We love facing a challenge at InterWorks, whether it’s in the data we’re working with or a heated ping pong match. So, when I was consulting with a particularly design-focused client, I was excited for the possibility of a challenge.
The client in question has a design focus that is evident in the products they make for their external customers. I quickly learned this design focus carries over to reports they distribute internally, even though they never make it to the outside world. In all aspects, they wanted the very best for their company. And who wouldn’t? Enter InterWorks.
I was among a select group of consultants at InterWorks that knew the ins and outs of Tableau Server and the API capabilities necessary to build a custom portal. When I initially set out to build a custom portal for this client about four years ago, I had no idea it would inspire a whole new framework of services offered at InterWorks.
If you fast-forward to today, there are over 20 different portals that have been implemented for different divisions within this one client. The importance can’t be overstated when looking at how far we’ve come in just four years. Each division of the organization wanted their own branding and we incorporated it into their portals.
There was a lot of flexibility afforded to the look and feel for each of their frameworks. As word started spreading to other InterWorks clients, we realized we needed to put an official name to what we were creating. Thus, Portals for Tableau were born. In addition to the personal branding capabilities, clients also love the ability to export their key reports into common formats such as PDF, PNG, PPT and CSV.
DIY Tableau Portals
Now that the client had a customized display in place for their Tableau reports, they wanted to be certain these reports were efficiently distributed to the right places on Tableau Server. They had previously written and maintained a script to move their workbooks to different locations on Tableau Server. However, there were a lot of limitations with this process and tons of room available for error. Those limitations were often due to the script’s constant need for updates in order to accommodate for changes in the workbook XML, which happens each time Tableau releases a new software version.
Above: A sample homepage for one of the InterWorks Portals.
Anytime Tableau Server was upgraded, they had to switch out the version of Tabcmd because the custom script relied on that utility. To allow the necessary amount of time needed for updates, my team had to start planning for everything several weeks in advance. The script also ran on a single server, creating another unnecessary complication. This meant someone had to access the server remotely to run the script. This was quite a hassle considering how it needed to run on a regular basis.
Deployment to the Rescue
The need for a more robust Tableau deployment solution was clearly growing as an emphasis on separate server environments increased. They needed to have an environment for building out their workbooks, an environment for testing refreshed data and an environment that utilized the production data. In order to double and triple check everything, there really was only one acceptable approach moving forward. I realized more and more that there was no way to scale everything if they continued relying on scripts. I figured it was time to start exploring Power Tools: Deployment.
I began setting up sample deployment plans. It wasn’t long until we were able to completely replace the functions performed by the script. Beyond the migration itself, Power Tools: Deployment was able to help out with these critical steps in the process:
- Change out the data sources for the appropriate destination environment on Tableau Server
- Switch parameters to new values for Development / Staging / Production environments
- Send messages out before and after the deployment to notify the appropriate people
- Standard documentation of all details that took place during each deployment
- Automatic archiving of previous deployments to a designated project on Tableau Server
- Ability to kick off deployments from specific portal sites once the tools were integrated
The client had portals for each new server environment and a tool that could automatically move Tableau workbooks into those server environments. With this change in place, they had confidence that the quality would not suffer as they were scaling their use of Tableau.
Cause and Effect
This new one-two punch for consuming Tableau reports not only helped address pressing needs, but it also resulted in a rapid increase in user adoption. Almost immediately, different divisions within the client company experienced this newfound efficiency and positive results.
It’s little wonder that requests for new portal sites started streaming in. Ultimately, the consumption of Tableau reports went way up across the entire organization, and that’s exactly the result we like when faced with a challenge.