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: It's near the top of the spending priority list year after year.

A: Exactly. And for the first time in Gartner history, they have gotten a different answer to one of their classic question: What's the most important criteria in your business intelligence buying decision in the coming 12 months? Last year, for the first time, No. 1 was ease-of-use, hands down. Give me something my people can use because I am fed up!

Back to your question: IT is actually the buyer about half the time, because for most IT organizations processing change requests for business users isn't the fun part of the job. That's not what really gets them excited. Right now a lot of people in IT live in a world where ... the board meeting is tomorrow, so the day before there will be an unending stream of follow-on questions from the VP of marketing for her slides. IT does not enjoy that.

With Tableau, IT can say: Look here, answer as many questions as you want. If you have any problems let me know, but my team has set this up. Knock yourself out.

Q: Self-service, right? It's the consumerization of IT.

A: Right. And I think people who don't really understand what's happening are thinking: Oh, this is the business picking their own thing. It actually was like that seven or eight years ago, but it's just not like that anymore. IT is increasingly driving these things because they're trying to move their strategies toward more self-service.

Q: Let's talk a little bit more about your business. What's your typical sell cycle like into an organization?

A: We use a land-and-expand model. That means customers of all different functions and groups are usually trying our products, our full-function free trials online, then adopting them initially for some group or project, having some success, and expanding from there. And we embrace that. I mean we're obviously trying to reinvent business analytics technology, but we're also trying to reinvent business intelligence selling and the business intelligence customer experience.

Before Tableau, where could you get a full-function free trial of a business intelligence platform from the home page of a website? We invented that. Before Tableau, where could you get free corporate training videos for a BI platform as free YouTube videos? We invented that. What other BI product has a price list that fits on one line? We invented that.

Q: I would imagine that the incumbents would come back and say -- oh, they're not really business intelligence, you know, it's just this lightweight thing. It's just presentation-layer stuff, there's no real analytics. Do you get that kind of pushback?

A: That's what they say every day and our sales are exploding. I think that's what Siebel said about Salesforce, isn't it? We've seen this movie before.

Q: If you talk to the business analytics folks they'll say, well, there's the database side of the stuff, there's the presentation side of the stuff, but the real nut is in proprietary analytics -- and high-end predictive analytics.

A: We just launched some new predictive analytics capabilities, so we are now playing in that arena. But playing in that arena doesn't mean go add the nth algorithm. I mean how long has SQL Server had its data mining package available? And what's the customer adoption of it? I've literally never met a user of that product in my life. In fact, if you ask Microsoft they'll tell you -- sales are virtually zero. The last thing people want is: Give me 500 algorithms only data scientists can understand. Because my data scientist req has been unfilled for three years.

At Tableau we're really inspired by Google. When you sit down at a Google search engine, you have a question every time. How do I drive to my son's soccer game? Who wrote "Moby Dick"? What time is the debate? You have some question.

So what is the Google for databases? The answer is Tableau. Because when you sit down with a database you have a question. And that question isn't some crazy data mining thing; it's usually basic things.

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