What It Is and How It Can Provide Insight for Your Business

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Editor’s Note: This article has been updated and edited to reflect updates in Tableau and the business intelligence market.

Tableau is a business intelligence, data analytics and data infrastructure platform, created to simplify data-driven decision-making. It was designed with a clear mission, to “help people see and understand data.”

Businesses ranging from global conglomerates such as Unilever, to SMEs like Marination, a Seattle-based Asian-Hawaiian food truck eatery use Tableau. Marination uses Tableau’s Vizable mobile app to glean visual insights into its business from any location. With capabilities that go beyond what Excel or rows of unorganized raw data offer, this type of BI software can provide vital support to small businesses as they navigate digital transformation.

What Is Business Intelligence?

Business intelligence involves collecting data in view of using it to analyze performance and refine operational procedures and processes in the future. All organizations use some type of reporting system to analyze sales and use insights that help with tasks such as forecasting and stock control. However, since the advent of big data and the proliferation of open APIs, business intelligence has evolved to take reporting to the next level. BI software allows executives to go beyond generating simple reports and make informed decisions using structured dashboards full of actionable data.

In today’s business world, data is the most valuable asset a company can leverage for growth. But just because an executive understands the importance of data, it doesn’t mean they’re actively using it to advance their business. A proactive approach is necessary to get the most out of any market change, and BI software lets users make state-of-the-art improvements to processes and procedures without a significant learning curve.

Visual representations are much easier for non-tech experts to understand than raw data, and visualization functions of BI software can significantly speed up analytical processes. Compared to old-fashioned reporting tools like Microsoft Excel, Tableau and other similar software vendors provide superior insights at speed, freeing up decision-makers to do the work they do best.

What Can You Do With Business Intelligence Software?

The aim of business intelligence software is to provide executives with a view of all their company’s data to highlight successes, inefficiencies, pain points and bottlenecks. This helps with day-to-day operations in addition to giving businesses the information they need to respond swiftly in the face of supply or market changes. The focus of modern BI software is self-service and empowering small and large companies alike to use real-time data to drive success.

As inflation progresses along its course, major business costs such as rent and labor continue to increase. Software as a service is helping operators mitigate these costs by providing business leaders with tools that can perform the work of entire departments. Where IT experts were previously required to organize and decode large data sets, business intelligence software promises that anyone can gain actionable insights at speed.

Tableau’s Applications

Tableau bridges the gap between a workforce with little or no technical skills and tasks such as:

  • Data visualization
  • Business intelligence
  • Data blending
  • Data mining
  • Data collaboration
  • Query translation into analytics
  • Real-time data analysis
  • No-code data queries
  • Importing large data sets
  • Managing large metadata

What Is Tableau?

Using a BI tool like Tableau is a fast and effective way of simplifying raw data. These huge data sets are unintelligible for most people who aren’t developers or computer scientists. Tableau simplifies data analysis by generating a dashboard that incorporates visual representations of different raw data sets. Users define the reports they want to view or download, and Tableau BI software creates a personalized dashboard for their company’s defined goals and requirements.

Constellation Research vice president and principal analyst Doug Henschen runs a practice that prioritizes data-driven decision-making. “A data-visualization oriented analytics platform that helped to usher in the era of self-service analytics. The company has seen rapid growth over the last 10 years, and is now the market leader in terms of new license sales. It’s used broadly across many industries. In recent years Tableau has amped up administrative and data-governance capabilities to meet the needs of large Global 2000 companies,” he said. 

Tableau was acquired by Salesforce in 2019, in a deal worth $15.7 billion. A press release from Salesforce sets out its aim to “deliver the most intelligent and intuitive analytics and visualization platform for every department and every user at any company.”

Tableau’s Acquisition By Salesforce

Salesforce is a market leading customer relationship management platform that took an ambitious step to enhance its reporting capabilities by acquiring Tableau in August 2019. The main benefit for Salesforce being the enablement of desktop publishing and the ability to embed BI directly into customer-facing applications on its platform.

According to founder and CEO Marc Benioff, “Tableau helps people see and understand data, and Salesforce helps people engage and understand customers.” He said the acquisition is set to be the best “ever done in the history of the software industry, and certainly the most successful.” His high praise is to be expected after such a significant investment, but he puts it down to two core reasons:

  • Data analytics are indispensable to companies going through digital transformation
  • Tableau specifically fills the gaps necessary to transform Salesforce into a true customer 360 data model

For Adam Selipsky, Tableau CEO, joining forces is a “natural combination” that “could make Tableau a more easily accessible or even native experience for doing analysis to users of these different Salesforce products.” The CEOs and their stakeholders made the ultimate decision that Tableau would retain its independent brand identity as part of the Salesforce family.

Tableau fills a critical gap for Salesforce and vice versa, as BI combines with CRM data to boost the capabilities of both software applications. By integrating with enterprise-software Tableau, Salesforce can position itself in direct competition to Microsoft. The result of the Tableau-Salesforce merger is a behemoth of a platform that’s comparable in size and scope to Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 suite.

Since the merger, Tableau has added several new tools to its roster, in addition to its existing products. We’ll discuss each one below.

Tableau Products

Tableau Public

Take, this “viz”, created by Tableau enthusiast Bevin Olszewski to tell the story of how to end homelessness in the United Kingdom. It was built on Tableau Public which anyone can use free of charge. Other products from Tableau run on-premises or in the cloud, and are usually subscription-based.

Tableau Desktop

Tableau Desktop is considered to be the gold standard in contemporary data visualization tools, as evidenced by winning Gartner’s Magic Quadrant award for Analytics and BI Platforms nine years in a row. Its power and ease of use encourage vast data exploration. Interactive workbooks and dashboards help users uncover insights as queries or hunches arise, and to make discovery easy via visual patterns.

For live analytics, Tableau Desktop connects to various types of file, including Data Warehouse. Depending on data source connectivity and publishing needs, it’s possible to group Tableau Desktop into types of access:

  1. Personal: In this version, the workbook is private and access is limited, so distribution occurs in Tableau public or offline.
  2. Professional: Tableau Desktop Professional provides full access to every data type, and you can publish work in Tableau Server or online.

Tableau Server

Tableau Server enables users to publish dashboards they create in Tableau Desktop. It makes it easy to securely distribute interactive workbooks to relevant stakeholders. Thereby making sharing and collaboration simple and decision-making more inclusive. Tableau server allows users to publish and share data sources as live connections or extracts. It connects to more than 100 data sources including MapR’s Converged Data Platform, SAP Hana, Marketo and more.

Administrators can easily track and manage content, users, licenses, and performance. They can also manage permissions for data sources and content and monitor usage, visually. It’s available for deployment on-premises or in the public cloud, for example AWS, Azure, Google Cloud Platform.

Tableau Online

The Tableau analytics platform hosted in the cloud is called Tableau Online, with no hardware or server to maintain. Anyone with permission can access it using a browser or mobile app. Users can publish dashboards and share “vizzes” with coworkers, business partners or customers. What’s more, they can discover hidden opportunities using interactive visualizations and the same data. Tools for site administrators make it easy to manage authentication and permissions for users, content, and data.

It’s important to add that Tableau Online’s infrastructure meets Sarbanes Oxley, Service Organization Control (SOC) 2, and EU-US Privacy Shield standards.

Tableau Prep

CRM Prep delivers a direct visual method of combining, shaping and cleaning data. It speeds up the construction of data flows for managers and analysts, and simplifies scheduling and monitoring flows across an organization. Time-consuming, repetitive tasks such as grouping and replacing based on common characteristics become one-click operations. Plus, it lets users connect data from anywhere on the premises and use and amend disparate data without the need for writing code.

Tableau CRM

Formerly known as Einstein Analytics, Tableau CRM allows Salesforce users to seamlessly integrate AI-driven analytical insights into your existing software. This platform aims to help decision-makers quickly spot patterns and trends, and glean AI-powered insights into how to respond. Unlike traditional CRMs or BI platforms, all business data is connected and can be shared throughout an organization in real-time.

Tableau Mobile

One of the biggest technological changes in recent years has been the shift from desktop to mobile. The convenience of smartphones allows operators to conduct meaningful work duties while on the go, and they’re no longer limited to reading or replying to emails. Tableau Mobile lets users monitor priority dashboards and KPIs from anywhere, with an app for iOS and Android.

Tableau Reader

Tableau Reader is free, and it lets users view visualizations and workbooks created in Tableau Public or Tableau Desktop. Modifications and editing are prohibited, but users can view documents and filter. Tableau Reader is required for sharing dashboards with any recipient.

Some Challenges Addressed by Tableau 10.5

The challenge for Tableau, according to Henschen, has been handling high-scale deployments and high-scale data. High-scale deployments usually require many instances of Tableau Server. “That’s where the company has added more extensive global deployment administrative capabilities. These capabilities were required and have helped the company to manage its own Tableau Online cloud offering,” he says.

Tableau 10.5 was released in 2018, and included a number of significant updates. The most notable being Hyper, its new primary memory database. It replaced Tableau’s TDE database, and brought with it increased performance, faster loading and scalability.

At its annual user conference in 2017 (see our coverage here) Tableau demonstrated Hyper before a live audience. This proved that it could support tens of thousands of users. The vendor also demonstrated that data loads which used to run overnight now take seconds. Henschen said he has seen a demonstration of 400,000 rows of weather data per second, with simultaneous analysis and data refreshes.

The Future for Business Intelligence

Per Cindi Howson, vice president of Gartner, “There is a need for reporting, but reporting alone is not enough. If you’re only doing reporting, you’re behind already. Unless your reporting is smart and agile, you’re behind.” Tableau is attempting to tick all the boxes when it comes to reporting and analytics, with big plans for the future regarding augmented analytics and machine learning capabilities. One thing is for sure, the combined power of real-time business data and external data can provide SME operators with everything they need to make astute decisions that pay off.

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