What Is Tableau? Features, Use Cases, and More

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Tableau is an analytics tool used to visualize data. Learn more about Tableau products, professional uses, and potential jobs that use the platform.

[Featured Image] A data analyst uses Tableau software in the office.

Tableau is an analytics tool that can help you visualize large quantities of data. It is a business intelligence (BI) platform that processes large amounts of raw data and transforms it into visual form to organize and analyze. As such, it can help you make strategic decisions about products or predict future performance based on current performance.

Tableau’s uses and functions

Tableau organizes different types of data covering a variety of topics into visual formats to make it easier to explain and analyze. Individuals and businesses use Tableau to understand data and make decisions.

The tool includes several different products, such as data analytics visualization with desktop and web versions, as well as server and cloud services. These services require a license and fees to use, but public and reader versions are available for free.

Tableau features

Tableau has several features that make it a good option if you need a data visualization tool. When deciding if Tableau is suitable for your project or organization, consider the following features: 

  • Charts: With Tableau, you can organize your data into various visual formats, which Tableau calls charts, although they include graphs, maps, tabular formats, and diagrams. Tableau charts include pie charts, bar charts, line charts, scatterplots, histograms, bullet graphs, packed bubble charts, box and whisker plots, and treemaps.

  • Data blending: Seamlessly pull data from different sources into one project with data blending. This feature allows you to compare different data sets to find potential answers to questions or help you better understand case queries.

  • Sharing and collaboration: You can use products like Tableau Server and Tableau Cloud to collaborate on projects with co-workers or other parties pulling from the same data. You can also share what you've created via Tableau Public.

  • Augmented analytics: This feature uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to contextualize data and make it more accessible for users. For example, you can ask it questions using natural language to get answers or have it create easy stories to explain your data.

Types of Tableau products

Tableau has several different products that you can use individually or together. They can help you visualize information for organizations, customers, or other end users. Here are some of Tableau's products you can choose from to analyze, share, and make sense of data: 


Tableau Cloud allows organizations and customers to put their data and visualization on a cloud server that is accessed remotely. This allows you to collaborate without relying on on-site servers for your company. You also get real-time updates and upgrades. It also integrates with other cloud-based tools like Google Analytics and Salesforce, the latter of which acquired Tableau in 2019.


Tableau Desktop allows you to operate Tableau’s functionality from your desktop rather than a server or cloud version of the software. You can download a paid version of Tableau on your desktop to analyze data from your own computer system. and then share your data reports, graphs, maps, and other visualizations with others through Tableau Cloud, Tableau Server, or Tableau Public.


Companies and organizations with in-house computer infrastructure may want to consider Tableau Server. This version of Tableau is similar to the cloud version, but the software and data are housed on a server that your organization controls rather than cloud-based operations. This version gives you more information control, especially if you have strict data security issues or compliance guidelines. 


It’s important to have your data digestible for Tableau to understand before it begins to sort, organize, and visualize your data. Tableau Prep is an ETL tool, meaning it allows you to extract, transform, and load data in a clean way to prepare it for visualization. Using an ETL tool like Tableau Prep will make your data more manageable for Tableau’s other features.

Data management

One key feature of Tableau is its ability to use data from different sources and pull different data sets together. Tableau Data Management can keep all of this information organized. It catalogs the information so you and those you collaborate with can easily find it.

Additional options

Not all users need Tableau’s enterprise options. Fortunately, two free options are available for users. Tableau Public lets you share data publicly with others or practice your skills as a Tableau user.

Tableau Reader allows you to work with data in Tableau with a desktop application. Reader is a bare-bones version of Tableau that lets you visualize data using data files on your desktop. Like Tableau Public, it’s a useful way to interact with Tableau and learn about its features for free.

Who uses Tableau?

Tableau works in a variety of industries. Here are some examples of fields in which Tableau could help companies and organizations.

  • Manufacturing: Tableau can help manufacturers pinpoint specific steps along the supply chain to reduce loss of money and resources.

  • Health care: Data from multiple hospital locations or offices can help organizations distribute resources better. 

  • Retail: A company can break down the profitability of its retail spaces based on location, segment types, or specific products. It can also use Tableau’s maps to visualize specific physical areas or locations that see the most profit or need improvement.

How to get started in a career using Tableau

Tableau is often used by data scientists who use analytics tools to extract meaningful information from data. In this role, you’re responsible for determining which data is important to solve issues, collecting and analyzing data, and making recommendations to companies or organizations based on your data analysis.

Data scientists usually need a bachelor’s degree in computer science, mathematics, or a related field. A master’s or doctoral degree can also help you advance in your field.

Data scientists made a median annual pay of $103,500 in 2022, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Jobs in the field are expected to grow 35 percent from 2022 to 2032, far above the national average of 3 percent for all professions [1].

Getting started with Tableau on Coursera

Gain job-ready skills in as few as six months by earning a Google Data Analytics Professional Certificate on Coursera. This course is at a beginner level, so you don't need any prior experience to gain valuable data collection, analysis, cleansing, and visualization skills.

You can also learn more about Tableau to explore its uses in your career by checking out the Fundamentals of Visualization With Tableau course with the University of California Davis on Coursera. You'll discover the principles of Tableau Public workspace and get practice connecting to different data sources.

Additionally, learn how to apply Tableau to real-world cases with Analyze City Data Using R and Tableau with the University of Illinois on Coursera. The program is designed to help you understand how to visualize data using maps and data points with the software.

Article sources

  1.  US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Data scientists, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/math/data-scientists.htm#tab-1.” Accessed January 31, 2024.

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