Saturday, September 28, 2013

Tableau : The Jetson Space Car of Business Intelligence

I woke up this morning and was thinking about my new job and how great it would be to have no commute. Living in NY, commute to and from work / customers, tends to be a common topic of angst and I suddenly had this revelation - commute was related to Tableau.

So here is the analogy. People (like me) living in the suburbs in NY, typically have two options -

1. Drive to work
2. Take mass transit

Let's say it's Monday morning and Joe wakes up early to get to work. Since he drives in, he knows that he has to leave the house by 7 am so he does not get stuck in traffic. Today being Monday, it is his turn to get the kids ready for school and it is raining. The kids are dragging their feet and by the time he leaves home it is 7:15. The rain does not help, there is an accident and 2 hours later he pulls into his parking spot in the city. He is tired, angry, frustrated and not in a happy spot.

Now it is Tuesday morning and Jane wakes up early to get to work. She takes mass transit. She has to be in the city for a 9 am meeting. Which means she has to catch a 7 am train. It's her turn to get the kids ready and she is able to get them out of the door. She is rushing to get to the train station and is running down the steps when the train doors close. She has to wait 20 minutes for the next train. She emails her boss that she is going to be 20 mins late. She gets to work stressed, angry and not in a happy spot.

Now imagine, that Joe or Jane had a Jetson's space car. They get the kids ready, send them off, get into a nice air conditioned space car, with an amazing view, soothing music and it gets them to work in 20 mins. Joe and Jane get to work early, are happy and enjoy getting to work.Some days they even take a few detours and stop by a few places before they get to work. Commute is fun again. Not only did it save them time, it also made the journey fun.

Now what does this have to do with Business Intelligence (BI). Well, customers that use BI tools fall into 2 buckets. Some try self service BI (drive to work) and others have experts analyzing data for them (mass transit). The issues customers face with both approaches are similar to my commute example.

Joe likes to do his own data analysis. A long time ago he gave up trying to use the complicated enterprise BI tools that his organization uses as a standard. He asks his IT guys to give him a data dump and he opens up Excel and starts analyzing data. For Joe, Excel is like driving his car to work. He can do it himself but like his commute, but he often finds himself in Excel hell. Analyzing data is really slow (like riding a bicycle) and he does get to the analysis he wants but it takes a long time. Whenever someone asks him to do something different or answer a different question, it takes forever. He is frustrated and does the bare minimum analysis needed.

Jane depends on her BI specialists to get her the reports she wants. Back in the day it was great. Like when mass transit first came to her town. There were a few people who wanted reports (train was empty), she could get her answers immediately (express train). But the last few years have been tough. More people want reports (train is crowded), she has to wait for others to get their reports before she gets hers (local train) and if she has some new questions (misses her train) she has to submit a change request (catch the next train). She gets upset at her BI specialists (train drivers) but they are not at fault (train only has so much capacity). It is too expensive to add more trains.

So Joe and Jane end up being extremely frustrated by data and analyzing it and how long it takes. So a lot of times they end up making decisions on intuition and incomplete data.

Luckily for Joe and Jane, there is a Jetson's space car when it comes to analyzing data. It is called Tableau.

Tableau has many significant advantages like the Jetson's space car -

1. It gets Joe and Jane their answers quickly (shorter commute)
2. They can use the tool themselves to get these insights without needing to bother the BI specialists (self service and the train drivers are happy there are fewer riders)
3. They can use the tool to explore the data (it is no longer about going from point A to B but you can make multiple detours along the way) and find new insights  (you can see many interesting sights). Tableau lets you go on a treasure hunt through your data and most times the hidden insights are found on detours. These hidden insights are key as they are often in the blind spot of organizations and are the source of competitive advantage or risk mitigation.
4. You have an unlimited undo so you can never get lost (GPS that lets you retrace your steps)
5. Exploring data, makes people more interested in their data and no longer a drudgery (commute is more fun)
6. You don't need an expert to use Tableau and we let you take it out on a test drive by yourself (with no IT help needed).
7. You explore the data visually. It is proven that the human brain can process way more information visually than in rows and columns (like seeing the sights from your space car, rather than reading about them in a book).
8. It is cool and everyone else wants it too (just like the space car)
9. Lastly, it is actually cheaper than your current BI tools.

Before I conclude, there is one more point. There are other BI companies that claim to have the Jetson's space cars, but they approached it from just one perspective. How to shorten the commute time. So yes, they too can get you insights quickly (still not as quick as Tableau) but they need an expert to drive it. So really what they have is kind of like Elon Musk's Hyperloop. Which is great compared to your current options, but it is not a Jetson Space Car. Now, they will let you take it on a drive yourself but first they will want to know where you want to go and an expert will pre-program it. So as long as you want to go from point A to B, it will get you there faster (than your current options), but if you want to go to C or D, you will have to get an expert to re-program it.

So yes there is value in getting faster insights, but the point they miss is that it is also about the journey. Tableau makes the journey fun and fast, so you enjoy analyzing data, you feel more fulfilled and you want to explore your data. That is the key to Tableau - It is not just about the end, but about the journey. If the journey is fun, you will take it out for a spin and you will explore your data and when you do that you will find things you did not know you did not know and when that happens you can make a lot of money (identify opportunities) or save a lot of money (identify risks).

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