11 April 2016

Using Tableau visualisations in real-time to start a conversation

Murphy shows how 'before Tableau' contrasts with 'after Tableau'. He discovered Tableau in 2010.
Murphy shows how 'before Tableau' contrasts with 'after Tableau'. He discovered Tableau in 2010.

In a presentation called Don't Fear the Data, Google's Head of TV Attribution (APAC), David Murphy says that large datasets are easy to work with if you have the right tools. Speaking at the Tableau on Tour conference in Singapore, Murphy said that his life can easily be divided into 'Before Tableau' and 'After Tableau'.

Before he discovered Tableau's visualisation software, he used spreadsheets to create charts, and did not look forward to making changes as it was complex and time-consuming even to make minor changes to the chart. If different versions of the chart had to be made for different teams, a change meant updating all the different versions, with the risk of human error occurring along the way.

The software was also slow, and tended to break down, he added. Questions had to be predetermined. "You need to know what you need to pull out from the data before you can do something with it," Murphy explained.

"It turns people off big data - you come up with lots of reasons why you won't do it rather than saying 'let's do it'," he said.

The Tableau epiphany for Murphy occurred in 2010, he said. He found that he could create charts "twice as fast, or better". "It freed me up to do more cool things, there was more time for me to analyse and bring insights, rather than being a data monkey and doing manual tasks," he said. "I solved problems more easily. (Tableau) greatly reduced the concept-to-implementation gap."

With Tableau, there was no need to worry about breaking equations and cell references, as can happen in spreadsheet software, he said. "There is no need to lock in design. You can rapidly iterate, get more responsive to the needs of the business and to the needs of the users...get much faster insights," he said.

Instead of having a customer or manager ask a question and returning in a week with the charts that answered the question, Tableau allows real-time changes to the data, maintaining the momentum there and then. "I can have a conversation with the data there and then, with the stakeholders who want to know," he said.

Instead of predetermined questions, Tableau has freed Murphy to play around with the data at his disposal, he added. "If you think it, you can do it," he said, with trivial questions potentially leading to something useful.
Using Tableau for data visualisation has replaced spreadsheets.
Using Tableau for data visualisation has replaced spreadsheets.

At Google, Murphy uses Tableau to show the relationships between broadcast advertisement airings and online engagement. "Previously you would have had to (show the customer) a .csv file with 12 dimensions and eight measures," he said.

He noted that while each customer's needs are unique, he can now address them in real-time. "You can be really responsive. You don't have to know everything before you go in; you can learn together with customers," he said. "It shows that we care and we keep to the heart of things which I couldn't really do with spreadsheet solutions, and (that) would have taken months to do."

Murphy has also set up a personal site, Datasaurus-Rex, which features visualisations created with Tableau. Among his projects are a dog year calculator, connecting dengue fever cases with mosquito breeding habitats, through crowdsourced insights. "It makes things accessible to people," he said. "I can dive into unknown datasets with ease, and empower others to understand data."


Check out Murphy's visualisations on the Datasaurus-Rex site
View visualisations made with Tableau Public
Get a free trial of Tableau

Read the TechTrade Asia blog posts on building a Smart Nation and why visualisations matter

Hashtags: #data16, #datasaurusrex