Tag Archives: BI

The British are coming! At least to #Data16

Otherwise known as the Viz which shows who is going out to the Tableau Conference 2016 #data16 on the British Airways flight BA191 on Saturday 5th November.

A few weeks ago I tweeted out to see who was on my flight –


I got quite a few replies and it looks like there are about 25 of us going and it got me thinking to how many of the community on the flight will know of each other but not actually met each other.  So what better place than a 10hr flight to meet someone new and discuss all things Tableau?

So I set up a Google Form, which populates a Google Sheet to capture the details of who is flying (You can complete the form which is embedded below if you are on our flight)


I then downloaded a seat map of the aircraft which flies the route – a BA 787-900 series with four classes, First, Club, World Traveller Plus and World Traveller.


Finally I mapped the coordinates, something I first did at easyJet, blended with the Google data and I now have an interactive seat plan where you can see who you will be sitting next to or where that member of the community is that you always wanted to talk to but were too afraid to ask!

The great thing with the Tableau Public Google Sheet connector is that it refreshes daily, so it will update automatically, which is great for the dashboard which I also built using device designer for the first time as feel that the Mobile experience is the best for viewing this.

The final touch is that you can go back in and change your form, should you decide to move seats.

The dashboard can be viewed by clicking the image below


Everything you need to know to prepare for the Tableau Conference 2016 #data16


I know I know, there are already several posts about this, but you can never have too much advice and experience shared can you?

The conference this year is in Austin, Texas and takes place between November 7th and 10th.  It will be bigger and better than ever, with over 15,000 customers, employees, partners and sponsors attending.

However thinking about the upcoming conference takes me back to where my first blog post started

Destination data

I know it is hard to believe, but back then I was not the social butterfly I have blossomed into but was very shy and nervous and knew practically nobody at the Conference.

In fact, the people I knew I could place on one hand –

  • Tom Brown, purchasing licences through him
  • Andy Cotgreave – met him once at a Tableau event and asked him to demo plotting paths (which he did)
  • Peter Gilks & Carl Allchin (Met them once at a Stephen Few workshop)

Sitting in the bar at the Conference venue in Washington about to have some dinner and  tweeting this picture (I was knew to Twitter as well!)

Only to find out that I was not alone –

Susan came and joined me and we had a good chat.

Then Andy Cotgreave and Tom Brown  joined as well.  I wasn’t too sure who the next person was but it was a young and enthusiastic Brit named Matt Francis!  He was very excited about the other people to join us which included Tableau Zen Masters (Tableau what?) namely Chuck Hooper and Craig Bloodworth.

I was no longer alone at a Tableau Conference.

The point of this intro, is that all of us, at some time, have discovered Tableau and its community.  Either at user groups, roadshows, via Twitter.  We would have seen or heard of people but never met them and potentially never had contact with them.  We could be in a position where we have persuaded our boss to buy a ticket for conference, but not for our colleague so we arrive on our own.

Once you arrive though, you are no longer alone.

Do not worry about reaching out to the community.  They generally do not bite and will seek you out if you write a similar tweet or invite you to join them on their table.  There is no hierarchy, no clicky in clubs, we are all passionate about Tableau and so are you, so that automatically makes you a member of the club.  If you currently follow someone on Twitter or their blogs, drop them a message and they will be happy to say hi.

Oh and a great tip from Chuck Hooper, make your social media avatars a proper head shot before the trip as it makes it a lot easier to work out who somebody is.  On that point, don’t worry if people come up to you and you have no idea who they are and have to look down at their name badge, it happens all the time and the subtlety which people look down has evolved into an art form.

Once you meet people though, that is only half the battle.  How on earth do you plan for all of the sessions?  Which to attend, when to see the Tableau Doctor, how to meet up with people you met at the bar last night?

Hopefully the following should help you with this.

For a few years, Matt Francis and Emily Kund ran a newbie session before the conference started in anger.  This was great for helping people orientate themselves and pick up hints and tips.  This year that session is being run by Tableau on Monday (see below)

Before you leave home

Ok so before you head to the conference, work with your network or send a tweet to find out who is on your plane or arriving at the same time.  This can be useful for sharing a taxi and reducing costs.  My flight is BA191  from Heathrow to Austin, arriving at 5pm local on Saturday 5th November and there is about 15 attendees on that flight, so arranging a car share will be fine.  Let us know if you are on the flight at well.

Pack clothing that you feel comfortable wearing.  You will be in these clothes for a long time during the day, potentially 12-18hrs, so think about that including your choice of shoes.  If you have any Tableau t-shirts, bring them along, always a good conversation starter when wearing the same t-shirt as somebody else, especially when you have got them for a particular competition.

Download the conference app, which will be available for Android and Apple.  Use this to book in your sessions (you can change these at any time) and plan using the floor maps where sessions are (more on this later).  I generally go to sessions based on the speaker rather than the title, as I feel I know somebody’s work in the community from Twitter or their blogs and know that I will learn something or understand who are already good presenters.

If you are arriving on the Saturday or Sunday, there will be time to do some sightseeing activities.  Plan ahead and book these in advance, including travel.  See what others are doing as you might be able to join a group and save costs.

Plan what technology you will need during the day and pack appropriate chargers for this.  Are you the kind of person that takes notes?  In my previous role, I had to take a lot of notes like this for each session


If you are bringing your laptop, ensure you have adequate power.  Mobile / tablets, bring cables and power bricks a plenty.

Make sure you let the Community know you are coming.  There are several hashtags you can use, the main event one will be #data16, some will use #tc16 or even the legacy #tcc16.  To help, save this as a shortcut to save typing each time you tweet.

If you have friends going along, set up a Whatsapp group, this worked great last year for keeping in touch, arranging to meet up and keeps the mobile charges down.

Arriving in Austin

If not from the US then TURN OFF YOUR DATA!  I had a terribly nasty surprise a few years ago, and even last year when I thought I was on Wifi I ran up a bill of over £1,500 which I had to negotiate with my provider on.  To be sure, turn it off.

Once at the hotel and unpacked, work out your plans for that day / evening and arrange a meet up.

Work out the logistics from your hotel to the conference venue.  Is there a decent Coffee house en route?

Double check any activities you have booked and the relevant transport.

On the Sunday afternoon, registration opens at 4pm.  If you are in town, this is a good point to register at it can get crazy busy on the Monday.  This is also a good time to meet up with other people, chat in the queue etc.

It is also an opportunity to walk the halls.  By this I mean look at some of the key sessions you want to attend, then walk from the previous session room to the next.  How long does it take?  Remember that you are doing this on a Sunday in an empty venue.  Come Tuesday, there will be 15,000 other people doing the same so add a lot onto this.  Also remember that this year the conference will be spread across several hotels so you may have to leave the building you are in.

Tableau map.png

Also scope out where the Expo hall is.  On the Sunday this probably won’t be set up, but if it is take a look and definitely book in a few hours to really look around the Expo.  When doing so, think about what could help your Tableau deployment and concentrate on these first.  Also, this is where the Tableau shop is to purchase T-shirts etc, but they sell out of things fast so shop early.

MONDAY Pre-Conference

This is the day for training, potentially exams, registration (if you didn’t on the Sunday) and a few other cool events.  The Tableau Hackathon is on all day and this year will cover all data platforms #DataDev.

There will also be a live #makeovermonday #data16MakeoverMonday, hosted by Andy Kriebel and Andy Cotgreave, well worth attending.

The Intro to TC16 for Conference Newbies is being run this year by Tableau’s own Vanessa Au, details here and is repeated in case you cannot make either session.  Follow the hashtag #TCNewbie for all the tips

This year also see’s the third Annual Data + Women event #DataPlusWomen

Monday evening will consist of informal events, potentially meeting up with your Tableau representative or partners for dinner.

Monday Morning also has the first #RunData16 event, starting at 5:30am and with two distances available – 5k and 10k, come and meet in the reception at the Four Seasons and get to meet members of the community (and me!).  If you are interested in taking part, join our group on Strava

Over 100 of us #rundata15 in Las Vegas

The most important activity you can take part in though is to have your #picwiththepauls

A annual highlight of the conference with a bit of a twist this year as well.

Tuesday – Thursday

This is the real meat and bones of the Conference, with over 500+ sessions which are broken down into a few sections

  1. KEYNOTES – Attend all of these to gain product insight, learn from industry leaders and be engaged with entertaining presentations
  2. BREAKOUT SESSIONS – Generally 60 minute long presentations by Customers, partners, Zen Masters and Tableau themselves.
  3. HANDS ON TRAINING – Normally two hours long, in front of a screen led by Tableau experts and trainers (pre registration is recommended)

For these days you really need to be prepared.  These will be long days so comfortable clothing is a must.  Ensure all of your tech is charged, and you have power bricks and cables where necessary.  Put your phone on low power mode where possible to preserve battery (unless you are using it for notes / pictures / twitter).

You will need fuel, so stock up where you can.  Save things from Breakfast, have spare water and in between sessions there are food stations available (Bits and bytes), but you may struggle for time to get to these.

Plan your day by the hour, starting at 7am (5:30am if taking part in #rundata16), work out breakfast, travel time, sessions, snacking, lunch, dinner, evening activities.  Do not expect to see everything that you plan to.  Historically I would say if you achieve 70% and you are doing well.

Lunch can get very busy.  The food stations will be repeated across the halls, so don’t just jump in line in the first queue as you enter a building.  Walk around and you will probably find a shorter one available around the corner.  Plan in your first session after lunch as well and give yourself plenty of time to get there, some people will pick up their food and take it to eat in the queue to get into the next session.

This brings me to a point about sessions.  You will spend a lot of time working out which sessions you want to attend and be proud of your selections.  You will then go to a session to discover that the room is full and you cannot get in!  This caught me out before, so always have a plan B for every session.  Where possible, make that plan B close by otherwise you may find that full as well.  This is where registering on the App really helps.

Tableau look at the interest in each session and can then change the room size / location to accommodate, this is great, but can also lead to you arriving at a room which has subsequently been changed, so keep an eye on this.  To help your app update, close the app fully every now and again to ensure that it sync’s up with the updated schedules.

If you need a comfort break in between sessions, get to the session, check in and drop a bag on a chair, then go to the toilet.

When in sessions, always sit at the front.  Don’t be shy.  You will be able to see the screens much better, they do vary in size and quality from room to room.  Also if you are sitting at the front you can take better pictures if you want to capture key points.  The other thing to do is ask questions.  Nothing worse than being a presenter and having tumbleweeds at the end of a session, so be bold and speak up.

The other thing to do, which a lot of people shy away from, is walking out of a session.  Trust me, you will want to do this at least once.  You select the sessions based on the speaker / content / title/ company, however you have no idea how good the session will be.  If it is not what you expected, walk out and go to another session.  Your time at conference is precious, and you do not have the luxury of giving somebody an hour of your time.  The speaker will not even notice so do not feel that you will upset them.  Do what is right for you.  If you talk to Andy Kriebel he will tell you that this is the most important thing he recommends you do at conference.

If you have a session you want to get to, don’t worry about leaving during the Q&A part to give yourself extra time.

Remember as well that if you really want to see two sessions which clash, they are all recorded.  So make time after the conference to watch back those that you couldn’t see live, or heard others talking about.

When you have been in a session, provide feedback on the app, this really helps future content and speakers to understand what they did well and could improve for the future.


Over the years I have seen some various note taking techniques.  You can see the template I have had to use in the past.

These days I use the generic Apple Notes app on my Macbook, whilst taking pictures with the iPhone which automatically sync across.  This also allows me to cut and paste into live tweets and multitask.

#sketchnoting is also on the increase.  I first saw this by the amazing @catmule who is a real artist, however I have tried it a few times with rubbish results, so more practice needed!


Post Conference

There are no two ways to put this, after the conference you will feel on a real downer.  Spending a week with like minded people and learning new things is amazing.  The day job seems boring by comparison.  But keep the spirit alive.  Blog about your experience, share what you learned with your colleagues and most importantly share with your boss what your key takeaways are and how it will change what you do.  This can help not just yourself, but your colleagues when looking at budget for #data17 when we all return to ***** 😆

Can Tableau really change your life?

Can Tableau really change your life?

Well, you hear a lot on Twitter and blogs about how Tableau has helped people to really see and understand their data, and changed people’s lives in moving from Excel treacle to worksheet and dashboards, fast iterations and rapid prototyping, all with claims around Tableau changing people’s lives, but actually, in those instances it really has enhanced them rather than changed them.

I want to share my journey below and explain how Tableau Software really has changed my life.

I am now 43 years of age and have been working for 26 of them (I know what you are thinking – he really doesn’t look that old), during which time I have had three pretty distinctive career fields –

  • Retail
  • Accountancy
  • Business Intelligence

Now little did I know, when I started out pushing trolleys at the weekend in my local supermarket where that would take me and how I have always been seen as ‘the data guy’ without realising it throughout my career.

As I progressed through the rank and file, I can remember becoming the Manager with the accountability for the figures and communicating this to the wider team.  No real tools were available then, so it was down to a 20ft long sheet of brown paper, segmented into each department and the key metrics, and using different coloured post it notes to indicate performance vs. plan with the figures annotated on the notes.

(a bit like this)

This eventually got me a position in head office as a Finance Analyst for our convenience stores.  My role was to help ‘show the numbers’ and put context on what was going on. Our systems back then were very basic and green screen based.  Text based data, hard to extract and do anything informative with.

I remember building a sales graph by department which took ages and I was really proud of , which would have looked like this

Year to date sales.png

But as my manager pointed out, how can they really read this as it is too busy.  This got me thinking about the way I visualise and how I can improve it – btw I also produced something like this and was extremely proud with myself that I found an online plug in that would let me label every element of the pie #puffschest


I started to research graphing best practices and improved my offering to the business, but not before destroying the rules of the ink to non data ink ratio making everything bold and black on the screen which I could!

The visualisation which really got my work on the radar, was an excel plug in which allowed me to build a treemap.  I had seen one on a BBC science programme, and thought it was a great way to visualise a large amount of data on the screen – up until this point I had used bars and scrolled left to right !!!

I produced something like this

Not earth shattering, but at the time quite forward thinking.

Fast forward a few years and I am an Accountant at easyJet looking after our Commercial and Network divisions.  We were a sea of Excel tables and poor visualisations.  I thought that it would be a good opportunity to bring back the treemap to visualise all 650 routes across 25 bases onto a single view.  This time though, I didn’t want to use Excel but thought that there would be a better way.

A quick Google introduced me to two things – The words ‘Business Intelligence’ and a product by a company called HIVE which natively built treemaps.  The definitions I read of Business intelligence resonated with what I had been trying to achieve throughout my career without realising it was a field in its own right.

The product by HIVE was interesting, it only built treemaps and was used by the US Army to look at inventory in the battlefield.  It also had Dr Ben Schneiderman on its board of advisors, the man who invented the treemap.

Although the treemap was useful, through my research I discovered some other tools and eventually settled on using ……… Omniscope.

Omniscope was UK based, provided treemaps as well as a number of other chart types including network graphs and also had built in ETL functionality (something else I had to Google!).

My CFO was impressed with the demo I built and I was allowed to purchase 5 licenses and training for the team.  The company we partnered with for this was called Atheon, run by Guy Cuthbert.  Following the initial work, we looked at doing a larger piece of analysis and gave Atheon two years worth of our bookings data as well as a number of other data sets which we had not blended on before and asked what they could come up with.

When Guy presented back, he used Omniscope and introduced another tool called Tableau.  Now I have to admit, when I first saw Tableau, I wasn’t impressed.  It was version 7.0.  It did not have treemaps.  It did not have ETL capability.  I needed a server to share the output?  Sounded like a con to me.

So I plugged away with Omniscope and was working on a new product that easyJet was about to launch and was exploring with the data generated.  The project was allocated seating.  I used a custom background map to build this


And then used animation to show how the seat sales on the aircraft built up prior to departure.

We was introduced to a few new features coming in Tableau 8, primarily treemaps.  We got a trial desktop licence (actually two) and a trial of server, which we couldn’t get IT to help with or support so we installed it on a desktop tower PC under the desk, shhhh. 😎

A colleague and myself built a few visualisations and we purchased a few desktop licences. He brought in a contractor for a few days who was skilled in Tableau to build things faster. She worked for a company called The Information Lab.

I remember having a conversation with our Tableau sales representative at the time about potentially purchasing another 15 desktop licences and I asked if we could be put in touch with other customers / airlines to share experiences and help with our business case and being told in no uncertain terms that if I buy the licences they will put me in touch, otherwise I am wasting their time!

I really was not feeling enamored with these Tableau folks.

However over the next week or so, something strange happened.  I started to fall in love with Tableau.  Compared with Omniscope it felt modern.  It was fast.  I could iterate and try and fail and try again.  I had another conversation with Tom Brown, the founder of The Information Lab.  he came in and we agreed to run a two day training course for our new users and we purchased the additional licences.  I discovered his passion for Tableau and the Information Lab’s journey and was also impressed by his teams skill and ability to support us.

At the same time, easyJet was embarking on its BI journey.  My boss was in charge as it was deliberately a Finance led and not IT led initiative.  I was asked to be full time on it and manage the project.  We partnered with Deloitte to help us with this and I also spent time with Gartner, using their research to help up develop our Centre of Excellence, show us how to deliver self service BI and also to define what the Analyst of Tomorrow should look like.

Here is a Prezi which I presented at the internal Tableau Sales Kick Off in 2014.  The audience looked like this –


Click on the image below to go into the Prezi




As you can see, we covered a lot more than just Tableau, developing a colour palette as well as visualisation standards and best practices, as well as what would be different for our analysts and how they will evolve in the future – all of which I will cover in a later blog post.

The team developed and we had nearly 80 desktop users, a 16 core server and thousands of users.  Our CoE was regarded by peers and people in the know as being one of the best in the world.

Another area which helped with this was leading the London Tableau User Group alongside Paul Banoub and Nick Bignell.  This increased my presence in the community as we often fill 150-200 seat venues with a similar number of people on our wait lists.  We have hosted two #datapluswomen sessions, had industry renowned speakers as well as senior employees of Tableau themselves presenting, including Elissa Fink and Francois Ajenstat.

I use Twitter as my primary tool to learn new things in Tableau as well as the data visualisation sphere.  This has also helped to increase my presence within the community.

At the turn of this year, the easyJet CoE was doing a great job and launching some fantastic new Tableau dashboards.  We had some changes though.  Our long term Head of BI had moved on and due to budget constraints was not directly replaced however our recently created Head of Data Science took over.

I had been thinking about a change of role around the same time.  My daily commute took four hours, I had a very energetic (who doesn’t) two year old daughter, and these combined didn’t really go well together.

My CV was old, like six years old as I had not changed it or Linkedin since I joined easyJet, so I subtly made adjustments to it and put the word out to a few influential people in the BI community that I might be available for the right role, should it come up.

When adjusting my CV, I wanted to change it from a standard text document to something more vibrant and creative which could demonstrate some of the work my team and I had achieved.

I looked on CV sites for guidance and settled on hloom and specifically their creative and portfolio templates.  Originally designed for photographers, I thought that would be perfect to showcase my Tableau work.

The next few months were a bit of a whirlwind to be honest.  During this process there was only one role which I spotted online and actually applied for – this was with a leading technology company and I had two interviews which went really well, before they decided to withdraw the role due to a change of direction.

Through word of mouth and introductions from the BI community I had several discussions with companies about potential roles they either had, or wanted to create following our discussions and a standard presentation I give on the work that my team had done and how every company could benefit from this BI focus.

I even had a discussion with the retailer where my career began!

In the end, I had four firm offers for roles on the table, all from meetings and general chats and discussions.  Not all of them had formal interviews.  It was a very surreal process.  One was from a prominent retailer, another from a property company, a third from an airline and a fourth from the Organisation I am now working for.

The roles were varied and at the time, newly created and unadvertised.  I found that my reputation and previous work had gone a long way to convincing companies of the need to improve their BI offering, which my presentations and discussions only further cemented.  The roles ranged from Centre of Excellent Manager, to Head of BI, to Head of Insights and Global Director of Business Intelligence.

During our conversations, I felt that even for the companies I turned down roles with, their BI journey’s would be enhanced as I offered suggestions and partnerships to help drive them forwards, which I know at least two have carried on with.

The role I took came about via a strange course, and originated with an email to Tableau from my predecessor, asking ‘can you put me in touch with someone in the London / UK market for sourcing a Tableau Rockstar that we could secure for a leadership position’


This found its way to Tom Brown with a little more detail and was forwarded to me.  At the time, I was a long way down the road in discussions with one of the other companies, but the location and a few conversations about the journey and team convinced me this was the right role for me.

I was leaving a role and company I loved and jumping into an exciting unknown, however the role was fantastic and everything I had done before had led to the perfect timing of this becoming available.

I have now been here four months.  Initially working hard creating a sense of teamwork as the team themselves are virtual, based across five Countries and six timezones.

The team is split across five distinct areas –


So can Tableau change your life?  Absolutely.  For me, it has been career changing, improved my salary and provided opportunities that I could only dream of when I started out pushing trolleys.  I have made some great lifelong friends and really enjoy getting out of bed and going to work in the morning.

If you want to grow into a larger role or spread your wings, now is the time.  Look at all the things you currently do in your role which you or your leadership sees as ‘business as usual’, and step back to think about how other companies would bite your arm off to implement them.  Think about your Tableau and BI journey and where you are compared to most other companies.

To help yourself, work on your public profile.  Write a blog.  Present at conferences.  Build a great supportive network.  Become involved in your local user groups.  Learn the tools. Articulate the best practices you are using without compromising proprietary information. Be innovative with your CV and confident in your abilities.

Over the next few years, more and more companies are going to be looking for people like you to build and delivery their BI propositions.  Take a look at the skills gap the Data School is current filling, then realise Tableau really can change your life too.