Burger Consulting, recently frustrated with the limitations of Excel and PowerPoint graphing capability, researched and found a program called Tableau. The program has one function and one function only, building good-looking and informative graphs of may different kinds. The data can come from Excel spreadsheets or databases like SQL or Oracle. Tableau then looks at the data and gives the user flexibility to build the graphs dynamically with column headers and other dimensions.
Rather than cover all the cool features you can read about on their website www.tableausoftware.com, suffice to say, once you get the hang of it, you will realize how basic Microsoft capabilities are in this area. That being said, the program does take a little getting used to. Some of their conventions are not very intuitive. You can however, go from the very basic to the very complex. Once you have a graph you like, you can take a snapshot of it and paste it into a Word document or other publication.
The other outcome of using this program is a better understanding of the “data cube“ concept. That term is often tossed about in demonstrations but perhaps only well understood by those who work in pivot tables.
And you might ask “who cares about better graphs“. Well, graphs tend to point out trends or situations much quicker and more clearly than simply large tables of data. If a construction company were to try and analyze profitability by estimator, PM, job type, job size, geography, owner type and other metrics, it would certainly be possible to see the results in a table but the real story is strikingly evident when plotted in a graph with all of the data being considered.
The bonus is cost. Tableau comes in under $1,000 per seat, less as the number of seats goes up.