Ninth Annual Tableau User Conference Trip Report

More than 13,000 attendees flooded the Austin Convention Center for the 9th annual Tableau User Conference, and a whopping 70 percent of them were first-time attendees

More than 13,000 attendees flooded the Austin Convention Center November 7-11 for the 9th annual Tableau User Conference, and a whopping 70 percent of them were first-time attendees. Enthusiastic veteran- and first-time attendees alike demonstrated that Tableau continues to have one of the most passionate user groups of any vendor or show in the industry. Tableau customers are people who love the product and are passionate about data, and it shows.

This past year has been a pivotal one for Tableau, and there’s a sense of transition with the new leadership and focus. The leadership vision and product features/functionality presented at the event convey more of an enterprise-oriented message. While emphasis to date has centered on powering the desktop user by unleashing creativity with data visualizations, now we hear the addition of on-point, albeit scripted, messaging about meeting the needs of the enterprise.

Keynote Highlights

The conference kicked off with flashy keynotes from top leadership. Tableau’s new CEO Adam Selipsky welcomed the sellout crowd, sharing key thoughts and observations from his first seven weeks at Tableau. He told stories to highlight the importance of a culture of innovation, that one person can make a difference with data, and what a spirit of innovation can yield. In sum, he is focused on innovation to enable people.

Christian Chabot, co-founder and chairman, then took the stage, recapping the founder story to share history with newcomers and emphasize that although their transition story is strong, they’re committed to their roots. He says they continue to remain focused on their mission: “to help people see and understand data,” so that they can help you with your mission. To paraphrase, “We do this because it helps you do what you do.”

As Chabot outlined it, the company’s three-year product roadmap is multifaceted.

  • Continued commitment to visual analytics through instant analytics, time and space analysis and natural language support
  • Data engine strength, taking advantage of the Hyper data engine acquisition for analytic performance, faster data ingestion and enterprise scalability
  • Data management, through discovery, governance, agile models and data preparation. Project Maestro was announced as a new  Tableau product to be integrated with Tableau for solving users’ data preparation challenges.
  • Cloud, to advance connectivity, simplicity and flexibility. A specific announcement in this area is the upcoming availability of Tableau on Linux.
  • Collaboration, to drive a culture of analytics and self-service, including sharing, recommendations, alerting, and personal and team sandboxes

Project Maestro was a notable announcement: this new standalone product for visual data preparation is a move sideways into a neighboring market. With Project Maestro, as it is currently code-named, Tableau has chosen to extend into part of the data analysts’ job for preparing and curating data – tasks sometimes performed by data specialists or stewards. The new product will facilitate direct interaction with the data (show the data flow and allow people to interact with the data directly), and will publish that data to Tableau for sharing and reusability with other users. While not a surprise to their partners in the data prep space, Tableau will differentiate with their core principles in intuitiveness and visualization expertise and for Project Maestro. According to Tableau product managers, this means doing data prep differently by being visual (i.e., intuitive, easy user experience) – essentially bringing core visualization principles to the prep space to ease analysts’ struggles.

These and many of the major announcements support the transition underway at Tableau from the early and startup phases to a new era of sustained growth.

The analyst track of the event provided a full lineup of sessions and access to Tableau leadership, product managers, engineers and top researchers, who provided more details about the roadmap for the company, the evolving business model and deep dives into focus areas, specifically Hyper, Project Maestro, cloud, collaboration, NLP and analytics. Tableau didn’t showcase or promote their mobile interfaces as much as in past conferences, stating simply that it is simply table-stakes for any data visualization today.

Key Takeaways

Tableau put on a flashy show for keynotes and fan-favorite sessions (such as “Devs on Stage,” which introduced 25 upcoming enhancements to be rolled out) and successfully created enthusiasm and excitement about what’s ahead. That said, it is sometimes a challenge to show a sneak peak of coming features within the product roadmap without providing specifics of when these things will be available to the broad customer base. In some cases this creates some confusion, yet attendees await with eager anticipation.

Not to underscore the importance of the Hyper engine or the new data prep tool, we believe the most impactful of the announcements centered on collaboration. Tableau is facilitating the ease and ability for an analyst or end user to visually explore the data and then share that data and view what other people derived from the analysis. Further, the lineage of the analysis and any related discussion is preserved within the visualization. Machine learning-driven recommendations will extend the reach of independent analysts to connect with others (appropriately based on permissions, etc.), and visualizations can be certified – essentially promoted and blessed with a seal of approval – so they can be confidently reused.

Another significant announcement was the upcoming Linux version, in alpha today and announced to be ready for release to GA in 2017. Linux is the number one preference for enterprises going from on-premises to the cloud for licensing costs, and a lot of people want and need its optimization and security. Beyond enabling cloud capability, the message here is also that Tableau is not ignoring the IT people, as demonstrated in separate Tableau for IT sessions at the event sharing how Tableau is run inside Tableau itself for innovations and practicality.

Tableau’s leadership stated a commitment to continuous innovation and research with their continued global growth. In our opinion, they announced a fair percentage of features and functionality that are impressive and tremendously beneficial, though not specifically innovative. The announcements show progress and advancement for enterprise-class software, but we will continue to watch for game-changing features to be announced in the future.

As their business grows, we expect to hear and see more stories about the impact of visual analytics. Tableau ­– and its customers – love data, and the advances Tableau is making will enable more people to do more with their data.

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