Tableau was back at the BBBT last week. Last year’s presentation was a look ahead at v8.2. The latest visit was a look back at 2014 and a focus on v9.0. Francois Ajenstat, VP Product Management, was back again to lead us through product issues. The latest marketing presenter was Adriana Gil Miner, VP Corporate Communications.
Ms. Gil Miner opened the morning with the look back at last year. The key point was thestrength of their growth. They are not only pleased with the year-over year growth, but thechart also shows last year’s revenue as a slice of revenue over Tableau’s lifetime. We’ll leave it simply as: They had a good year.
Another point in describing their size is that Adriana said they have 26,000 customer accounts. Some confusion with a later presentation number required clarification and this isn’t users, or even sites. We were told that the 26k is the number of paying company accounts. There were no numbers showing median account size or how far the outliers are on either extreme, but that’s a nice number for the BI space.
The final key point made by Adriana Gil Miner was localization. Modern companies almost all create products using unicode or other methods that allow for language localization, but Tableaus has made the strong push to provide localized software and data sets in multiple languages. My apologies for not listing them, there’s some weird glitch with my Adobe Reader that’s crashing only on their presentation while no other analyst is having the same problem, so I can’t provide a list. Please refer to your local Tableau rep for details.
Francois Ajenstat then took over. It was no surprise that his focus was on v9.0. He discussed it by focusing on nine points he views as key:
- Access to more data sources
- Answer more questions
- Improve the user experience
- Support analytics at scale
- Performance as a differentiator
- Support for mobile
- Tableau Public redesign
- Coming out next quarter
If you look at those, you might question why that many bullets? For instance, when it comes out is just a schedule issue and doesn’t rise to the level of the others. Tableau Public’s redesign just seems to be the obvious end of focusing on better user experience and performance.
However, a couple sound the same but should be differentiated. Analytics at scale and performance improvements overlap but aren’t identical. Francois showed both what they did to improve performance on clustered servers, helping both bigger data sources and more simultaneous users, and also demonstrating that they’ve done some great optimization in basic analytics for individuals.
One of the best parts was the honesty, now that they’re close enough to releasing v9.0, in admitting that early versions ran slowly. They showed quotes from beta testers talking about major performance improvements. In addition, Tableau Public is a great source of testing real-word analytics. Mr. Ajenstat pointed out that they took the 100 most accessed visualizations in Tableau Public and analyzed performand differences, seeing a 4x increase in performance on average. While it’s always important to generate internal tests to stress potential use, focusing on how business really use the tool is even more important in ensuring performance is seen as good in day-to-day usage by knowledge workers, not only in heavy loads by analysts doing discovery.
The one thing that really caught my eye about v9.0 is the incorporation of Level of Detail (LOD) expressions. BI firms have been adding drill-down analytics for a decade. Seeing a specific level of detail and then dropping down to a lower level is critical. However, that’s not enough.
What’s needed is to be able to visually compare the lower level details with overall numbers. For instance, a sales VP regularly wants to know not just how an individual sales person is doing, but also how that compares to the region and national numbers. Only within context can you gain insight.
Among the other things LODs help is the ability to bin aggregates. Again we can turn to sales to think about retail sales across categories while also comparing those to total sales or in a trend analysis.
While many companies are working to add more complex analysis, it’s clear that Tableau hasn’t only looked at how a very technical person can create an LOD. They’ve worked on an interface, that from the demo, has a simple and clean interface that business end users can user. Admittedly, that’s what demos are supposed to do, but I’ve seen some try and fail miserably. This seems to be a good attempt to understand business intelligence with an emphasis of the first word.
Some of the very new startups make the mistake of thinking even the first generation BI companies are too old to innovate. Those companies aren’t and are still a threat. However, Tableau is not even in the first generation and is still more nimble yet. They have their eyes on the ball and are moving forward. Even more importantly, while still focusing on their technology, as do many startups, they seem to have become mature enough to start shifting focus from the IT and business analysts to the information consumers.
Understanding what the business knowledge workers throughout the business hierarchy need, in data and performance, is what will drive the next growth spurt. Tableau seems to have them in target.
Yesterday, Tableau Software held an analyst briefing. It wasn’t a high level one, it was really just a webinar where they covered some product futures under NDA. However, it was very unclear what was NDA and what wasn’t. When they discussed things announced at the most recent Tableau Conference in Seattle, that’s not NDA, but there was plenty of future discussed, so I’ll walk a fine line.
The first news is to cover their Third Quarter announcement from the beginning of the month. This was Tableau’s first quarter of over $100 million in recognized revenue. It’s a strong showing and they’re justifiable proud of their consistent growth.
Ajay Chandrdamouly, Analyst Relations, also said that the growth primarily results from a Land and Expand strategy, beginning with small jobs in departments or divisions, driven by business needs, then expanding into other organizations and eventually into a corporate IT account position. However, one interesting point is an expansion mentioned later in the presentation by Francois Ajenstat, Product Management, while giving the usual case studies seen in such presentations. He did a good job of showing one case study that was Land and Expand, but another began as a corporate IT account and usage was driven outward by that. It’s an indication of the maturity of both Tableau and the business intelligence (BI) market that more and more BI initiatives are being driven by IT at the start.
Francois’ main presentation was about releases, past and future. While I can’t write about the later, I’ll mention one concern based on the former. He was very proud about the large number of frequent updates Tableau has released. That’s ok in the Cloud, where releases are quickly rolled into the product that everyone uses. However, that’s a risk in on-premises (yes, Francois, the final S is needed) installations in the area of support. How long do you support products and how do you support them is an issue. Your support team has to know a large number of variations to provide quick results or must investigate and study each time, slowing responses and possibly angering customers. I asked about the product lifecycle and how they managed to support and to decide sunsetting issues, but I did not get a clear and useful answer.
The presentation Mr. Ajenstat gave listed six major focus themes for Tableau, and that’s worth mentioning here:
- Seamless Access to Data
- Analytics & Statistics for Everyone
- Visual Analytics Everywhere
- Fast, Easy, Beautiful
None of those is a surprise, nor is the fact that they’re trying to build a consistent whole from the combination of foci. The fun was the NDA preview of how they’re working on all of those in the next release. One bit of foreshadowing, they are looking at some issues that won’t minimize enterprise products but will be aimed at a non-enterprise audience. They’ll have to be careful how they balance the two but expansion done right brings a wider audience so can be a good thing.
The final presenter was Ellie Fields, Product Marketing, who talked more about solution than product. Tableau Drive is not something to do with storage or big data, it’s a poorly named but well thought out methodology for BI projects. Industry firms are finally admitting they need some consistency in implementation and so are providing best practices to their implementation partners and customers to improve success rates, speed implementation and save costs. Modern software is complex, as are business issues, so BI firms have to provide a combination of products and services that help in the real world. Tableau Drive is a new attempt by the company to do just that. There’s also no surprise that it uses the word agile, since that’s the current buzzword for iterative development that’s been going on long before the word was applied. As I’m not one who’s implemented BI product, I won’t speak to its effectiveness, but Drive is a necessity in the marketplace and Tableau Drive helps provide a complete solution.
The briefing was a technical analyst presentation by Tableau about the current state of the company and some of its futures. There was nothing special, no stunning revelations, but that’s not a problem. The team’s message is that the company has been growing steadily and well and that their plans for the future are set forward to continue that growth. They are now a mid-size company, no longer as nimble as startups yet don’t have the weight of the really large firms, they have to chart a careful path to continue their success. So far it seems they are doing so.