Before I review the Anaplan Tableau integration and why this is important even if you don’t use Tableau, it is important to understand the underlying challenges of reporting off a propriety multi – dimensional “cube” based architecture; be it Anaplan, Cognos TM1, Essbase or Cognos Enterprise Planning (Adaytum). These challenges are ‘not new’, and date back to the earliest technologies in the 1990’s. The preferred and effectively required approach for any multi – dimensional tool is a proprietary data store, as each vendor develops an approach to store data that can be efficiently rendered to the end user in a cube format (data is not necessarily stored as a “cube”), and more importantly scale to support the inherent exponential growth of multi-dimensional cubes while maintaining performance. To achieve the multi-dimensional user experience, ensure scale and performance vendors rely on their intellectual property (‘patents’ – ‘Hyperblock’) and unique approaches to efficiently store data.
The first challenge of a proprietary data store is, since it is a ‘proprietary data store’ the data is not accessible or easily accessible with third party or open source tools. Typically a user must rely on the vendors reporting capabilities, vendor API’s or simply export the data. Since, for most vendors the data is stored in a structure to optimize the rendering to end users as a cube and maintain performance even if a third party or open source tool could access the proprietary data store directly the data is not in a format optimized for efficient reporting, thus requiring a restructuring of the data ‘outside of Anaplan’ to support reporting.
The second notable challenge is though most applications, including Anaplan maintain inherent relationships between cubes, you cannot with the vendor tools report off two or more cubes simultaneously (think database ‘joins’). If there are multiple cubes with the required data for reporting the options are to create a consolidation module within Anaplan (if your Workspace allows) or export each cube separately transforming the data outside of Anaplan in a third party tool (ie SQL Server, Birst) to support reporting requirements.
Since you can’t directly access the data in the proprietary data store Anaplan supports exports to .csv, .txt or Excel (.xls only). Anaplan’s API’s (Anaplan Connect) are robust and with some moderate scripting skills you can easily automate exports, that can then be imported into a third party tool (i.e. SQL or Birst) to support reporting requirements.
The Anaplan / Tableau integration is all Tableau side, meaning there really isn’t anything you do in Anaplan other than create an Anaplan Export Action and establish Anaplan Security Access to that Anaplan Export Action(s) for Tableau Developers. From Tableau, first you establish Anaplan as a Tableau Data Source then you are prompted to login to Anaplan using your Anaplan username and password. Once logged in, based on your Security Access Tableau will display the available Anaplan Export Actions, select the appropriate Anaplan Export Action and Tableau will ‘Run’ the Anaplan Export Action and import the data into Tableau for Tableau Visualization and Report Development.
Since Tableau is ‘Running’ the Anaplan Export Action, if the Anaplan Export Action typically takes 5 minutes to complete in Anaplan expect the process to take at least 5 minutes within Tableau. An Anaplan Export Action exports the data to Tableau from the Anaplan module ‘at that point in time’, meaning this is not a real time integration / connection. If you need to refresh the data in Tableau from Anaplan you need to prompt Tableau to ‘run’ the export action.
Since this integration is based on an Anaplan Export Action which can only export data from a single module you will need to consider and design an efficient approach to either ‘consolidate’ data from multiple modules to a single module in Anaplan for export or rely on Tableau functionality to ‘join’ multiple Anaplan Exports.
In early 2015 I wrote a blog on behalf of several Anaplan clients interested in leveraging a 3rd Party Reporting Application to support Anaplan’s Reporting “GAPS”, particularly related to reporting on ‘sparse’ data, reports requiring data from multiple modules (cubes) and financial reporting. Many of the same issues Anaplan is attempting to address with the Tableau integration.
At the time I proposed Birst (@Birst #Birst) as the solution, and still believe and recommend Birst as the best option for reporting off Anaplan because it provides a cloud to cloud solution, and if you need financial type reporting Birst is the only cloud based Visualization / Business Intelligence application with inherent financial intelligence. Additionally, Birst provides comprehensive data transformation and management capabilities to easily establish relationships between multiple Anaplan Modules for cross module reporting eliminating the need to build ‘consolidation’ modules in Anaplan that tend to be large, sparse modules consuming large amounts of Anaplan Workspace.
This is not a play store.