Last week I attended the Tableau Customer Conference in Las Vegas. I'm not going to tell you what I did in Vegas (because, as they say, what happens in Vegas ....). Instead, I thought I'd share my conference notes. Fascinating.
If you fancy yourself a data analyst, you probably know and love Tableau. It's like Excel on steroids. I've used the product off and on since 2006; although I'm not a power user at the moment, there are some pockets of great expertise within my company.
Given my background, I attended the conference with two main objectives: 1) meet analysts who are doing "cool stuff" with data, and 2) figure out where Tableau fits in the broader business intelligence ecosystem. Here's what I found out.
Analysts doing "cool stuff" with data
The show featured case studies from diverse industries, including:
- Intel, HR/staffing group
- Electronic Arts gaming product, operational efficiency and product development
- General Motors, supply chain
- DePaul University, admissions and enrollment
- Securities, real-time decision support for stock traders
Although the subject matter varied quite a bit from group to group, the common thread was a "do it yourself" approach to each initiative and an emphasis on self-service. Often the Tableau administrator was also the subject matter expert for the data at hand, and the output served their business group directly - no heavy process, no data warehousing middleman.
Tableau's position in the business intelligence ecosystem
- Grassroots. Tableau usage definitely seems to be more "grassroots" than "institutional" - analysts love to get quick access to their data, but it does lack the structure that many of us are used to seeing within traditional data warehousing.
- Decentralized. Deployment at some institutions is totally decentralized – groups will take it and use it when they have a need, as opposed to big, centrally-managed BI initiatives.
- Versus other BI tools. Tableau has not totally replaced tools like Microstrategy in most institutions. There's room for both types of tools. Some consider Tableau as a prototyping tool for dashboards that are later built in Microstrategy. I ran into a former colleague who serves as a Microstrategy administrator at a very large company. And yet, there he was at the Tableau conference. No irony. He sees them as complimentary products.
- Presentation. Some practitioners say that Tableau is actually changing the way that they interact with their executives – less static Powerpoint, more exploratory data sharing sessions.
- Beauty and the Beast. Tableau can produce some beautiful output, but there's no accounting for taste. If you create heinously ugly Excel charts, you will probably create only slightly less ugly Tableau output. Believe me, I saw it.
- Again, grassroots. I saw numerous examples of individual contributors leading the way, rather than centralized BI/DW groups. Broader corporate socialization about Tableau often bubbled up from groups that demonstrated success.
- Tableau leadership and tech teams – showcased new features in Tableau 7. Collectively thumbed nose at traditional BI/DW companies (by, for example, eschewing bloated mission statements).
- Guy Kawasaki – broadly appealing, though his content was certainly not tailored to the subject of the conference. Made a number of references to "Mac vs PC" debate, but perhaps not realizing that Tableau runs on PC only.
- Cory Doctorow – spoke on data privacy. Philosophy a bit at odds with analysts in the audience, but worth surfacing as valid concern.
- Stephen Few - whose talk I missed, but whose contributions to the industry I respect a great deal.
Some technical tidbits
- Hadoop support – new in Tableau 7. As I see it, it's just another data source, but connection allows for some control over data modeling
- Google Analytics support – no direct connection available, must use an intermediate layer like Analytics Canvas