The Wisdom of the (Tableau) Crowd?

Ok … I’ll admit it … Tableau has some great features.

One of the standout features of the new release (8.2) is the new data access method – ability to model data by dropping sheets from a file and manipulating it visually as a data source.  The benefit of this is that it removes the manual requirement of connections that are typically associated with user end reporting tools and combining data.  Prior versions could do this to some extent by linking data sources however, the new version allows it to happen is what could be effectively called a model designer.  Another slightly different approach (and one which is way cool) was developed by Targit (they used a folder share as a directory share to drop files which could then be consumed by the application automatically). There’s an obvious benefit to the tight integration of data and its downstream analysis – especially for business users that are not so concerned with technical model design but the analysis of data and using it in the tool. Removing layers of integration delivers on the promise of traditional pitches that use catch cries of

spend less time working on data and more time understanding it

To be fair though, there is an assumption (IMO) that the data being used is pretty clean to begin with … all we are really defining aggregation paths, streamlining the import of data(s).  A common negation for this type of activity (where users mange and consume their own data) is that the production of data is not verified by IT or officially sanctioned (most noticeably it is raised from an IT centric standpoint). There could be lots written about that discussion point but for now we will just accept that it is going to happen anyway and leave it.

Another great feature is the idea of story boards – where you can trace (for want of a better word) thought patterns used in investigation and present a complete view of the analysis – I’ve heard it dubbed a Power Point Killer (and there may be some truth in that where Power Point is used with a heavy reliance on data integration). Again, the concept is not new (Yellowfin has had it enabled for at least one version now).

But I digress and should move onto crowds … or more importantly the vendor conference. I was staggered to discover that the Tableau conference in Seattle was sold out early with 5,200 attendees (yes that’s right 5,200). That’s a remarkable number when you consider that the PASS Summit on SQL Server (incorporating the full MS stack) gets (an advertised more than) 5,000 attendees (I am assuming that it’s just over the 5,000 so somewhere in the range of 5,000 – 5,100). Since this includes both the database administration and the BI arm, those dedicated to BI would fall far short of the 5,000. In contrast, the PASS BA conference which specifically targets Business Analytics gets 750+ attendees (again I’ll assume were talking 750-760 attendees). Given the ubiquity of the MS platform as a tool, the similar number of attendees at the Tableau conference is astonishing.