Tableau will showcase beta version 9.0 of its data visualization and analysis software to a large group of customers today, touting features that include drag-and-drop analytics as well as data-preparation features that formerly had to be done outside the application.

Customers were invited to a “virtual user group” meeting this afternoon to see the latest version, which has been in beta since mid-January.

Version 9.0 also features a new analytics tab making it easier to see and use data-analysis functions; a “data interpreter” designed to figure out where column headers and data begin in an Excel spreadsheet; and one-click smart splitting of data within a column, such as data in “month-year” format.

The data splitting does not require users to enter a field separator; instead, the software figures out what the likely separator characters are.

The goal, said Francois Ajenstat, Tableau’s vice president of product management, is to let customers “answer questions at interactive speed.” For example, while it is already possible to generate forecasts in existing versions of Tableau, the new drag-and-drop feature makes it easier — and also allows users to select an area of a visualization with forecast to get a forecast trend just for that data.

Work was done to speed performance as well as add new features.

One customer-sought function not yet implemented: dynamic parameters, which would allow options for a parameter to be defined based on a data source. In a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) session yesterday, Ajenstat responded: “We have been debating the use cases for dynamic parameters for a while. We wanted to understand what scenarios you needed Dynamic Parameters for. ”

Another user asked for easier migration of workbook and published data sources — “the primary ‘gotcha’ I see from an enterprise deployment perspective.”

“Yep, I hear you on that one,” Ajenstat responded. “We are going to make this easier in a future release. In the meantime, the REST API may provide a good interim solution.”

In response to another question, Ajenstat said that statistical tests will be coming to Tableau, although they are not in the current beta. “This year, we are likely to see stats objects that are composable in calculations, significant improvements to trendlines and forecasting, and possibly a surprise or two,” he said.

Other features that have been added to version 9.0:

  • Tableau will now read binary data files from SPSS, SAS and R.
  • The software supports Spark SQL, Amazon EMR and IBM BigInsights as data sources.
  • Users can now type in calculation formulas in addition to the drag-and-drop options, saving time particularly for data sets with many columns.
  • The application allows users to easily transpose data from wide to long, so that values spread across column headers can be pivoted to key-value pairs. This functionality was previously achieved with a Tableau add-in for Excel.
  • Tableau created a new interface for the Server (“internally called Vizportal) … where the developers took a look at every single screen and every single flow,” Ajenstat told Reddit users.

Tableau last month announced quarterly earnings almost four times higher than analyst forecasts, according to Barron’s, with more than 2,600 new customer accounts.