Hyperion Stays the Course

Even though some BI majors are pursuing their own data visualization strategies, others, like Hyperion, continue to partner with best-of-breed vendors.

To listen to data visualization specialists such as Tableau Software Inc. or Spotfire Inc. tell it, data visualization is The Next Big Thing. (http://www.tdwi.org/News/display.aspx?ID=8080)

Not that just anyone can become a data viz player, of course: As Han Solo might put it, and as the data visualization best-of-breeds are quick to point out, scouring the white noise enormity of enterprise data for meaningful signals ain’t like dusting crops—or throwing up dashboards, for that matter.

That’s why many business intelligence (BI) heavyweights are content to let Tableau, Spotfire, and other specialty vendors do their heavy lifting. And even though some BI majors have started to pursue their own data viz strategies—SAS Institute Inc. has a mature data visualization feature set; Cognos Inc. is more aggressively promoting its Visualizer tool (which it bundles with Cognos 8); and both Microsoft Corp. (via its acquisition of the former ProClarity Corp.) and Business Objects SA (with its Xcelsius technology) are now fielding data viz offerings, too—many others continue to partner with best-of-breed vendors.

That’s what Hyperion Solutions Corp. did just last week, extending its existing OEM agreement with Tableau and—in a twist—announcing an embedded version of Tableau’s data viz facility in its Hyperion Visual Explorer tool. Previously, the Tableau technology was available as a separate (albeit Hyperion-branded) offering, so the new agreement—with its no-brainer integration between Tableau and Hyperion’s Visual Explorer (often tapped as a front-end for the company’s Essbase OLAP engine)—is a distinct refinement of the status quo. “By providing a visual analysis window into Essbase, Hyperion Visual Explorer helps companies get better insights from their most important data,” said Hyperion chief development officer Robert Gersten in a statement.

So why is Hyperion continuing to partner even as competitors are gearing up to deliver full-fledged data viz solutions on their own? Tableau chief Christian Chabot—who has an admittedly partisan take on things—points to his own company’s academic pedigree (Tableau grew out of data viz research done at Stanford), as well as that of rival Spotfire, as proof that the data visualization space can be a surprisingly complicated market to master.

“On the surface of it, it looks easy [for a competitive vendor to develop that technology itself], but if you look at what our competitors are coming up with, that clearly isn’t the case. What you see in Tableau is based on literally years of research,” Chabot said in June. “That’s why [a vendor] like Hyperion uses us. They recognize that it’s a lot easier to license [Tableau] than to put all the time, what amounts to years, into trying to build something like this on their own.”

That’s a ball Tableau rival Spotfire is anxious to pick up and run with. Data visualization didn’t just abrupt entire out of a product pipeline somewhere, says Spotfire CEO Christopher Ahlberg, nor is it the product of a concerted R&D process. Instead, argued Ahlberg during a wide-ranging June interview, data viz draws from a decade and more of research in several different areas.

“The only thing we can differentiate ourselves with is that we are smarter with information, because we’ve been doing this for so long—in some cases, from the very beginning,” Ahlberg said, noting that he did his PhD work in visualization and human/computer interactions. “It sort of tells you why classic BI has really been geared toward packaging up reports. It used to be enough to deliver consistent numbers across my company, and that’s one place where [the classic BI vendors] excelled, but that’s not enough to create differentiation anymore. We’ve been doing this in a lot of different places.”

Hyperion and Tableau officials point to the range of new features—most of which shipped a few months ago with Tableau 2.0—that are now available (in Hyperion Visual Explorer) as a result of the new integration. For example, officials say, the revamped Tableau 2.0 delivers support for Dynamic Calculations, which lets users create custom aggregations, computed fields, totals, and subtotals. In addition, Tableau 2.0 supports Exploratory modeling, which officials say gives users single-click access to trend line statistics, which can in turn be applied (using forecasting models) to a model of their business.

Elsewhere, Tableau 2.0 supports a range of new interactive features—dubbed Dynamic Data Inspection—that empower users to capture and highlight specific data points for deeper inspection or exclusion. Another new capability is called Data Playback, which users can tap to create an analysis and compare it with other, more detailed views by slicing it along another dimension on separate pages.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.