Boise State University Uses Tableau in Consulting Class for Rapid-Fire Data Analysis and Presentation


Boise State University’s Information Technology Management program offers relevant experiences that students can apply to real-world roles following graduation. Innovative courses such as ITM490, a capstone consulting course taught by Professor Rob Anson, are a core factor in preparing students for their future careers.

Working in small teams, students taking the course provide consulting services to four organizations in the greater Boise area, using Scrum project management methodology.
One consulting group began working with a nationwide distribution organization, which had a vast repository of operation and supply chain data.

Anson requested licenses for his students through the Tableau for Teaching program. Soon after, students soon began working with Tableau as a way to make sense of that data and create a set of KPIs and performance dashboards tracking the performance of regional distribution centers. The students began by interviewing people in operations and IT to get an idea of the data they’d be working with, and what types of metrics their clients wanted to see.

As they started to explore the data the client provided, the consulting team ran into challenges with the data itself.

“The overall dataset had millions of rows of data – things like packing costs, errors, numbers of orders, sales, cost of freight, things like that. Aggregates and raw transaction data were initially all thrown together. Unfortunately, at the same time my students were trying to work with the data, the IT department was designing and recreating the data warehouse and data marts. So the data structure kept changing,” says Anson.

For the final client checkpoint meeting to turn the project over to the client, there were about 18 people, including three VPs. It was huge for them. They wanted to take the student-created Tableau dashboard for operations and release it to managers after a few tweaks.

The team struggled to work with the changing data structures, but continued to push through the development of visual metrics to manage key aspects of the operations.

The turning point came about halfway through the semester, as some parts of the data and metrics started to stabilize. The team was able to present initial results with Tableau to their classmates on the other projects. “There were a couple of measures they showed that were absolutely brilliant – the entire class just went ‘whoa.’ We could see and feel how products were shipping out of each warehouse, and how sales were driving them,” says Anson. “The other groups not using Tableau started seeing the implications of what using Tableau could lead to.”

The team found Tableau’s intuitive, drag-and-drop interface easy to learn. One of the students noted that he was “able to be productive in Tableau even though I hadn’t worked in it before. I was able to create a Tableau view quickly.”

As the students continued working with the client’s data, they also realized the speed of Tableau. “They’d say, how do you want this data to look? They looked at the data from all the different angles and the best way to represent it, and were able to quickly redo the scales and legends and labels. Most of their analysis was around warehouses, so they’re looking at either all 15 warehouses for anomalies, or one particular warehouse and trends within it. It was so easy to manipulate the visualizations,” says Anson.

“For the final client checkpoint meeting to turn the project over to the client, there were about 18 people, including three VPs. It was huge for them. They wanted to take the student-created Tableau dashboard for operations and release it to managers after a few tweaks. They had also just hired another data analyst who would start editing it for other departments like marketing.”

Following the checkpoint, the client shared with Anson the next steps for the organization. “We are in the process of realigning the dashboard to connect directly to our internal data source. The dashboard will be published on Tableau Server and used by the business going forward. We plan to continue adding additional drilldown views and potentially additional metrics to the project.”

In addition to the warm client reception, the students found additional positive reception awaiting them at the end of the semester: one of the group members was offered a full-time job working with the client.

“One of the group was offered a full-time job working with the client,” says Anson. “I think they would have hired any of the students after the work that they did with Tableau!”

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