Insights from the Tableau Conference TC18

At the 2018 Tableau Conference, CEO Adam Selipsky welcomed 17,000 data enthusiasts to New Orleans with gratitude and a reminder of Tableau’s unwavering mission to “help people see and understand data.” His message reinforced that data is power, innovation, and change, and he related it to technologies that have changed mankind’s history (for example, electricity and the smartphone) as they rose in adoption to become ubiquitous.  Themes of ubiquity and data literacy set the tone for announcements and sessions at the conference for continued growth with Tableau’s current 78,000 customer accounts globally. As Selipsky shared in a later session, the announcements represent the company’s efforts to simultaneously broaden ease of use and provide more analytic functionality.

Becoming ubiquitous with “understanding data” means including casual data users – not just analysts and business users – that must be able to comfortably work with and gain insights from data. Ask Data was announced as Tableau’s natural language processing (NLP) initiative that will enable everyone to interact with data in natural, everyday speech and available in the 2019.1 beta release. Notably, the shift earlier this year to role-based (tiered) platform subscription offerings also supports this theme by reducing the barriers to adoption for casual users.

Tableau continues its transition to the enterprise software market with more additions to the Tableau Platform to be an open and extensible core technology for enterprise IT. A keynote from Pfizer’s VP Analytics and Innovation Debbie Reynolds highlighted how the organization’s deployment of 67 active instances of Tableau to support 25,000 users globally was interwoven in everyday life to make data powerful and trusted while helping save lives. To further support enterprise adoption, TC18 also included an “Executive Experience” to help them justify their investment, know what a great deployment looks like, and how to do so efficiently.

François Ajenstat, Tableau’s chief product officer, enthusiastically recapped their product release cadence of the past 12 months (and the transition to the new release numbering system). This accomplishment fulfilled his last year’s TC17 promise as v10.5 transitioned to 2018.1, 2018.2, and 2018.3 and proves their ability to release quickly and reliably. The years of prior investment in major development such as the Linux port can now be leveraged in faster future releases. At the conference, Tableau 2018.3 and Tableau 2019.1 beta was made available for download.

The Tableau Platform, introduced in 2017, continues to serve as the roadmap for all future product development that enhances the enterprise platform through features added to each of its layers (data access, data prep, governance, content discovery, analytics, and collaboration) bounded by security and compliance, extensibility and APIs, along with deployment options and user interactions. While Devs on Stage – an annual favorite for revealing enhancements and new features – demonstrated useful feature advances, Ajenstat shared that data preparation with Tableau Prep, data modeling, and natural language interaction with Ask Data are the primary innovation areas of focus for near-term releases.

Tableau Prep is designed to be “Visual, Direct, and Smart” so that more users are able to prepare data to work with data and includes new features such as Smart Recommendations, Data Roles for auto-fixing data along with custom roles, and the ability to Highlight Flows or Lineage and support R and Python.

Tableau Prep Conductor was also announced and fulfills a critical need for enterprise scheduling, monitoring, and alerting capabilities in order to deploy and manage data preps flows.

Data Modeling is a new set of features that will be available in 2019. With its automatic data modeling, Tableau can inspect data and data sets to recommend data models for users to visualize data entities and relationships by recognizing data warehouse star and snowflake schemas.  From Radiant’s perspective, reading schemas will be more challenging from data sources and applications that are not necessarily business or analytic-oriented data models.

Ask Data, Tableau’s new feature name for NLP technology, allows users to interact with data in a conversational flow of everyday expressions by typing in words or phrases for analysis. Ask Data acts as a translator into Tableau VizQL statements to produce a data visualization where follow-on statements can easily iteratively refine and visually navigate the data set.

Tableau continues to execute their growth strategy by lowering barriers to adoption of its flagship product through subscription sales (going strong from 37% of license bookings in Q2 2017 to 67% in Q2 2018), Tableau Online, and role-based subscription offerings.  Their enviable land-and-expand sales strategy is complemented by their enterprise strategy with the Tableau Platform. The 2018 Q3 earnings announcement takes place on November 6, 2018.

Finally, Tableau committed $100M in software, services, and cash to the Tableau Foundation over the next six years to support Tableau Foundation’s mission: “to increase the use of facts and analytical reasoning to solve problems.” Tableau’s mission-driven approach and mass scale programs have already helped 5,770 organizations, worked in 86 countries, provided 104 mission grants and 58 data fellowships with $31.3M in giving since 2014. Their data education also includes 10-week curriculums for visualization fundamentals and data journalism, and programs are in place to train young students and bring up a “new generation of analytics natives.”

Radiant Insights

  • Tableau continues to balance growth with innovation. Growing operationally and globally is being managed well as many new employees and roles are being added globally along with an enterprise sales and support strategy.
  • Innovation is focused on ways for people to understand and see data faster and easier through incorporating new technologies such as Recommendations, NLP and Augmented Analytics for data capabilities to deliver functionality that aligns with the Tableau Platform strategy.
  • Tableau will need to work closely and carefully with technology partners and developers that support their analytics ecosystem and entry to enterprise IT as a platform rather than a tool. The Tableau Platform has overlapping capabilities with their technology partners that may cause competitive issues or confusion.
  • Carefully nurturing its partnerships and technology alliances in the data and analytics ecosystem, as well as sustained, enhanced support to keep existing “customers for life,” will be key factors in Tableau’s continued growth and accommodating enterprise IT requirements.

This Radiant Advisors Event Insights is a summary of perspectives from John O’Brien, Julie Langenkamp, and Natalie Whitney.


John O’Brien is Principal Advisor and CEO of Radiant Advisors. A recognized thought leader in data strategy and analytics, John’s unique perspective comes from the combination of his roles as a practitioner, consultant and vendor CTO.

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