Tableau 2020.3 - Write to Database in Tableau Prep

This post is the fifth in a series of posts examining a whole host of game changing Tableau features that have been released in 2020. In the previous edition of this series we covered the 2020.2 feature, Relationships. In this post we will be diving into Writing to Database in Tableau Prep which was released in Tableau Prep 2020.2. Tableau Prep has  quietly been taking strides to make itself a dependable data manipulation tool, and this enhancement takes the recent progress and solidifies it. Let’s take a look at this new feature!

What is Writing to a Database?

It is well known that Tableau Prep offers a lot of great capabilities for data manipulation that is especially useful for analysts who are working with Tableau on a daily basis. Basic joins, row level calculations, and naming corrections to fields and/or values are all things that Tableau Prep is great at handling, and those are things that come up often in an analyst’s job. 

Previously, those changes to the data were not allowed to be saved and stored in a way that would make those workflows a part of the permanent data strategy. That is, until now. Now that you are able to publish the result of your workflow to a database, you can then access that manipulated data from Tableau Desktop that way. Previously, the only way you could export that data was to make it a CSV or a HYPER file. Both of these data types were meant to be saved locally.  

The big take away is that publishing to a database will allow your Tableau Prep workflows to be considered as more than an ad hoc tool in your data process. 

How to Write to Database

Once you’re done manipulating your data in Tableau Prep, it’s time to save your data in some sort of output. Make sure to create an Output step at the end of your workflow and click on it. This will bring up the Output view. Under Save Output To there are a few options for the output formatting:

File - this option will allow you to save your output as a CSV or a HYPER file. This is the same capability that was included in previous versions of Tableau Prep. This will save your file locally where only you are able to access it (unless it's a SharePoint file)

Published Data Source - if you want others in your organization to be able to access your output, you are able to publish your data set as a Published data source to Tableau Server or Tableau Online. In the example below I have chosen to publish my workflow output to Tessellation's Tableau online instance.

Database table - being able to publish workflows to database tables is what really transforms Tableau Prep from a small time error fixing - basic join making - tool for analysts into a contender for being part of your broader data strategy. Choose your database type that you want to write to and then specify the name of the table and run your flow.

Although not a very complex new feature, writing flows to a database opens up a whole new set of possibilities for Tableau Prep. 

Strategies for This New Feature

Before this release, Tableau Prep had mostly been limited to one off use cases for analysts in dire need of some data manipulation, but it had not found it’s footing as part of most organization’s end to end solution. Now with the ability to write to a database, this could change. 

As a matter of best practice, data governance, and organizational efficiency, the data sets that you use in your reporting should be housed in a database. Most of you reading this are saying to yourselves, duh, but now that you are able to do this in Tableau Prep, it might be worth checking out some of it’s features to see if you can make more use of the tool. 

It could be time to move some more data transformation work from external partners into your own team bringing more of the end to end process under your control. With Tableau Conductor you are able to schedule your workflow runs, so this could enable some serious analytics power for your team. 

The most important thing to realize about this release is the possibilities it opens up in terms of the data transformation space. It could also be a signal that perhaps Tableau is planning to really invest in this space to make Tableau Prep a viable solution for large scale organizations. Up until now, it hasn’t been, but perhaps this will be changing. I am definitely looking forward to seeing how Tableau Prep evolves moving forward. 

Thanks so much for reading! If you have any comments, suggestions, or feedback make sure to email me at spencer.baucke@tessellationconsulting.com.

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