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  • Writer's pictureSimon Beaumont

Using tags to personalise content

Every time I share our use of Tableau within Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust the one thing people always say is how innovative our use of tags is; so I thought I should get on and write a blog post about it to and hopefully allow more of our amazing Tableau community to benefit from it.


So what is it we do and why is it so innovative?

Well to start I don't think it is that innovative! It isn't an amazing visualisation, it isn't a level of detail calculation (although we use them a lot), it is actually our approach to our Tableau Server environment. Where possible we try and personalise people's experience of using Tableau so they truly connect with the data and see Tableau as theirs, not something owned by IT or imposed on them by the organisation.


The first way we achieve this is when a Tableau user logs on to our Tableau server (I will be doing more blog posts to share the other ways in which we personalise people's experience).

We have structured our server environment in a way to try and remove organisational boundaries; we have deliberately allowed any user the ability to see anyone else's data; encouraging users to connect and learn from each other; after all a visualisation is at its best when it prompts a 1,000 questions rather than imposing 1 answer. The disadvantage of this approach is that our Tableau users have access to over 200 visualisations and this can be overwhelming when first logging on to Tableau server.

Our solution to this challenge has been to apply a structured set of tags to every workbook; allowing a user to filter by theme of the workbook, source system of the underlying data or organisational hierarchy that the data relates to. For example if a Tableau users works in Clinical Division A  they can filter by the Division and see all content relevant to that Division, likewise a user can filter by their individual Service Line (equivalent of a Department) or they can filter by theme such as HR, Finance, Governance or Clinical data.

By taking a structured approach to tags we have effectively allowed people to personalise their Tableau content, filtering out any content that is not relevant to them.

That is not all though, the real power comes when combining the use of tags with the 'Make it my start page' option on Tableau server. We encourage all of our users to select a tag (usually their Service Line or Division) and then click 'Make it my start page' so every time they log in to Tableau the content is automatically personalised to their role.

Why not just use favourites?

We did originally start off by encouraging everyone to mark workbooks as a favourite and then selecting the 'Only my favourites' option, however this approach has one big disadvantage.

When new content is added to Tableau Server, and we do a release every 2 weeks, a Tableau user wouldn't necessarily see the new content if they have 'Only my favourites' ticked as they wouldn't have necessarily had the chance to favourite a new report if they were unaware the new content was available to them.

By using tags and 'Make it my start page' a Tableau user is automatically ensuring they do not miss out any new content that is relevant to their role.


Achieving success with the above approach is simple from a technical perspective, adding a tag to a workbook is easy! The tips I would give to everyone would be to structure your use of tags up front: 

  • Think about what is the purpose of the tag you are trying to apply?

  • Ensure tags are labelled consistently. I was amazed at how quickly tags became a mess without some light touch governance or change management in place, for instance one analyst may upload a workbook with a HR tag applied whilst another analyst may upload another similar report with a Workforce tag applied. Unless the tags are consistent you may as well not bother as the tags wont help users personalise the content unless they are confident in the tags they are selecting.

  • Create a Tableau tags matrix; we did this as a simple Excel table (although you could also do this as a Tableau data source and visualisation!), listing all the tags, grouped by theme as columns and then all the workbook as rows. When a new workbook gets created the analysts add this as a new row and then tick all the applicable tags prior to publishing the workbook. They then know what tags to apply when the workbook is published to Tableau server.

Of course the one thing that would make this approach even better would be to allow Tableau users the ability to select multiple tags on Tableau Server;  I am hoping one of the lovely Seattle developers reads that suggestion!


Our users really enjoy this approach to personalising Tableau for them, it makes them feel like Tableau is built around their needs and more importantly it is easy and intuitive for them to use.

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