By Cindi Howson, BI Scorecard
At the end of March, Tableau Software released version 8 of its product, both improving its core visual data discovery capabilities and upping the ante in its challenge to traditional BI. In addition, the privately held company filed its application for an initial public offering, expected in summer and to trade under the ticker symbol "DATA."
Version 8 packs over 90 new features but the most noteworthy is support for browser-based authoring. To date, Tableau has been a desktop project in which analysts build models, visualizations, and dashboards. These dashboards could then be shared and published to the Web where others could filter or sort, but not much else. With Tableau 8, any user with access to a browser or an iPad can now create a new query, a capability more often available in business query tools such as SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence or IBM Cognos Workspace. (For a list of who uses desktop or browser-based authoring, refer to BI Scorecard's free BI Market Segment report). To be clear, users will not be able to create new models or complex calculations from a browser, but they can create a new query and visualization, a big step up from earlier versions.
In terms of Mobile BI capabilities, most users currently want to access and interact with published content, something Tableau already had. Authoring from an iPad, though, is an industry rarity, particularly via a native iPad app, so it's too early to tell if this will be a boon for customers. More important, in my opinion, is disconnected access or airplane mode, a feature still lacking in version 8.
While these improvements position Tableau more squarely in the business query tools market, Tableau has also enhanced its visualization engine, to mixed reviews. Visualization expert and author Stephen Few is critical of some of the changes in 8, citing a poor implementation of Tree Maps and that the new Tag Clouds should not have been added at all. I found the new Tree Maps straightforward, but arguably, the grouping abilities in TIBCO Spotfire and MicroStrategy Visual Insight, for example, are better. While I agree with Few's point that the grouping ability in the tree maps could be improved, any vendor has to deliver new capabilities incrementally. Tag or word clouds are an interesting sore point with a number of visualization experts. As an industry invention (they started as HTML tags), they sometimes seem to offer little more than demo appeal. Across multiple tools there is room for improvement in how the words are organized (alphabetically or with the largest in the middle? How to show associated words?), but when analyzing textual information, word clouds are useful. They way in which they are implemented in Tableau 8, through the use of Marks rather than a graph type, could be made more straight forward. For a more detailed analysis of Tableau 8, with side-by-side competitor scores, visit BI Scorecard).
Shortly after the release of 8, Tableau also filed its application for an IPO. This move allays customers concerns about the risk of acquisition and brings more transparency to company financials. As detailed in the filing, Tableau's revenues more than doubled from 2011 to 2012 to $127.7 million. Since 2009, Tableau has been growing more than 80% per year. The IPO filing also includes details on R&D spending. As customers have increasingly asked us about vendor innovation and R&D spending, we recently added some of these metrics to the BI Scorecard Vendor Strategic Summary.
With the release of Tableau 8 and the IPO filing, visual data discovery continues to be one of the hottest categories in the BI market this year.
Cindi Howson, BI Scorecard.