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TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

Tableau "Mobilizes" Visualization

With Vizable, its new mobile-first offering for data visualization and analysis, Tableau says it's targeting "people who don't yet know that they, too, can see and understand their data." With a number of key data integration-related improvements to its bread-and-butter visual discovery tool, Tableau is poised to become more self-serviceable for existing users as well.

Tableau Software Corp. claimed that its annual Tableau Customer Conference (TCC) in Las Vegas drew 10,000 attendees. That's about twice the number of people who attended Teradata Corp.'s annual Partners conference, which was held the same week in October. It's getting close to the 13,000 attendees IBM Corp. claims attended its own Insight conference, held the week after TCC in October. It's still a far cry, however, from the 60,000 attendees Oracle draws for OpenWorld.

Just give Tableau and TCC time.

The big news was Vizable, a free iPad-only app that Tableau says brings a mobile-first user experience (UX) -- complete with support for pinching, swiping, and dragging -- to data visualization and interactive analysis. Vizable isn't a mobile-first version of Tableau for a tablet -- or, in this case the Apple iPad; Tableau already has just such an offering. Dave Story, Tableau's vice president of mobile and strategic growth, described Vizable as something else entirely.

"[Vizable is] a mobile app for data analysis designed specifically for the most magical computing device of the decade: the tablet," Story told TCC attendees. "Vizable started with a simple question: if I have data on a tablet -- no server, no Web site, just data on a tablet -- how do I see and understand it? Well, we looked and there's just no great app for that. We decided to take all of the wisdom of Tableau and build an awesome app that lets people explore their data by touching it."

People can't literally "touch" their data, of course, but Vizable offers them the virtual equivalent. To interact with data or an explore a data set, you use the same mobile gestures you use to swipe from one cat photo to another -- or to pinch-zoom on a particularly frowny cat face.

Story used Vizable to explore a large dataset of movie titles, "zoom[ing] from over 40,000 rows down to a single record all with just my fingers and all [from] start to finish in just a few minutes."

Tableau has high hopes for Vizable. "Vizable is for people like you who know and love their data, but it's also for people who don't yet know that they, too, can see and understand their data," he said. Story promised that Vizable -- which officially launched at TCC -- would be available free of charge. "If you have an iPad, data, and questions, Vizable is for you."

"We want everyone to use Vizable so we are going to charge absolutely nothing."

Well, not everyone. Not initially, at least. At launch, Vizable is an iPad-only application. More to the point, Tableau hasn't said when -- or if -- it plans to make it available for other tablet platforms.

Better, Smarter Data Integration

Also at TCC, officials touted critical new data integration (DI) capabilities, starting with Tableau's "Data Interpreter" feature, which can automatically strip headers, footers, and other errata from spreadsheet data sets. Tableau also trumpeted a new feature called Union that simplifies and substantially automates the process of integrating data from CSV and spreadsheet files. "Union is a brand-new feature which will let me add rows to the bottom of my data source," said Roger Hau, program manager for Tableau's data prep and data integration team. Union automates the data prep and blending process, Hau explained. Previously, users would have to minimize or switch out of Tableau in order to manually prepare CSV files. Union does this automatically. It can even intelligently integrate a large collection of related spreadsheets, Hau claimed.

"Wouldn't it be nice if Tableau just automatically included all of my CSVs in a union? We're going to give you the ability to customize your Union. Through this dialog [box feature], I have the ability to tell Tableau to include all files matching a particular pattern," he explained.

Arguably the biggest DI-related news at TCC was Tableau's support for cross-database joins. This is exactly what it sounds like: a federated query capability, similar to what data federation (or data virtualization) technology does.

"Union makes it easier than ever to piece back together the data that's been split across multiple [CSV] files and multiple tables, but what are you going to do when your data is split across multiple databases?" Hau asked. "Before … I'd have to ask IT to build me a data warehouse just to join those two databases, but now Tableau is giving me the ability to [join data from multiple sources].

Federated query is still a somewhat controversial concept, thanks in part to the excesses of past implementations. (In its first incarnation, data federation -- and, especially, federated query -- was marketed as an alternative to, even a replacement for, a data warehouse.) Tableau seems comfortable with the concept, however, and no less comfortable with how it has implemented it.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a technology writer with 20 years of experience. His writing has focused on business intelligence, data warehousing, and analytics for almost 15 years. Swoyer has an abiding interest in tech, but he’s particularly intrigued by the thorny people and process problems technology vendors never, ever want to talk about. You can contact him at [email protected].

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