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9/27/2010
12:34 PM
Seth Grimes
Seth Grimes
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Sociable BI: Could 'Tableau' Become a Verb?

Tableau visual data-analysis software embodies sociable BI, business intelligence that prizes accessibility, ease-of-use, and power, with a strong measure of collaboration and sharing, per Tableau Software's "Business Analytics For All" tag line. Does that mean that "Soon we'll say that we 'tableau' data the way we now say we 'google' for information"?

Tableau visual data-analysis software embodies sociable BI, business intelligence that prizes accessibility, ease-of-use, and power, with a strong measure of collaboration and sharing, per Tableau Software's "Business Analytics For All" tag line. (Below: Rina Bongsu-Petersen's Tableau rendering of U.S. obesity data.) I do see that bit of self-description as more an aspiration than reality however, yet for the true believer, there are no limits, hence the statement by @googlea (Giedre Aleknonyte), reported on Twitter by @datadoodle (Ted Cuzzillo) and retweeted eight times, "Soon we'll say that we 'tableau' data the way we now say we 'google' for information." I responded, "Tableau's nice, but it will NEVER win even 1% of Google's name recognition." But I also got to thinking, What would it take to make 'tableau' (or any BI brand) a verb?@Freakalytics (Stephen McDaniel) jumped into the Twitter exchange with, "The best predictor of future success is rabid fans & rapid, sustained growth. Tableau has both." Yet from Ted Cuzzillo's Tableau customer conference reporting, it seems that "rabid" does not describe most Tableau users. According to Ted, users have "adopted something that's logical, responsive, and economical, in which the simple interface encourages experimentation and learning."

Ted noted Howard Dresner's conference presence. Howard defines BI. I asked him his views. Howard said, "Tableau is an interesting company. Very loyal customers -- primarily business folks -- not IT." He continued, "I think Tableau has a good product that adds value. But, a verb? Does anyone 'Cognos,' 'SAS,' or 'MicroStrategy' their data? Nope."

Exactly. We don't 'oracle' our data, despite that company's dominant DBMS market position and founder/CEO Larry Ellison's unmatched charm. We don't 'ipod' or 'itunes' music even though the products created, and strongly dominate, their markets.

To become a verb is a rare distinction. In the IT realm, I can think of only 'google' and 'amazon' as brand-verbs, and that latter usage applies to category destruction (bricks-and-mortar book-sellers) rather than to a customer or user action. So what does Google have that these others -- Howard's and my example companies -- don't? My answer is the sociability I defined earlier. As I wrote earlier, Tableau has it, as a leading player in the socialization of BI.

Everybody's Doing a New Brand Dance Now

Just for the sake of ideation, How might Tableau (or any IT brand) become a verb? Pop culture shows us the way --

Everybody's doing a brand-new dance, now. (Come on baby, do The Loco-motion.) I know you'll get to like it, If you give it a chance, now. (Come on baby, do The Loco-motion.) My little baby sister can do it with ease. It's easier than learnin' your A-B-C's. So, come on, come on, do The Loco-motion with me.

Catchiness and a channel to the market. Ease of use. Community. Tableau's there, albeit in a limited sense, in a limited market, but then a technology can have a profound impact without seeking to appeal to everyone.

All that stuff is necessary but not sufficient. My further prescription for Becoming a Verb:

  1. Achieve a dominant position in a significant domain, based on
    • technology
    • market positioning
    • leadership
  2. Solidify that position in the face of competition, even expand on it
  3. Become ubiquitous in your market

How do you become ubiquitous? In the information technology world, you have to exist beyond cost questions, not necessarily free but, rather, unquestionable and unquestioned, à la Microsoft Office. If IT staff can say No on cost, security, technical compatibility or other grounds, you won't get there (which is why it helps if you operate as a service or in the cloud, beyond IT's reach). But note that IT staff or not, if there's a free option out there, without restrictions such as Tableau Public's forcing you to publish your underlying dataset or, conversely, not being mashable, folks will go with it. So --

  1. Position to grow the industry and not just yourself. This entails broad-market cost competitiveness and contributing to development of standards and best practices.

What's the most verb-able data visualization?

The most significant visualization innovations I've seen in recent years are:

  • Visual analytics as offered by Tableau, yes, but also by TIBCO Spotfire, QlikView, and others.
  • Gapminder animated bubble (motion) charts.
  • IBM's ManyEyes social-visualization site, a Tableau Public precursor that dates back several years. It is a bit stale although it was updated recently with text visualization capabilities.

Spotfire and QlikView are anything but stale, continuing to improve at a fast pace. QlikView in particular has a definite edge in the mobile arena. I see mobile BI as increasingly essential, yet Howard Dresner, who has been studying the topic very recently, commented to me that Tableau's "mobile capabilities are nascent."

Gapminder's technology was bought by Google a number of years back. It and more is now available, free, via the Google Visualization API, which complements the Google Chart API.

What do users think? A 2007 comment: "The Google Chart API is just great! It is easy to use and very powerful. I wrote an extension for mediawiki to put charts on wiki pages using the Google Chart API." Very sociable. And myself, I love Gapminder per my January 2007 column, Make Your Data Tell a Story.

Tableau's doing great, advancing the visualization cause, as are TIBCO, Qlikview, IBM, and others. But what's the most verb-able -- the most sociable -- visualization combination of easy to use, accessible, and powerful out there? Check out the bubble-motion chart at USASpending.gov. It is generated via the Google API. Want to put an interactive data visualization on your Web site, for free? That's the route to becoming a verb. Tableau's a fine option for some, if the dataset's public and you're up for downloading software to compose your visualization, although I doubt anyone at all will be calling these steps 'tableauing' your data. Otherwise, if your dataset's public or not, or you prefer to use an API to access a free, powerful service, you can just google it.


A Tableau Public example: Rina Bongsu-Petersen's interactive rendering of U.S. obesity data. The controls are active.

Tableau visual data-analysis software embodies sociable BI, business intelligence that prizes accessibility, ease-of-use, and power, with a strong measure of collaboration and sharing, per Tableau Software's "Business Analytics For All" tag line. Does that mean that "Soon we'll say that we 'tableau' data the way we now say we 'google' for information"?

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