Earlier this month I attended the Tableau Conference 2019 in Las Vegas, NV. The annual event draws Tableau partners, developers, and customers together to learn about the latest data visualization solutions. The group collectively and proudly refer to themselves as “the data family.” This year around 18,000 congregated in Las Vegas. As a data-fanatic, former data-driven marketing executive for one of the largest sales geographies in the world and a former CEO, I wanted to share my perspective on Tableau as it transitions into a new era.
Tableau (formerly stock symbol DATA) was founded in 2003 as a software startup with the stated mission to “help people see and understand data.” The software startup world can be volatile and fiercely competitive, with a high mortality rate. Tableau came through all the startup challenges and emerged as one of the top “Business Intelligence” platforms available today with revenue of approximately $1B reported for its FY18. See Figure 1 for Tableau’s revenue history since going public in 2009.
In the summer of 2019, Salesforce.com (stock symbol CRM) made a strategic decision to acquire Tableau. According to Salesforce.com’s FY19 10K filing, its annual revenue was $13.3B. The official statement about the acquisition is that Tableau will be a standalone business unit within Saleforce.com. You can see Tableau was added as “Analytics” to the Salesforce.com portfolio, referred to as “Salesforce Customer 360” (see Figure 2). Both companies communicated that Tableau Conference would continue.
Data culture importance
Market or business intelligence is not a new concept; however, the current digital transformation phenomenon we are experiencing is game-changing because of the sheer amount of data available. A company has a choice: develop a company-wide initiative around utilizing data for competitive advantage and improved customer satisfaction, or run the risk that competition develops the insights for competitive advantage. The pervasiveness of electronic commerce fueled by technology progress allows for the measurement of almost anything. It snowballs and grows every day, creating massive data sets with every type of insight embedded in them imaginable. Within these large data sets are nuggets of vital information surrounded by large sets of non-useful or noise data. The challenge for the data hounds is discovering the nuggets. It’s the digital data world equivalent of the needle in the haystack. The data visualization tool needed to decipher these large data sets into something that is meaningful and actionable is Tableau.
If we have the tool, then what is the problem? The data analytics software tools can only be impactful for your company results if a data-driven culture exists. See Figure 3 for illustration. Within a company, at every level and function, a structure and culture flow must exist: every question should lead to data collection, then to data analysis based on the question, then to the visualization of the data, then to the interpretation of the results, and finally to action on the findings.
If you’ve ever been a change agent within a company, you know that creating a culture change of any kind is a non-trivial assignment. Tableau observed this in its efforts to create a culture that governs itself with data-driven decision-making processes. At the Tableau Conference the company also emphasized the importance of promoting a culture of storytelling skills based on data analytics. Tableau created a process organizational flow tool to assist companies with the processes and organizational transition to a data-driven culture (see Figure 4).
There are three blueprint framework fundamental concepts:
Software tools and data collection deployments require agility by operating on iterative, repeatable processes establishing a baseline architecture for a secure, stable and trusted server platform.
For an organization to be skilled at analyzing data, making informed decisions on that data and driving meaningful results for the company, all team members must be proficient at data analysis. The real power of a data culture is employees, regardless of level or function, proactively seeking data for decision-making versus using subjective analysis such as feelings. The closer a company gets to a universal data analysis skillset ability across all levels and functions, the more agile and responsive it will become to customers and changing business landscapes.
Community—that is, the interaction between a network of like-minded users within a company that uses data—is important to fostering best practices. This group interaction drives a collective mental curiosity to pursue the questions propelling the organization to put data at the core of all discussions and decisions.
Seeing is believing
The Tableau software can be downloaded and used on a trial basis at no cost. Tableau provides comprehensive tutorials and sample datasets. It is also straight-forward to use data that may already exist in spreadsheets for your company. Import the data into Tableau and experiment with the data visualization and storytelling capabilities of the software.
The Tableau historical revenue growth places it in a strong leadership position within the “Business Intelligence” software landscape. Salesforce.com also has a strong track record in the business software world. I was very impressed with the management team at Tableau. Several of them invested time talking with me about the company’s strategy and current offering. The CEO, Adam Selipsky, did a great job discussing the company overall, specifically its culture and commitment to excellence in diversity. However, I was disappointed in the answer I got when I asked what the broad synergies were from the acquisition between Salesforce.com and Tableau; the answer was somewhat vague. I was surprised by this, given the size of the acquisition and the comprehensiveness of all the other answers during the presentation.
I created Table 1, highlighting my thoughts on the pre-acquisition advantages and post-acquisition risk for Tableau.
From a positive perspective, the size of the Saleforce.com sales team can increase Tableau’s customer touch–that’s a good thing. The magnitude of investment in R&D by Saleforce.com, specifically in AI-related technologies, could boost the capabilities for the Tableau product feature set—that’s also good.
On the surface, the acquisition appears to have synergistic attributes. Most acquisitions always look good at the start. The historical challenge seems to be in the clarity of the combined mission and the integration of company cultures post-acquisition.
I will continue to monitor, and look forward to future Tableau product announcements and events.