Tableau Marries Data Visualization, Dashboards, Collaboration

With its Web 2.0-based Tableau Server 3.0, Tableau touts a data visualization and dashboarding product whose whole vastly exceeds the sum of its parts

The data visualization segment isn’t the sleepy little nook it used to be. A number of big name players—the former Business Objects SA (soon to be a subsidiary of the even-bigger SAP AG), IBM Corp., and Microsoft Corp., to name just a few—now offer data visualization solutions. Many data visualization pure-plays—such as the former Infommersion (which developed the Xcelsius technology Business Objects now bundles with Crystal Reports) and Spotfire (acquired by enterprise application integration specialist Tibco Software Inc.)—have themselves been acquired by much larger players.

Even so, data visualization vendors don’t seem to be sweating the presence of big vendors in their market.

"Basically, they’re [i.e., larger, non-specialty vendors] just validating our vision," says Kevin Brown, vice-president of marketing with data visualization specialist Tableau Software Inc.

"Just a few months ago, Spotfire was bought by Tibco. They [Spotfire] talked about hundreds of customers; we’re in the thousands of customers, with tens of thousands of licensees. This [market] is huge."

This week, Tableau announced a new Web-based version of its best-of-breed data visualization suite, Tableau Server 3.0. Tableau’s latest deliverable builds on the Dynamic Dashboards capability it unveiled earlier this year with its Tableau 3.0 release (see That product boasts a host of useful features, including support for rich formatting, free-form annotations, and an interactive dashboard component that also supports simultaneous connectivity to heterogeneous data sources.

Tableau Server 3.0 takes this technology and runs with it, marrying it to the highly interactive—and intrinsically collaborative—Web 2.0 model. The upshot, Brown maintains, is a data visualization and dashboarding product whose whole—a collaborative community of users—vastly exceeds the sum of its constitutive parts (i.e., individual users). The next, greatest BI killer application isn’t data visualization, nor the ubiquitous dashboard, Brown maintains; rather, it’s a hybrid: collaborative data visualization and dashboarding.

"We think the market for BI is actually in the tens of millions, as opposed to the tech-savvy users, the sort of TDWI guys—the guys who’ve mostly been using BI [up until now]," he maintains. "I think this Web 2.0 world, especially around social networks, MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, is creating this expectation for people … to want to interact with other people and post things—like pictures, music, or thoughts, in a social kind of setting.

"It’s a lot like IM kind of seeped in from independent use into the workplace. The idea of sharing and collaborating around your analytical work, or your reports, in a Web-based setting is, in fact, intuitive. It’s what users have really wanted all along."

Brown and Tableau have a dog in this race, but there is an undeniable trend in favor of collaboration—not just in BI, but in performance management (PM), data integration, and data management as a whole.

Consider the red-hot data integration segment, where market leaders IBM Corp. and Informatica Corp. recently made a big fuss about the collaborative capabilities they’ve built into their flagship data integration suites.

Out-of-the-Box Collaboration

"Collaboration has become a pressing requirement for data integration in recent years," said Philip Russom, senior manager of TDWI Research, in an interview last month. "As the number of data integration specialists continues to grow—into double digits in some organizations—so increases the need for development processes and tool functions that help them communicate and collaborate. Likewise, stewards, business analysts, and other business people are joining the "extended" data integration and data quality team, which brings a new slew of collaborative requirements." In this respect, Brown argues, Tableau Server 3.0’s Web 2.0 underpinnings support an out-of-the-box (or, rather, fresh-from-the-download) collaborative experience, complete with interactive mouse-overs, double-click drill-downs, and drag-and-drop design features.

"Tableau Server basically enables any person who is building or authoring Tableau reports and visual analyses to publish their work to a shared Web server and enable their community to interact with their work through a standard Web browser," he indicates. "What they’re interacting with is a live, dynamic interactive view of data. It’s not a traditional dashboard or a static report; it’s actually the Web-based equivalent of a Tableau Workbook."

Even as organizations work to ferret out and eliminate information silos, they’re ignoring the dangers posed by people silos: i.e., the situation that occurs when knowledge workers toil in isolation and—just as significantly—when potentially valuable knowledge is locked away in the minds of individual users.

"Why would you distribute static, standard reports to people when you can distribute live, dynamic interactive reports and have [users] collaborate with one another in real time?" Brown asks. "This [collaborative experience] is one case where the whole is greater than [the sum of] its parts. You have all of these eyes looking at your data, exploring your data, thinking of new ways to explore your data. You have power users sharing their expertise with less advanced users. Everyone benefits."

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