Tableau Still Helps People See and Understand Data, but Which People?

Ted Cuzzillo,
Principal Analyst – Data Analytics

Summary Bullets:

  • Salesforce’s acquisition of Tableau was a milestone for the inception of a new, post-Tableau era of innovation.
  • Tableau’s absorption within Salesforce will leave competitive space for new products.

Back at Tableau’s first release in 2004, many data analysts felt their hearts stir. Some had already dreamed of data analysis that went as deep and as fast as the mind could go, but now Tableau made it possible. All they needed then was access to the data inside IT’s vaults. But that access to data was a problem for many IT departments, and there began a long insurgency.

Last year’s acquisition of Tableau by Salesforce was a milestone for the end of that insurgent era and the inception of a new one which will make data analysts of many who had never thought to try it.

Tableau’s mission, “to help people see and understand data,” has evolved. For years, it rang like a revolutionary slogan: It was clear that ‘the people’ were individualist data analysts who disdained what was then standard business intelligence – i.e., standardized reports issued periodically and very hard to change. If you wanted a new field, for example, you put in a request and then waited weeks.

The IT managers in charge of those reports did what they had to do – protect the data, govern it – all within the hours they had. To them, these new individualistic analysts looked like trouble. Some of those analysts had actually hacked IT systems just to get at the data. Some called them ‘cowboys.’

Over the years, that long-running insurgency seems to have cooled somewhat. Perhaps the ‘cowboys’ joined the mainstream. But more likely, the mainstream joined them. Many IT departments loosened their protective grip on data or otherwise came to a reconciliation with the raw-data hungry users.

Meanwhile, Tableau’s focus had gradually broadened to include not just those individual users but also whole business units and enterprises.

Most recently, Tableau began a shift away from its horizontal orientation, in which it aimed to serve all business needs with one tool, toward a vertical one. Now with Salesforce, the horizontal-to-vertical shift has accelerated toward Salesforce’s super-vertical: sales.

Tableau will be infused thoroughly within its new master. Despite protestations to the contrary from Tableau, the brand will eventually fade and disappear (though certainly continuing to serve legacy Tableau customers). That will open a huge space for new competition and new innovation. The giant that once dominated, though still present for a while more, will have been tamed. The giant’s eventual fall will leave room for new sprouts.

Current and future competitors should consider the following steps:

  • Plan to exploit the market for independent data users. Look for ways to use emerging technology to serve them. Keep an eye out for a new generation of data analysts.
  • Watch for Tableau executive talent ripe for recruitment. Seasoned talent will become available. It’s just a matter of time before Tableau’s one-time C-suite executives, who last year fell one whole rung into middle management, will move on. Startup and established vendors will beckon them with C-suite titles in exchange for their experience and the new luster they would lend.
  • Be alert for signs that the Tableau founders are open to fund startups. In their populist hearts, they probably root even now for the insurgents.

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