Unboxing Tableau Prep 2018.1

A year and a half after the first demo of Project Maestro, Tableau has finally released his latest product: Tableau Prep.

Tableau Prep is positioned as a standalone tool to “combine, shape, and clean data for analysis”. That puts Tableau Prep squarely in the same category as Alteryx, whose core functionality is data prep. The twist with the launch of Tableau Prep is the pricing strategy: it looks like Prep is bundled with existing Tableau Desktop & Server licenses and subscriptions.

Why is Tableau bundling a separate product for essentially free? Why not incorporating the Prep features into the core Tableau Desktop experience, if Prep is not intended to generate a new line of revenue? My pure speculation is that at that stage, Prep as a V1 is not ready to stand on his own, and is still too weak to prevail in competitive situation. It will eventually mature into a solution worth paying for, but today, it is still too limited. I have been kicking the tires and will share my first impressions and hopefully justify my assessment.

First impression of Tableau Prep is that, that product firmly belongs to the Tableau software family. It looks very polished, has a slick minimalist interface, which looks derived from the Data Source screen of Tableau Desktop.

The few functions offered are also highly polished, with a user experience reaching the high level of expectations set by Tableau UI. For instance, here is the screen to design and maintain a join:
With only one click on the mouse on the Join Type, user can not only set the type of Join, but also see immediately the results. Try to beat that efficiency with a coding type of interface! Even the best context-sensitive code completion engines can’t touch that…

Unions Aggregates and Pivot steps also benefit from that slick interface which offers almost instant visualization of the results. It is a blessing for analysts who are expected to be familiar with the quality of their data source and can assess their progress in almost real time. Nevertheless, I would argue that that UI was table stake for the product.

Here is an illustration of that well polished UI with the Clean Feature:
That is elegant, efficient, intuitive and covers 80% of the needs, no  Regex required. Hopefully there will soon be the addition of custom rules, with Regex or simplified.

Another positively distinctive feature came to me as a surprise: Tableau Prep accepts TDEs as input data source. I have come across that need only once in the past, and I wished then I had that feature in Alteryx, but really, I have been living fine without it. Nice to have, I guess.

Now on the negative side, I chuckled in disbelief quite a few times playing with Tableau Prep. The elephant in the room are the connections to source systems:

Tableau Desktop:

That is only half of the source systems available in Tableau Desktop since you can scroll down

Tableau Prep:

That is it! Anyone can hear the echo? That is ridiculously limited… I have nothing against Denodo and Kognitio, whatever that is, but come on, I miss dearly Salesforce, Snowflake, JSON… And since there is not even a ODBC connector, you cannot even hope to build your own connector. Show stopper for me, right here…

Talking about source systems, there is no Initial SQL capability either, that is rough when you are a Tableau Desktop user…

The Pivot tool is also well done and executed, but why not provide its Transpose counterpart?

Another huge miss is the lack of a scheduler… It is all nice and well to be able to prep data, but refreshing the data is half of it… If I cannot schedule those runs, I waste my time.. And I am not the only one, this is the MOST requested feature by far if you look at Ideas for Prep. It kinda beats me that a V1 would not have that feature…

Overall, my assessment is that Tableau Prep is a V1 with the negative connotations implied, like a Apple or Microsoft V1 product: you don’t want to adopt it, nor rely on it. That is probably why it is close to be free so far.

V2 is promising though, let us hope it will arrive soon! In the meantime, Alteryx and other data prep players have plenty of runway, and a new source of inspiration to polish their own solution, which is all good for the analysts!

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