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.