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Brock University's use of Tableau Desktop

Brock University's use of Tableau Desktop

Author: Joyce Bott

Created in preparation for the panel presentation on "Data Visualization Tools used in Higher Education" (CUPA Conference 2016): A panel of CUPA colleagues will showcase the progress made using a variety of software tools to improve the deliveray of data to campus audiences, making dat more useful, accessible, and easily understood.  The panel will show case the advantages and limitations of each tool, and will highlight before and after examples of data reporting for a variety of purposed.

Panel Presentations include:

1. University of Waterloo - How Waterloo uses Tableau Server for data visualization
2. Brock University - How Brock uses a single license of Tableau Desktop for data visualization
3. York University - How York uses R for data visualization

The Council on University Planning and Analysis (CUPA) provides leadership on matters related to universities’ planning and analysis functions. 
Joyce Bott is the Interim Manager in the Office of Institutional Analysis and Planning at Brock University.

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Brock University: Background Information

  • Established in 1964
  • Main campus located in St. Catharines, Niagara Region
  • Comprehensive University offering Bachelors, Masters and PhD level programs
  • 2015/16 Fall Headcount: 18,462 students
  • Office of Institutional Analysis and Planning: 1 Interim Manager (and 1 co-op student)

Why Tableau Desktop?

  • Small IR office = big advocate for self-serve data systems.
  • Wanted a place on our IR website where people could go to see all the reports readily available and help themselves to the data for their department without having to wait for assistance from IR.  If the reports didn't answer data needs, data request could then be submitted to IR.
  • AIR conference in Orlando (May 2014) had many sessions that featured Tableau as a Data visualization tool and drew lots of people. 
  • Tableau was appealing for many reasons: 1) Tableau Desktop is reasonably priced ($1300 one time fee, $300 annual maintenance fee); 2) producing a dashboard and publishing to the web is relatively easy and can be done in minutes; 3) Tableau Desktop is a stand-alone solution (no need to ask for IT for assistance or rely on other software); 4) Tableau makes data blending from multiple data sources around campus very easy (enrollment systems, graduation databases, survey data, course information, HR information and more.
  • Purchased Tableau Desktop in August 2014 - First dashboard posted was the Headcount Enrollment Report:

Data Visualization of Other Common IR Reports

Using Tableau to Answer other Requests Where there is a Lack of Data

Using Survey Data to Answer Other Data Requests:

Limitations of Tableau Desktop

Data Security - If you only have Tableau Desktop and do not have Tableau Server or Tableau Cloud (which requires people to authenticate and have assigned permissions for what they can access), you are limited to sharing dashboards and data visualizations in the following ways:

  • Publish the dashboard to Tableau Public, but with no required authentication (data can be downloaded by the public). 
  • Send the saved Tableau Workbook to someone who has Tableau Reader installed on their computer (Tableau Reader can be downloaded for free).
  • Export Dashboards to PDF or Excel (but this turns it into a static report)

Next Steps: Using Microsoft's Power BI Desktop for Internal Data Visualizations on Sharepoint

Brock University just launched Office 365 Enterprise for all staff and faculty, which includes the Power BI service. Power BI integrates nicely with SharePoint and makes it relatively easy to publish to internal SharePoint pages. 

Tableau will continue to be used for Brock's public dashboards. Power BI will be use for Brock's internal dashboards which require more security.

Pro's of Power BI Desktop:

  • Power BI Desktop can be downloaded for free
  • It is basically the equivalent of using Power Query, Power Pivot, Power View and Power Map Add-ins in Excel, but Power BI desktop is a standalone package completely independent of Excel
  • Great for testing model design and mashing data together to create reports and data visualizations
  • Data visualization alternative to Tableau especially if your organization already has Office 365.
  • Data security - Dashboards links can only be shared with fellow Office 365 users or Power BI Service users. 
  • Publish to web capability - Dashboards created in Power BI desktop can be published to Power BI service which can then be published to a public webpage (if desired) or a or posted internally on your organization's SharePoint site.
  • General steps for Publishing to web: Create your data viz in Power Bi on the Publish button (to publish to the Power BI Service...log into your Power BI account (can get a free account if you use a business email)...look for your data viz in the Power BI Reports section...File...Publish to web...copy and paste the HTML code into your public website/blog or SharePoint site.


  • No ability to print or export to PDF directly from Power BI Desktop...must publish to Power BI service through your Office 365 account or through your Power BI service account and print from there. However, if you don't have and Office 365 account, you can sign up for a free Power BI service account as long as you use a company email address (free account is limited to 1 GB of storage).
  • Dashboards and reports can only be shared with fellow Office 365 users within your organization, or Power BI Service users. You can actually share dashboards and reports with Power BI Service users outside your organization but they will have limited privileges. There is no sharing capability within Power BI desktop alone. 
  • Learning curve for creating beautiful data visualizations is greater than in Tableau Desktop (not as intuitive).