It all started with a Department of Defense (DoD) project conducted by the Stanford University Computer Science department aimed at increasing people’s ability to analyze information. The project took flight with Chris Stolte, then a Ph.D. candidate, who was researching visualization techniques for exploring and analyzing relational databases and data cubes. His early career as a database programmer helped him see the problems with existing data analysis tools like indirect access to data. Along with his professor, Pat Hanrahan, the founding member of Pixar, Stolte realized that computer graphics could deliver huge gains in people’s ability to understand data.
The breakthrough arose when they brought together two computer science disciplines for the first time: computer graphics and databases. Together, they combined a structured query language for databases with a descriptive language for rendering graphics and invented a database visualization language called VizQL (Visual Query Language). After Stolte recruited his former business partner and friend, Chabot—to serve as CEO—Tableau was spun out of Stanford with an eponymous software application in 2003. VizQL was a revolutionary technology that completely changed working with data by allowing simple drag and drop functions to create sophisticated visualizations. “The company is positioned to become the new world standard in analytics,” says Adam Selipsky, President and CEO at Tableau. Selipsky—who has over a decade long experience building Amazon Web Services—sets the vision and direction for Tableau, and oversees all company strategy, business activities, and operations.
Tableau’s VizQL is a patented query language that translates actions into a database query and then expresses the response graphically. In a traditional analysis tool, clients have to analyze data in rows and columns, choose a subset of data to present, organize that data into a table, then create a chart from that table.
VizQL skips those steps and creates a visual representation of data quickly, giving visual feedback while analyzing the data. As a result, clients get a much deeper understanding of their data and can work much faster than conventional methods—up to 100 times faster. Tableau can create a broad range of visualizations, from bar and line charts to maps and sophisticated linked views. Clients get the flexibility to understand data in an entirely new way. This fundamentally new architecture does for data interactions in visual form what SQL did for data interactions in text form. With VizQL, clients have a single analysis interface and database visualization tool to produce a broad range of graphical summaries.
As we add capabilities for our customers, deepen our enterprise presence, and expand into the cloud, our mission remains unchanged—to help people see and understand their data
Expanding the Legacy of VizQL
Based on the breakthrough technology—VizQL—the company has built Tableau Desktop that enables clients to connect to data, visualize and then create interactive dashboards all with a few clicks. Using simple drag and drop reference lines and forecasts, clients can quickly build powerful calculations from existing data and review statistical summaries. Using trend analyses, regressions, and correlations for tried and true statistical understanding, clients can ask new questions, spot trends, identify opportunities, and make data-driven decisions with confidence. Tableau Desktop can seamlessly connect to data on prem or in the cloud—whether it’s big data, a SQL database, a spreadsheet, or cloud apps like Google Analytics and Salesforce. Based on client’s preferred data sources, analysis begins.
Further, enterprises can design, customize, and publish optimized dashboards for desktop, tablet, and phone through Tableau’s Device designer tool. Worksheets, actions, and formatting are shared across device layouts and the default dashboard. This creates a single dashboard that’s optimized for viewing across devices. Since each device layout can have its own sizing behaviors, clients can control the worksheets that are displayed as well as their respective sizes.
Once users publish dashboards with Tableau Desktop, they can share them throughout the organization securely using Tableau Server or Tableau Online. Tableau Server is browser-and mobile-based insight anyone can use. Whether data is on-premise or in the cloud, Tableau Server gives the flexibility to integrate into existing data infrastructure. Businesses can guarantee themselves the freedom to explore data in a secure environment—without limiting to pre-defined questions, wizards, or chart types. Businesses get the ability to centrally manage all metadata and security rules while gaining visibility into usage to optimize their environment. Likewise, Tableau Online is an analytics platform fully hosted in the cloud. The platform eliminates the time and cost spent on hardware setup while giving complete flexibility to add users instantaneously.
A testament to Tableau’s capabilities is EY, a professional services firm that uses Tableau for fast and effective fraud prevention. EY uses a lot of data sources and needs to visualize the data to identify outliers and potential anomalies to find out the fraud patterns for clients. Tableau allows them to connect all these different data sources and put it together to come up with customized sets for a client and identify fraudulent cases. “Tableau gives very useful insight into what’s going on, and that’s leveraging both the unstructured and structured data. It’s something that clients have never seen before,” says Jack Jia, Partner at EY, Hong Kong.
"The company is positioned to become the new world standard in analytics"
The Break-through Data Engine
In keeping with the theme of visual analysis, Tableau created Data Engine, a high-performing analytics database on the client’s PC. The database gives the ability to do an ad-hoc analysis of millions of rows of data within seconds. The Data Engine has the speed benefits of traditional in-memory solutions without the limitations of fitting the data in memory. Clients can use the data engine without any custom scripting, which makes it easily accessible. Businesses can seamlessly integrate the data engine with existing corporate data warehouses and infrastructure to support the process of visual analysis. It is designed with a query language and query optimizer designed to support the queries typical of on-the-fly business analytics. The Data Engine is unique in that once your data is loaded into the data engine, it only reads the data in which the queries actually touch.
The Data Engine is a breakthrough analytics database designed to overcome the limitations of existing databases and data silos, and to truly support the process of visual analysis.
Defining New Heights
Tableau is preparing for further innovations in its product line through various partnerships. The recent partnership is with ClearGraph, a company enabling smart data discovery and data analysis through natural language query technology. Through this partnership, Tableau plans to integrate ClearGraph’s technology into its products. This will make it even easier for more businesses to interact with their data by using natural language to ask questions and search for insights. Another target in Tableau’s to do list is a new data engine based on the in-memory store that Tableau obtained through its acquisition of German startup HyPer. And Tableau is also planning to introduce artificial intelligence features alongside the engine to streamline dashboarding activities even further. The main highlight is an “instant analytics” capability that will automatically display various contextual details as users interact with their data.
An important part of the company’s roadmap is Project Maestro, the upcoming data preparation tool designed to speed up the time-consuming preliminary work involved in creating visualizations. The tool will let analysts merge information from multiple sources, cleanse them and transform it into a workable form all through a graphical interface for analysis. Keeping the futuristic goals in mind, the CEO emphatically states: “As we add capabilities for our customers, deepen our enterprise presence, and expand into the cloud, our mission remains unchanged—to help people see and understand their data.”