Tableau Says Its Data Viz is the Biz

Tableau Software probably isn’t the first name that comes to mind when you think of data visualization software, but the company Monday announced version 1.5 of its data visualization suite, touting usability and connectivity improvements, such as out-of-the-box support for Microsoft’s forthcoming SQL Server 2005 database release.

Data visualization proponents often position the technology as a complement to conventional operational reporting and analytic tools. Tableau CEO and co-founder Christian Chabot, on the other hand, says data visualization is a more basic animal altogether.

“It’s so often been seen as sort of like a Holy Grail thing, where you’ve got hundreds of guys trying to crack it, and nobody really has,” Chabot says, arguing that many proponents come at the technology from an unrealistic perspective. “Advances in graphics technology might actually be the key to unlocking one of our nation’s great unsolved problems, which is that databases are too hard to use. We believe [visualization is] ideal for interacting with structured databases. You can interact with a database with very little understanding about how it works and actually approach it using a completely graphical environment.”

For this reason, Chabot maintains, data visualization—à la Tableau Software, anyway—will be the business intelligence industry’s next killer app.

“We really believe this is going to be one of those products that comes along literally every 5 or 10 years that is a multi-million desktop opportunity. It’s something that speaks to a visceral need of what knowledge workers want to do at their desktops,” he argues.

Just what kind of “visceral” requirements does Tableau purport to address? Chabot—much like his counterpart at data visualization competitor Advizor Solutions—says it has a lot to do with information overload. “The visceral need we speak of is to present quantitative information—data—in a really compelling visual way, and to look at and explore data visually, rather than with just lists of numbers.”

The data visualization space isn’t exactly bereft of competition. And—in many respects—Tableau’s pitch is similar to those of its competitors. But Tableau differs from its data viz rivals, Chabot insists, because it’s also targeting rank-and-file knowledge workers—in addition to business analysts, power users and others of the end user aristocracy. (Some of Tableau’s competitors, such as Advizor, make the same argument.)

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a contributing editor for Enterprise Systems. He can be reached at [email protected].