Tableau Emphasizes Usability, Mapping in 4.0 BI Release

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Seattle business-intelligence software vendor Tableau is shipping the 4.0 version of its data visualization tools on Monday, emphasizing the product's ease of use and ability to apply data against maps.

"For the every-day knowledge worker, investigations of databases are just impossible," said Tableau CEO Christian Chabot.

The typical Tableau user is usually an individual or team leader, according to Chabot. "Occasionally its a CIO or CFO." What these users share is a desire to quickly "throw their data [into the tool] and start exploring it," he said.

A big focus of the 4.0 release is the ability to apply data against maps. The software can take any data file that contains geographic fields, such as a zip code, and automatically detect the presence of those fields, geo-code it, present it on a map, Chabot said.

Tableau did not use public mapping services like Google Maps because they have too much detail in the background, Chabot said. Instead, the vendor used custom-rendered maps specifically designed for being loaded behind data.

The vendor's customers include companies such as Coca-Cola Enterprises, which has been using the software to do forecasting on its largest accounts.

"You can quickly spot the problems because you're looking at visuals rather than the numbers in Excel," said Andy Kriebel, manager of forecasting and planning at Coca-Cola Enterprises. "The interface is very clean. You can immediately figure out what you need to do."

Tableau is fast even when handling large sets of data, according to Kriebel.

Coca-Cola has about five licenses in place and roughly five other workers are using a free trial, Kriebel said. He's hoping to see it used by analysts, who otherwise have to spend so much time creating reports that they don't have time for analysis, he said.

One shortcoming of Tableau is its lack of a direct connection to SAP data, Kriebel noted. Tableau plans to add this, according to Chabot, but he could provide no date.

However, Tableau does support Oracle. That vendor also incorporates Tableau's software into its Essbase database as a front-end visualization tool.

Tableau Desktop pricing is US$999 per user; this version can tap Excel, Access and text files. The professional edition is $1,800 per user and connects to a wider range of sources. Tableau Server, which allows analytics to be shared over a Web browser, costs $25,000 and up depending on the number of users.

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