Tableau Upgrade Heats Up Cool BI World

Data visualization software gains in-memory option and data-source flexibility.
Tableau Software's just-released 6.0 version may prove to be one of the company’s biggest releases and one that heightens the business intelligence competition with QlikTech, Tibco Spotfire, and Microsoft PowerPivot.

Tableau previewed its latest release in my "Cool BI" class at The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI) World Congress in Orlando earlier this month. As I wrote in a recent in-depth review, Tableau's visual discovery tool is one of the easiest to use.

For customers with a well-designed data warehouse or data mart, Tableau Software nicely leverages the power of the underlying database, whether relational, OLAP, or columnar. This approach has been in stark contrast to QlikTech QlikView's and Tibco Spotfire's approach of bringing all the data into memory. Replicating data has its advantages and disadvantages.

With Tableau 6.0, customers seem to get the best of both worlds. Tableau's new Data Engine leverages the source database when necessary, or it can bring portions of the data into memory when that offers better performance. Adding support for Windows 64-bit operating environments improves the product's scalability.

The other major improvement in Tableau 6.0 is the ability to handle multiple data sources -- a capability the company calls Data Blending. The lack of this option was one of the oft-cited reasons customers would choose other products over Tableau. With Data Blending, an end user can drag and drop new data sources onto a visualization. As long as the dimension names are conformed, the tool will automatically create the joins.

During my Cool BI class it was interesting to see that many attendees had heard of Tableau but few had actually used the software. I suspect these latest enhancements will change that.

Following my usual practice of surveying class attendees, I learned that dashboards and advanced visualization once again topped the list of innovations attendees most want to pursue. But here's the rub: these BI users would like these capabilities to be delivered in one tool. Currently these capabilities are fragmented. Some advanced visualization products can be used to create dashboards but not all; and not all dashboards support visual discovery.

Predictive analytics was the second-highest innovation priority among the 50 or so attendees of my class. On this front, SAS demoed its new Rapid Predictive Modeler during. The third-highest priority was a split between BI Search, with Endeca demoing its solution, and in-memory analytics, a key innovation gaining momentum in the marketplace.

I wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving this week and safe travels! I'm thankful for having an amazing job that connects me to so many wonderful business intelligence practitioners, readers, colleagues, and vendors with cool products! To my family and friends, thank you... for everything.

Cindi Howson is the founder of BI Scorecard, a Web site that offers in-depth business intelligence product reviews.

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