An Open Letter to Tableau Software: You Need to Support the Ability to Create Documents

It happened again this week. I have internal business partners who are eager to move from tools like Excel, Power BI, and SSRS to Tableau Desktop. But, again, I would have a hard time doing so because the functionality they need is not currently natively supported by your product.

What they want is the ability to create a text (or grid) report in Tableau (interactive or exported) that has headers and footers including page numbers (e.g., Page 1 of 12), page breaks before or after a particular subsection (or collapsible subsections interactively), dynamically show the name of the dimension in the sub-total or grand total row name (e.g., Budget & Finance Department Total), and also be able to print this report pixel-perfect as a PDF.

And I need to be able to do this seamlessly as part of the functionality of the product!

This is not something new I am bringing up. If you do a Google search on “Tableau page break on subsections,” you will see dozens of people trying to find the Holy Grail answer of how to do this in Tableau. These questions have been floating around the Tableau community for over 6 years! Many people over the years have offered workarounds that kinda help, but don’t really completely solve this problem. There are many different Ideas that have been opened on the Tableau Forum. Some date back to version 7.0 of Tableau Desktop.

I know a lot of Tableau purists may argue that we should just use Excel or SSRS to do what I am asking, but that really does not solve the issue. Many of us have been chosen to champion Tableau in our business community. Telling our business partners to go use another tool does not help us bring people into our internal Tableau communities. For you folks that sell Tableau Desktop licenses and consulting services for a living, this is a great opportunity for you to increase the number of licenses and consulting engagements you sell. If this capability existed today, I could increase the number of licenses we have purchased internally fourfold.

In the interim, I have been doing all kinds of tricks and gyrations to have Tableau create business reports such as Financial Reports, Budget Reports, Procurement Reports, etc. Some of these gyrations include creating the report sections in Tableau, and then merging them together, adding page numbers and other information in the footers, etc. using Adobe Acrobat. I should not have to use two tools to achieve what was something I was able to do simply in my old MicroStrategy and Cognos days in one tool.

I realize your focus is great data visualization, data mining, and the ability to do deeper analytics. But, until I can bring people into the Tableau fold first, I cannot do this. I realize bringing in these non-data visualization features goes against the grain of what Tableau’s primary mission is. But, you faced controversy before when you incorporated pie charts into version 9.0 of Tableau Desktop. Granted many people were critical of you doing this (see Stephen Few review of Tableau Desktop v9.0), but it turned out for the best, it probably brought in clients you might have not been able to otherwise, and people have even used pie charts as marks on their spatial maps.

I have discussed this with other leaders in large Fortune 100 companies. They have these same pain points in their organizations too. They say the same thing I say: If I was able to get their current Excel, SSRS, Power BI reports over into Tableau, then I would be able to begin showing them the benefits of using data visualizations for interactive dashboards, infographics, data mining, trend analysis, year-over-year growth, etc. But, if I cannot bring them over to Tableau, I am stuck. They end up creating key business reports in Excel to show senior leadership. When budget time rolls around and I ask for additional money to purchase more Tableau licenses, they say, “Well, it looks like you are doing fine using Excel. And Tableau does not support some of the functionality needed. Why do you need to buy more Tableau licenses?”

So, the ball is in your court. You are leaving many of us behind, who are loyal diehard believers in Tableau, who could otherwise be growing our Tableau initiatives with a few additions to the product. Not every organization needs to create beautiful data visualizations from day one. We need to be able to crawl before we can walk. But once we can walk, baby, we will really start running.

Please help us, Tableau Software. You are our only hope.

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