Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Can a Business Intelligence product make you curious, creative and innovative?

I often get asked by customers - Why Tableau? What they are really asking is - I have spent all this money on other BI tools, why do I need another one or your alternatives are free, why should I spend money with you. I posted earlier about how Tableau is like a digital camera while other tools are like film cameras. The picture below captures my thoughts on this topic.

So, if Tableau is like a digital camera, the question comes about - where is the proof that this self reliance has driven people to be more curious, creative and innovative. We see this with digital cameras - it gave rise to sites like Flickr / YouTube, you can see the display of creativity on these websites. What about Tableau?

Well Tableau has Tableau Public - a place for folks to share their visualizations with the public. You can see the display of creativity, enthusiasm and fun regular people are having visualizing data. That being said, if we consider the Selfie to be the ultimate form of self expression, what does Tableau Public have?

To answer that, I will leave you with the entries for the Quantified Self Viz Contest. Check it out for yourself -

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Governed Dashboards vs Ad Hoc Analysis – Think Wedding Albums

At our recent customer conference (TC14) Tableau CEO, Christian Chabot, explained the difference between Tableau and traditional BI vendors by comparing Digital Cameras to Film Cameras.  With Film Cameras, you have only a certain number of pictures you can take, it is expensive to buy film, it is expensive to develop the film, you need an expert to develop the film, there is a turnaround time between taking the picture and seeing the end result. Similarly with traditional BI vendors, it is expensive, takes time and you need an expert to build your reports and dashboards. Also, like there has been innovation in Film Cameras (e.g. disposal cameras) that made it more accessible to end users there have been other BI tools that are “end user friendly” and easier to use, but they still need experts to be involved in the process, are time consuming and expensive.

Digital cameras changed the game. They made taking pictures accessible to anyone, you didn’t need an expert to be involved in the process anymore and you could take as many pictures as you wanted. This unleashed creativity, experimentation and empowered the end users. You did not think twice about taking pictures (so you took lots of them), you kept the ones you liked and deleted the others, you captured a lot more memories, you got instant feedback and it even gave rise to selfies.. It also made it much easier and faster for experts to take pictures. Tableau has done the same in the Business Intelligence space. We have empowered the end users to be more creative, experiment with their data and be self-reliant.

While it is unquestionable that end users are experimenting more, being more creative and self-reliant - What about the quality of the pictures? What about managing the pictures and deciding which one to keep? Do you really want everyone taking pictures in every situation? If you need an official picture whose version do you keep? This question comes up around creating dashboards too.

The analogy here is of wedding albums (or any picture albums). You are having a wedding and will need to create a wedding album. What do you do? Do you have an “official photographer” or do you want all your friends taking pictures and thus crowdsourcing your album. The answer is that you should do both. Have the “official photographer” take the pictures that will go into the wedding album but also have all your guests take their own pictures and send it to you. You will end up having a much richer representation of your wedding. You will have captured your wedding from multiple perspectives. No matter how good your “official photographer” is, he cannot capture every moment and every perspective. That being said, if you want to take a selfie or a picture of your kids school play, you don't need a professional photographer.

This is similar to building dashboards. If you need to create a dashboard that a group of people need to see, then have an “official photographer” in this case a core group (could be IT or business or business IT) be responsible for creating the dashboard, but don’t stop there. Make the data available to the end users. Let them do their own ad hoc analysis on the data and look at it from their own perspectives. Chances are that some of the analysis they do will enhance the official dashboard. They will be generating valuable insights and providing you feedback to make your dashboards better.

There will also be many use cases, where you don’t need an official album, in this case let the users do their own ad hoc analysis (take their own pictures). The good news is that you will get ideas on valuable dashboards that should be created; you empower your end users and unleash their creativity. Most importantly, you will discover those amateur photographers that could take that next picture or video that goes viral. This is the power of Tableau. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

What happened to the Librarians?

In my earlier post (click here) on a hypothetical internet with no search engine, we talked about a world if there had been no Google and the innovations that we would have lost. A question was posed - What happened to the Librarians? Did Google make the Librarians jobless?

The librarians had a tough job. They knew that there was no way there were going to be able to keep up with the number of requests coming in. They also knew that the more questions they answered the more questions were going to come up. In addition, for them to do a good job, the users had to provide enough detail and context about the questions. Without the detail and context, it was easy to misinterpret the questions. It did not matter how hard they worked or how good they were, they could never make their users happy. In fact, if they were really good, it just meant that the number of questions went up and their response times went up. It was a vicious cycle that could not lead to success.

In the above hypothetical context, the librarians were happy when Google came along. The users could now ask their own questions. There was a job that still needed highly skilled resources - SEO specialists. They could now make sure that the content was presented in a way that would show up on Google. This job was much more enjoyable and challenging and higher paying. It was also something the Librarians were good at (it dealt with indexing and organizing content).

Similarly, in today's organizations. The teams that are responsible for building the reports aren't really that excited about creating charts and graphs and making the reports just right (getting every pixel perfect). It is a thankless job as you can never design the perfect report. Each user is different and based on their context / perspective, they want to see the data just that little differently. Given a choice, they would much rather focus on the job of making the organization's data available and accessible. This is a much more challenging and rewarding job. It is also something they have the skills for. Lastly, this now changes the dynamic between the two groups. It is a much more symbiotic relationship with both sides adding value.

So, Self Service Business Intelligence, does not do away with IT, instead it allows highly skilled IT resources to focus on the harder problem of making the data available, accessible, secure and governed while the end users can ask all the questions they want. If there is a question that is not answered by the data, they can now go back to IT and IT can work on making the new data set accessible. This is a much more agile process that allows organizations to react to the fast changes going on around them.

In this new world everyone wins. The organizations now have users that are curious, ask questions of their data and find insights that drive innovations. Highly skilled IT resources focus on the data and making it accessible. The organizations benefit because you now have users and IT aligned, each respecting each other and driving value. You have meetings where IT and business work together and the IT team gets a standing ovation from the users for the value they deliver. If you think that last part is hypothetical, you are quite mistaken. This is a reality at a lot of Tableau customers... Check out this post (click here)

Friday, May 9, 2014

Imagine the internet without Google..

The year is 1998. Content is exploding on the internet. Websites are popping up all over the place. But there is one little wrinkle - there is no Google, no search engines to search the information on the internet. The only way users can get their questions answered is to go to their local library. The Librarian requires you to fill out a form with all the details on the topic you want to learn about and ask questions. You have to make sure you think through all your questions beforehand. You submit your request and a week later you have your answers. You realize that some questions were misinterpreted, some answers led you to ask more questions, so you sit down to fill out the form again and wait another week. As more people have questions, the Librarians are overworked and now it takes a month to get your questions answered. You make sure you only ask the most important questions.

In case you think this is a hypothetical scenario. Just look at the organizations you work in. The year is 2014. Data is exploding. Every system, person, machine is generating data. There is one little wrinkle. The only way users can get their questions answered is to go to their Report Factory. The team running the Report Factory, requires you to provide all your questions upfront. They need this to be able to get you the answers as they don't know the context to your questions. It takes them a couple weeks to return with your answers (as they are busy with the many requests coming in). They use a language called SQL and work with cubes/universes. It is very complicated. When you look at the reports created for you, you realize that some questions were misinterpreted (as the report creator did not completely understand the context to your question), some reports led you to ask more questions. You start this process again and get ready to wait another couple weeks. As data grows, more people have questions and the 2 weeks now takes 2 months. It is easier to make decisions on gut feel than wait for the data.

If there had been no Google, no Search Engine - we would not have had any blogs (why create something when it is so difficult for people to find it), we would stop being curious (no more being the smart guy in the party who has the answer to the most obscure question), there would not have been a Facebook or a Twitter or a Flicker or YouTube (why create something when no one can find it), there would not have been the need for an iPhone or an iPad (why have a device when you can't find any relevant content)..

Imagine what your Organization is losing out by not having Self Service Business Intelligence. By not allowing your end users, the people who care about the data, an easy way to access and understand data in your enterprise - you are stifling their curiosity, you are losing competitive insight, you are preventing the next innovation from taking off in your organization, you are losing your change agents, you are being left behind.

So if you ask me.. is there a Google for the data in your enterprise.. my answer is YES.. and it is Tableau.. Come see how we are changing the lives of our customers and why they are passionate about a piece of software that has given them a purpose, a voice and a means to change their lives.

In case you are wondering what happened to the Librarians. Check out my follow on post (click here).

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Tableau - A grassroots movement changing organizational culture..

Working at Tableau I have had the firsthand experience of seeing organizational transformation from the ground up. Individuals / middle managers / teams etc. irrespective of their title or authority are changing the culture at large multinational organizations. This has been eye opening and fascinating to watch. Groups / individuals by leveraging Tableau feel empowered to change the status quo. They feel relevant and are able to make a difference. Slowly but steadily, through word of mouth, the change begins.

Having never witnessed anything like this in all my years in software, I've been very curious on whether this is  a new phenomenon or is there a precedence to this.

I started by looking back at how transformation has traditionally occurred in Organizations. Most transformations were always top down.

They followed the McKinsey's 7S model



Kotler's 8 Step Process

The challenge with these models was usually in getting people to change, these transformations were expensive, they took a long time and were not always successful. We always talked about People, Process, Technology and while companies might figure out the Technology and Process, the People part was always tricky. People don't like change. They don't like being told my management about what to do.

At Tableau our customers have reversed this and made it more of a bottoms up process. This got me to thinking - Is there another option for businesses as far as organizational change goes. The answer, seems to be yes. Being curious about this phenomena, I spent some time doing research into what causes grassroots movements, what is changing in our society that makes this possible today and how can organizations apply this.

Here are my thoughts -

1. Tableau has been adopted by the masses because it aligned closely with the beliefs of the end user (not just IT or executives). These were the actual people affect by the change. - Check out this video by Simon Sinek that talks about this phenomenon.

2. We are in a time in society where end users are looking to be empowered, looking to connect with like minded people and want to change the status quo. Tribes are changing society. We've heard people say that Tableau users are passionate about Tableau. This is because they are like minded people that are changing the BI status quo at organizations. Tribes are the new change agent.

3. So if organizations want to know how movements start, here is a good example of one in action. The key point to remember though, is that if it does not align with the beliefs of the tribe, it will just be a fad and the masses will move on to the next bright shiny object.

So what does this mean for organizations? How do they create their own Grassroots movements?

There is no easy answer for this. The advantage that Tableau has, is that we have nailed the Process and Technology part of the People/Process/Technology triumvirate. We've created software that any end user can relate to and use with minimal support. We fit extremely well into existing processes (you can connect to your Excel workbooks and get going immediately). We do things 10x better/faster than the status quo, so the users are willing to make the change. The impact is obvious. Once the end users start using Tableau, they want to talk to others in their tribe, show off their creations and thus the movement starts. First with the Innovators and then with the Early Adopters and soon the Early Majority.

Would love to hear other cases where Technology was able to start a grassroots movement in your organization..

Friday, January 24, 2014

Tableau vs Spotfire vs QlikView - Which tool is targeted at business users

Three vendors stand out in the Visual Analytics space - Spotfire / QlikView and Tableau. They all solve the same problem - help end users visually analyze data by making users self reliant and reducing dependence on IT to create reports.

The question is - Do these tools meet the criteria for Self Reliance by business users or do they still need IT to create reports (maybe less than the traditional BI tools like SAP, Cognos, Oracle).

I tried to answer this question by going to Amazon and searching for books on these 3 tools and here are the top 4 results for each. I'll let you make your own judgement (check out who these books are written for) -