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Analysis

New Vision for BI
Dave Waddington By: Dr Dave Waddington, Senior VP and Head of Research, The Information Difference
Published: 30th July 2008
Copyright The Information Difference © 2008
Logo for The Information Difference

Tableau Software announced last week the coming availability of a new release of their visual analysis suite Tableau 4.0 at their first customer conference in Seattle.

Tableau Software, a privately owned software company based in Seattle, was founded in 2003 with the goal to help people to see and understand the information in databases. The foundation for what lies behind the strong visualization focus of Tableau originated at Stanford where a small team led by Dr. Chris Stolte and advised by Prof. Pat Hanrahan developed essentially the first product.

The key objective of Tableau is to produce BI software which can truly be used by anyone, whether business analyst or executive, to explore data in a highly visual and intuitive fashion. In May 2008 they received the CODiE Award for the Best Business Intelligence Solution from their peers in the software industry. To date Tableau claims in excess of 10,000 users worldwide. Against the background of a struggling BI market they continue to exhibit very impressive growth.

True to the theme of making BI software usable by anyone who needs to make decisions based on data, Tableau 4.0 sports some impressive new features. It has certainly moved on significantly since I first encountered their product as a “front end” to the Hyperion software suite.

The company has made enhancements in this release in three key BI areas. First, Tableau 4.0 takes visualization a step further by making it easy for users to answer “where?” questions. Business users can create meaningful analytic maps that they can interact with without the need to understand the complexities of mapping technologies.

Secondly, this release, amongst a host of other new features, also introduces a novel improvement in usability with “visual cues” in the drag-and-drop interface that help users to see what to do and what will result. This further strengthens their visual data discovery and exploration paradigm and makes the tool more intuitive for users.

Finally the introduction of Tableau Server 4.0, making it possible to share interactive analytics or dashboards with anyone with a web browser, is a very powerful and welcome extension. The web-based user can customize and personalize their data views and easily share this information with colleagues. This step, in particular, moves Tableau from just a desktop bound data visualization tool to potentially an enterprise BI solution.

Reading this you might be forgiven for believing that I’m a convert on the road to Damascus. Alas, not so. I am genuinely impressed by Tableau as a BI tool. My concern is that giving easy access to data and databases to people who most often do not fully understand the underlying data relationships, definitions and business rules can and (alas) all too often does lead to misinterpretation of data and incorrect decisions. I recently discussed this in my paper BI: The Inconvenient Truth in which I underlined the importance of making sure that the BI tool giving access to data had a solid foundation behind it. This is of course true for all BI tools, not just Tableau. Indeed, in the right hands Tableau can be very effectively used as a tool to help reveal inconsistencies in data.

That said, Tableau Software should rightly be applauded for taking BI software to a new level. I would have no hesitation in recommending any current or prospective new user seeking a BI tool to look seriously at Tableau.

Both products (Tableau Desktop 4.0 and Tableau Server 4.0) are scheduled for general availability release in early August.

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