Visualizing Big Data: The Next Competitive Advantage

“Data is the biggest thing to hit the industry since the PC was invented by Steve Jobs. The PC changed the world, now the Data movement is doing the same. I would argue on the same scale. The idea of Big Data is creating a new industry and disrupting all others.” -John Furrier, Forbes

At Avalon we see the future of data analytics, and have been investigating a product called Tableau. Tableau offers a free version of their data visualization software. The install is relatively small 54 Mb, and is quite painless to get up and running on Windows 7. Tableau has a number of well spoken training videos and other documentation online. They even have some sample data sets for us to download and play with.

I wanted to try some data from outside the training sessions, and happened to find’s listing for the Consumer Expenditure Survey:

The Consumer Expenditure Survey (CE) program consists of two surveys, the Quarterly Interview Survey and the Diary Survey, that provide information on the buying habits of American consumers, including data on their expenditures, income, and consumer unit (families and single consumers) characteristics. The survey data are collected for the Bureau of Labor Statistics by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Data Link (Most recent multi-year table)

What I did:

  • Open xls file in excel, remove comments and extra spaces
  • Remove any empty/null rows
  • Cleared Excess formatting, like dollar symbols
  • Changed formatted fields as appropriate for data type (Ie. change string view of a number to a Number Format type in Excel)
  • Changed Year fields to proper date format 01/01/2013
  • Reformatted the excel table, to unpivot the data

The first row of the worksheet should be column headers, each subsequent row should be a single item’s data in as simple a format as possible. Multiple pieces of data that can be split into multiple columns should be split out.

The “publish to web” link from within the tableau downloaded software did not allow me to create a user account, so I created a tableau public account here, and published the following visualization:

This visualization was created using Tableau, and information from the U.S.  Bureau of Labor Statistics

This visualization was created using Tableau, and information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


Abraham Becker is a Senior Consultant at Avalon Consulting LLC

About beckera


  1. Incidentally, the White House CIO published a blog article called “Landmark Steps to Liberate Open Data” ( on 05/09/2013.

    This article references – a very easy and fun data set to use in Tableau, for those looking to experiment!


Leave a Comment