Tableau CEO: We're the Google of data visualization

Christian Chabot, in an exclusive interview, explains how Tableau Software is putting a consumerized face on business intelligence and analytics

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Q: And what you call your Data Engine gives you that high performance?

A: Yes, we have this really clever engine that, as you're doing visual analytics -- as you're doing this process of zooming and sorting and grouping and filtering and comparing -- automatically generates queries in the background.

We have this little setting that you can click. It says: Hey, do you want these queries sent straight to the database? Or do you want to actually go pull out a whole bunch of the data from the database into memory first so that you don't bother the database system?

In our industry there's been a religious war about which way you should do this. The right answer is both. It depends on your situation. Some customers have Teradata access and you're darn right they want those queries going straight to data. That's why they pay Teradata $10 million a year, because it performs. They have literally billions and billions of rows sitting in Teradata on big servers, with a stack surrounding it, and it's all indexed.

Now other groups within the same companies might say -- oh well, our data is in the SQL server database that hasn't been upgraded in three years, and I think it's really maddening to query it because it brings it to its knees. We say -- great. We've built this in-memory data engine, so basically on a bunch of little commodity chips you can pull billions of rows into memory on a laptop that you got from Dell's store.

Then we have customers who combine both. Sometimes, like at eBay, they'll see major auction trends across eBay broken down into colored lines ... then they say -- oh, you want to overlay our conversion ratio from that one campaign we did? That's over here. And they'll pull it in memory and they'll overlay those numbers graphically right on the Teradata numbers so you can even combine in-memory and live queries. That's what is making Tableau a real Swiss Army knife for companies. That's why sales are exploding.

Q: Conventionally, business intelligence has been like the waterfall development process. You send your requirements to business intelligence specialists, who generate a report that may or may not be what you want. So you're talking then about eliminating the middleman and creating a direct relationship with the data, right?

A: That's exactly right.

Q: So then who do you sell to? You're probably not selling to IT people or the conventional BI guys. Are you selling exclusively to the business side that wants the answers?

A: It's about half and half. You'd be surprised. In the early days of the company, it was always from the business side. It was the business owners saying, "I am fed up with our BI strategy. This is ridiculous. I'm going to go find something I can just go use and get this done today rather than wait until next February to do my conversion analysis." I can walk the hallways of literally any Fortune 500 company and find rampant frustration with their current BI strategies. People are tearing their hair out.

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