TC23 Tableau Gestures & augmented analytics: Use gestures to interact with data and infuse analytics into meetings.
  • TC21 Model Builder: Use autoML to build and deploy predictive models within Tableau. Based on Salesforce’s Einstein platform.
  • TC21 Scenario Planner: Easy what-if-analysis. View how changes in certain variables affect target variables and how certain targets could be achieved.

Collaborate, embed and act

In this domain, the most significant update for many Tableau customers is the integration of Tableau content with Microsoft Teams. With Teams Integration, users can send Tableau visualisations, dashboards, subscriptions, and alerts directly to Teams. Another important feature is the VizQL Data Service, which was introduced a year ago, and its first beta release is now getting closer. This feature allows for easier utilisation of data directly from Tableau data models via API without the necessity of creating visualisations. From user management perspective, I am really interested in Attribute Based Access Control. This feature allows provisioning of user group information via SAML assertion or JSON Web Token in Connected Apps. This will make group management so much easier in local identity store scenarios. 

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Above: Embedding Pulse Metrics to dashboard presented in TC24.

Showcased in TC24

  • TC24 Embed Pulse Metrics to Dashboards (~2024.3): Embed full Pulse KPI’s (with trend lines) or just the KPI figures.
  • TC24 Microsoft Teams integration: Share content and submit Tableau Alerts & subscriptions to MS Teams.
  • (From TC23) VizQL Data Service (~2024.3): Tableau’s first step to decouple the data and presentation layer. Enable API queries directly to Tableau data models.
  • TC24 Attribute based access control (2024.2): Bring group metadata from Identity Provider via SAML or JSON Web Token.
  • TC24 User attribute function (2023.1): More user attribute functions to be leveraged in access control calculations.

Showcased previously and already GA/beta released features

  • TC23 Tableau Embedding Playground (2023.3): Configure embedding options without coding.
  • TC23 Ephemeral users / on-demand access (2023.3): Centralises user identity and access management to one place. Usage-based licensing options in the future.
  • TC23 Grant access to a workbook when sharing
  • TC22 Tableau External Actions (2022.4): Trigger actions outside Tableau, for example, Salesforce Flow actions. Support for other workflow engines will be added later.
  • TC22 Publicly share dashboards: Share content via external public facing site to give access to unauthenticated non-licenced users, only Tableau Cloud. Available via Tableau Embedded analytics usage-based licensing.
  • TC21 Embeddable Ask Data (2023.1)
  • TC21 Embeddable Web Authoring (2022.2): No need for a desktop when creating & editing embedded contents, full embedded visual analytics.
  • TC21 3rd party Identity & Access Providers (2022.2): Better capabilities to manage users externally outside Tableau.
  • TC21 Connected Apps (2021.4): More easily embed to external apps, creating a secure handshake between Tableau and other apps.
  • TC21 Tableau search, Explain Data and Ask Data in Slack (2021.4)
  • TC21 Tableau Prep notifications in Slack (2022.1)

Data preparation, modeling and management

This domain has the most intriguing new features, with Shared Dimensions (or multi-fact models) being the standout. This enhancement significantly boosts data modeling capabilities, allowing for the inclusion of multiple facts or transactional event types in data models, thereby enhancing analysis capabilities. Having tested the beta release, I found that modeling remains as straightforward as before, and conducting multi-fact analysis is also simple if the dimensions you are using in the viz are related to all facts displayed in the visualisation. However, if some dimensions are not related to certain facts shown in the visualisation, you may not obtain the desired results out-of-the-box. Instead, you might need to perform some calculations or use workarounds. Nonetheless, this is already a significant and great improvement.

What makes this even more intriguing is Composable data sources, which enable the combination of published data sources. Despite the new ability to construct large multi-fact data sources, it may still be preferable to keep Tableau data sources focused on one or two logical facts or data domains. This approach makes data sources easier to maintain, with the flexibility to combine different published data sources and related refresh settings as needed. Composable data sources also allow for the integration of custom data from files with already published data sources, simplifying analysis with ad hoc data requirements. 

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Above: Composable data sources example presented in TC24.

Other new features related to data preparation and management domain include Sentiment Analysis in Prep, which allows for the analysis of sentiment in text fields. Additionally, there’s Einstein CoPilot for data preparation and catalog that automatically generates prep flows based on natural language input and creates data descriptions in the data catalog. The Data Management Cockpit provides deeper insights into data contents, releases, and usage, but it is only available with the data management add-on.

Showcased in TC24

  • From TC22 Shared dimensions / multi-fact models (2024.2): Build multi-fact data models where different facts relate to multiple shared dimensions.
  • TC24 Composable data sources (~2024.3): Combine published data sources and add your own data to the combined model. Bring data source reusability to new level.
  • TC24 Microsoft Fabric integration: Leverage data from MS Fabric in Tableau.
  • TC24 One-click access to Tableau from Databricks: Streamline data exploration and analysis in real-time with Databricks-Tableau integration.
  • TC24 Sentiment analysis in Prep (~2025.1): Leverage easy to use sentiment analysis directly in Tableau Prep.
  • From TC23 Einstein CoPilot for data preparation & catalog (2024.2): Rebranded from TableauGTP to Einstein CoPilot. Use natural language to automatically create prep flows and calculations and to get Tableau Catalog data descriptions.
  • TC24 Data Management cockpit (~2025.1): More Admin insights about data contents and data usage.

Showcased previously and already GA/beta released features

  • TC23 Tableau Hyper-accelerated queries in SF Data Cloud: Salesforce data Cloud is at least partially based on Tableau Hyper data models, which can be used to easily analyse the data within Salesforce Data Cloud without additional modeling steps.
  • TC23 Tableau Instant Analytics in SF Data Cloud (2023.2): Analyse SF Data Cloud data with Tableau with one click.
  • TC23 Tableau Prep enhancements (2023.3 & 2024.1): spatial joins, smart suggestion to remove duplicates & easily set header and start a row.
  • TC22 New AWS data sources (2023.2): Amazon S3 connector. Previously mentioned also Amazon DocumentDB, Amazon OpenSearch, Amazon Neptune.
  • TC22 Multi-row calculations in Prep (2023.2): Calculate for example running total or moving average in Tableau Prep.
  • TC22 Insert row number and clean null values in Prep (2023.1): Easily insert row number column and clean & fill null values.
  • TC22 Table extensions (2022.3): Leverage python and R scripts in the data model layer.
  • TC22 Web data connector 3.0 (2022.3): Easily connect to web data and APIs, for example to AWS S3, Twitter etc.
  • TC21 Data Catalog Integration: Sync external metadata to Tableau.
  • TC21 Virtual Connections (2021.4): Centrally managed and reusable access points to source data with a single point to define security policy and data standards.
  • TC21 Centralised row-level security (2021.4): Centralised RLS and data management for virtual connections.
  • TC21 Parameters in Tableau Prep (2021.4): Leverage parameters in Tableau Prep workflows.

Showcased previously but not released nor mentioned in TC24

  • TC21 Tableau Prep Extensions: Leverage and build an extension for Tableau Prep (sentiment analysis, OCR, geocoding, feature engineering etc.).
  • TC23 Address Geocoding: geocode address data in Tableau to visualise addresses on a map.

Tableau Cloud management

In Tableau Cloud management domain, there were two major announcements: Tableau Cloud Manager and Tableau Cloud migration to Hyperforce. Tableau Cloud Manager offers a centralised interface to create and manage multiple cloud sites under one account. This empowers customers to conveniently separate reporting across multiple sites with varying settings and user authentication. The migration to Hyperforce will introduce additional flexibility to Tableau Cloud regions and related management.

Showcased in TC24

  • From TC22 Tableau Cloud Manager (2024.2): Create and manage centrally all Tableau Cloud sites.
  • TC24 Tableau Cloud Hyperforce migration (~2024 Jul-Nov): Tableau Cloud will be migrated from Tableau’s AWS infrastructure to Salesforce’s Hyperforce AWS infra.

Showcased previously and already GA/beta released features

  • TC23 Improved activity logs (2023.3): More data in admin templates about login activities & attempts.
  • TC23 Enhanced access token management (2023.2): Access token management via API, Control personal access token creation via user group and set expiration periods.
  • TC22 Customer-managed encryption keys (2022.1): BYOK (Bring Your Own Keys).
  • TC22 Activity Log (2022.1): More insights on how people are using Tableau, permission auditing etc.
  • TC22 Admin Insights (2022.1): Maximise performance, boost adoption, and manage content.

Showcased previously but not yet released

  • TC23 Customer-managed IP filtering (~2024.3): Set IP address filtering to limit access to Tableau Cloud Site. 
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Above: Tableau Cloud Manager example presented in TC24.

Tableau Server management

In Server Management domain, there weren’t any specific major features announced, but several features from other domains are being released also to Server environments. However, it’s worth noting that many AI-driven features will not be available in Tableau Server.

Showcased previously and already released features

  • TC22 Auto-scaling for Tableau Server (2022.3): Starting with backgrounder auto-scaling for container deployments.
  • TC21 Resource Monitoring Improvements (2022.1): Show view load requests, establish new baseline etc.
  • TC21 Backgrounder resource limits (2022.1): Set limits for backgrounder resource consumption.
  • TC21 Time Stamped log Zips (2021.4)

Tableau Ecosystem & Tableau Public

One of the major highlights in the keynote was the introduction of the Local file saving capability for Tableau Public. This enhancement significantly enhances the appeal of Tableau Public for small-scale organisational and personal use. Now, users can analyse confidential data without the need to save workbooks (and data) to the Tableau Public service. Essentially, Tableau Public serves as a free analysis tool for any data available in local files, Google Drive, or accessible via OData or Web Data Connector. However, it is important to note that Tableau Public cannot analyse data located in databases. And by the way, local file saving is already available in Tableau Public 2024.1 (at least for Windows).

New in TC24

  • TC24 Local file saving in Tableau Public (2024.2): Save workbooks locally and analyse public and private data.

Showcased previously and already GA/beta released features

  • TC23 Tableau Public Enhanced search with sorting & filtering, network activity feed with notifications & extra info, profile pronouns
  • TC21 Tableau Public Custom Channels: Custom channels around certain topics.
  • TC21 Tableau Exchange: Search and leverage shared extensions, connectors, more than 100 accelerators. The possibility to share the dataset may be added later on.
  • TC21 Accelerators: Dashboard starters for certain use cases and source data (e.g. call center analysis, Marketo data, Salesforce data etc.). Can soon be used directly from Tableau.

Showcased previously but not released nor mentioned in TC24

  • TC21 Tableau Public Slack Integration (~2022 H1)
  • TC21 More connectors to Tableau Public (~2022 H1): Box, Dropbox, OneDrive.
  • TC21 Publish Prep flows to Tableau Public: Will there be a Public version for Tableau Prep?

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