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BI Scorecard provides you with detailed insights on tool capabilities, strengths and weaknesses so you can better manage your BI tool investments. Watch this short video from founder Cindi Howson on the expertise we offer.

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Tableau: On a Mission for Everyone to See and Understand Data

By Cindi Howson, BI Scorecard The Tableau conference rocked Seattle last week with a record 5500 customers, partners, and employees in attendance. Tableau has rapidly become the darling of Wall Street and data lovers, growing at a rapid 82% year-over-year, faster than any other BI vendor. And yet, co-founder and vice president of product development Chris Stolte says, "We're in inning number one. We are constantly thinking about what's the next big thing we need to address to fulfill our mission" to help the world see and understand data. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="320"] Tableau conference user count over the years[/caption]  

Their Secret to Success

Tableau's success to date can be explained by three main factors: ease of use, agility, and visualization. BI adoption has been stubbornly flat for years, in part held back by hard-to-use tools that remained predominantly in the hands of power users. Tableau is easy to deploy, easy to learn, and easy to use. At the same time, the need for faster access to data, new data sources beyond a centralized data warehouse, and a fiercely competitive business environment have led agility to trump perfectly architected. As one customer summed up at the conference this week, "Business questions have a shelf life." The window of opportunity from a decision or insight seems increasingly shorter. Finally, while many BI tools have long supported the ability to create charts, Tableau's charts have been the primary display rather than an afterthought. With its origins in Stanford and Disney's Pixar, their visualizations have combined entertainment with expertise in visual perception. A number of other visual data discovery vendors, namely Qlik and TIBCO Spotfire, have gained traction for these same three reasons, but with varying strengths. In the last few years, BI platform vendors have been adding visual data discovery capabilities to their portfolios, but it is hard to hit all three high notes equally well. And Tableau has had an eight-year head start.

Key Investment Areas

Much of the product news centered on incremental improvements, with perhaps one item I would dub a break through. CEO Christian Chabot kicked off the keynote declaring the company is on track to invest more R&D in the next two years than it did in the last ten. He outlined seven main investment areas:
  1. Visual Analytics
  2. Performance
  3. Data preparation
  4. Storytelling (see my article on 4 approaches to storytelling)
  5. Enterprise
  6. Cloud
  7. Mobile
Here is my take on three of those areas.

Data Preparation

The three areas that most got my attention were data preparation, enterprise enablement, and mobile. In the era of big data and agility, business needs access to more data sources, faster. Data can come from the web, machines, suppliers, and customers. That data can be messy. Tossing it over to IT for extensive ETL does not lend itself to agility. Giving business users the ability to do simple clean up, such as split columns or unpivot crosstab tables is a better approach, particularly for departmental data sources and/or data sources of unknown value. These are areas that competitors SAP (in Lumira) and Microsoft (in Power Query) have been a step ahead of Tableau. The biggest wow, though, was the ability to take web-based data with blank rows, merged cells, and distributed tables (think of an SEC 10Q) and import it into Tableau in a single click. While I was impressed with the demo, I will remain skeptical that it's truly that easy until I've tested it. At first blush, I thought the new data prep features could be bad news for partners Alteryx, Paxata, and Trifacta. But these vendors are able to do such business data preparation across multiple data sources, whereas Tableau seems to be working off a single source.

Visual Data Discovery Across the Enterprise

Enterprise enablement and balancing control with freedom was a theme of many of the track sessions at the conference. Customer Deloitte is one of the largest deployments, with 40,000 named users. Maintaining permissions for so many users is not an easy task in any BI tool. Here, Tableau showed how they are using their visualization expertise to better help administrators visualize those permissions and usage. The following image shows a screenshot of a heatmap of user permissions and how they got it: either explicitly or inherited via a group membership. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="401"] Tableau improves enterprise management capabilities; see security permissions graphically[/caption]


Mobile has been an area of relative weakness for Tableau. Customer Ancestry.com cited limitations in mobile as a specific reason they have multiple BI tools. Tableau expects to add offline capabilities in the next release, with a scheduled synchronization. However, the initial release for the offline dashboard is expected to be static. The company also introduced project Elastic. In their mission to help all people use their data, Tableau is targeting mobile users who receive tabular data via email, Dropbox, or apps that use Health Kit on a tablet device. Project Elastic is a Tableau app that takes that tabular data and immediately renders it as a bar or line chart. Users can swipe the data to filter and drill. This app goes far beyond the current business user base to casual consumers.

Room for Improvement

Tableau is focusing on improving its core capabilities, but I was disappointed there was no mention of Search or of better scheduling options. Customer Facebook gave a presentation on how they have developed their own scheduling solution and intends to share it with the community via their blog. Other attendees were frustrated by the lack of clarity on release dates and capabilities, a transparency they have enjoyed in the past when the company was privately held. In this regard, Tableau has said that its next major release, version 9, will ship in the first half of next year. They won't say for sure what's in that release as they have moved to a more agile development methodology.

Combining Inspiration and Education

As user conferences go, Tableau knows how to capture the spirit of a passionate group of customers. It's not just an educational and networking experience; it feels more like a pep rally, with Tableau employees manning the conference. Quite frankly, it is reminiscent of a number of BI conferences before the industry consolidation in 2008. One of my favorite parts is the Tableau Doctor where developers meet one on one with customers on their particular questions and dashboard designs. The guest speaker keynotes were inspiring, starting with Dr. Tyson, host of the Cosmos TV series, talking about telling stories with science. Author Michael Lewis (Moneyball, BlindSide, and Flash Boys) shared his experiences with disrupters and the backlash when people don't like what the data is saying. (Did you know the Blind Side almost wasn't made, as producers cited no commercial potential? The film was bootstrapped?!) I missed author John Medina of Brain Rules, but his book is a must read for understanding how we learn, think, and retain information. And for those of us who wish we could clone ourselves to attend competing track sessions, all of them were recorded to be viewed on demand post conference. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="289"] Dr. Tyson[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="291"] Michael Lewis, author and proud dad, brings his son on stage[/caption]

Getting Girls into IT: Don’t Blame Silicon Valley

By Cindi Howson, BI Scorecard Since Silicon Valley released their diversity numbers in June, I've watched the reactions with a mixture of optimism and dismay. As a woman in IT, the disclosures have heightened my hope that there will be a more concerted effort to improving diversity. But I'm dismayed that everyone is blaming Silicon Valley when the blame lies squarely with the girls, present party included.

Girls Are Leaving IT, so the Boys' Club Grows

Women once accounted for 37% of computer science degrees in the mid 1980s, to now less than 20% (source: NCWIT.org). Yet people are crying foul about the low representation of women in high tech companies, particularly in technical jobs and leadership roles. Complainers are saying the Silicon Valley demographics should reflect their respective customer base. Um, is anyone demanding more female car mechanics simply because more women drive cars? I don't think so.
Company Women in Tech Jobs Women in Leadership Women Overall
























(source: table at http://pxlnv.com/blog/tech-company-diversity-stats/ and individual company web sites).

Sparking an Interest Earlier

Part of the problem is that these next-generation companies say they represent a meritocracy, where all have equal opportunity and succeed on merit, versus the old boys' network. Frankly, I think there is an equal opportunity for women, but not an equal interest or awareness. My niece, who will be starting her degree in Computer Science at Northeastern University in Boston this fall, is a prime example of why girls are not majoring in computer science. Jennie has always been a math whiz and gadget girl. She could command the table in Poker, assemble a 1000-piece puzzle or Lego set faster than anyone. But until she began looking at colleges, she was never aware of computer science as a particular field to major in. A campus tour sparked her curiosity and led to her taking a class in computer science her senior year in high school. It bothers me that her guidance counselor never before suggested the class. Bothers me too that she was but one of only 3 girls in a class of 14, a record high at the school, and very much consistent with the Silicon Valley demographics. How can we expect girls to major in computer science when we aren't introducing them to the subject in high school? And even though I work in IT now, my path to business intelligence and big data has not been a direct one. I have always enjoyed and excelled at math, but my first passion was writing. As high school electives go, my high school did offer a computer science class back in the 1980s, but no way would I have opted for that over a writing class. For sure, neither my counselor nor parents ever recommended computer science as a way to use my analytic skills. It was only through writing classes in college and multiple crashes of the then new Local Area Network, that I learned how to recover those 50-page documents I was so desperate not to retype. In my first job, writing and tracking proposals for a consulting company led me to discover Lotus 123, Dbase, and personal computers. An avid reader, I devoured user manuals and my career hummed along, self-taught with a few vendor-specific certifications. Yes, those Novell Network Administrator manuals were as engrossing as a Ken Follett spy novel. I did eventually go back to school and get an MBA in Management Information Systems; the rest is history.

Glimmers of Success

High tech firms are not the ones to blame here. In part, I fault our education system for not exposing students —girls and boys—to computer science at an earlier age. Given the U.S. Education system is so poorly ranked in the basics of math and science, perhaps it's too much of a stretch for them to tackle technology too. Here is where Silicon Valley can do more by offering after school clubs and early camps to interested students. A few groups have emerged in the last two years to address this challenge. For example, She++ started in 2012 at Stanford University for female computing engineers. She++ founder Ayna Agarwal was one of the Millenial speakers who kicked off SAP's Sapphire conference this year. Girls Who Code was also founded in 2012, and this summer offered camps in 19 tech companies around the country. Sponsors included some of those companies such as Twitter and Facebook who have recognized the diversity problem. And don't let the names of these organizations mislead you: coding is but only one possible job in information technology. While college students seem pressured to declare a major increasingly earlier in their secondary education, I've been impressed with those universities that guide students to their talents and to the job opportunities. University of Texas System recently launched an application to provide prospective students, parents, and the public with access to data on degrees, salaries, and jobs. For example, the below bubble chart nicely shows the higher earnings for a grad in computer science (the blue bubble) versus an English major (the red bubble).

Silicon Valley could also take a page from software giant SAS, based in North Carolina. The company has long tracked its diversity numbers and been recognized as one of the best places to work by multiple rankings. Everything from flexible work hours, to on-site gym and day care, to keeping non-core jobs like landscapers in house pays off in attracting talent across multiple demographics. SAS does significantly better for women in tech and leadership roles (data for U.S. based employees only; global data not reported for international privacy laws), as the table below shows. At North Carolina State University, only 9% of computer science graduates are women, so SAS actively works with the university to foster interest through an R3 summer student program: Recognize, Recruit, and Retain. Women and minority students have the opportunity to work on projects to gain real-world experience in analytics and technology.
Company Women in Tech Jobs Women in Leadership Women Overall




  The University of Miami also recently launched an initiative to pair current STEM college students with high schools in low-income neighborhoods. Students partner with high school teachers to enhance the curriculum, give guest lectures, and mentor high school students.

Hire a Girl … or Not.

Diversity is important for creativity and equal opportunity. Recognizing the problem is an important first step for companies recruiting and hiring, and the outcry from the published demographics has raised awareness. It's up to minorities – whether by gender or ethnicity – to seize the career opportunity. Silicon Valley and high-tech firms can partner with universities and high schools to spark minorities' interest in such careers earlier in their education. Ultimately, I don't ever want to be hired because I'm a woman. I only want to be hired because I'm good at my job. For that to happen, we have to foster a more diverse talent pool, beginning in high school. Silicon Valley has a vested interest in making that happen; so do the girls. Postscript, October 31, 2014: Thank you to USA Today for continuing to cover this topic. Hear my podcast with them on my thoughts on women in IT.  Thanks to podcast, also discovered another great organization code.org who is actively working on improving early computer science exposure to high school students.  

What’s in a Story (and a Name)?

By Cindi Howson, BI Scorecard Story telling capabilities are fast becoming table stakes in visual data discovery tools, but not all stories and storyboards are the same. Here's a look a look at four vendors' approaches. It would be nice to think that most data analyses end with a value added decision or action. But really, many BI analyses end with a Power Point, finely tuned for board room presentations. Data is explored, analyzed, filtered, transformed, and then exported into a story telling medium where it becomes static. The PowerPoint may be used to support or refute a hypothesis or to provide a status update. But what if that same data could remain within the BI tool, with board room presentation quality? Could those meetings of death by PowerPoint become more effective, interactive work sessions? Can the data be better presented not only to support a hypothesis, but also, to guide a decision-maker to a logical conclusion that compels action? This is the vision behind recent innovations in a number of visual data discovery tools. Tableau and Qlik call them story points and storytelling, respectively, SAP calls it storyboards and infographics. SAS, meanwhile, brings live integration within Power Point itself. While each vendor's feature has slightly similar names, the capabilities differ greatly.

Tableau: Story Points

Tableau released the concept of Story Points in version 8.2 in June this year. With a story, a user can insert a visualization onto a canvas, with the saved filters. The idea of story points is to provide users with the ability to present the data as a story, with a beginning, middle, and end. The banner of the canvas can include a long-text that is clickable. For example, in the below story, "Profits are increasing" is a clickable title. Multiple visualizations can be linked together to create a PowerPoint-like slide show. Within each page, users can adjust the filters. "The data tells you what's happening, but the story guides you to an understanding of why," Tableau says in its white paper, "Data Storytelling."

Qlik: Story Telling

Qlik Sense Desktop was released in July 2014 as a free, desktop visual discovery tool based on the vendor's next-generation interface. The vendor has not announced release data for Qlik Sense for the enterprise, currently in beta. In Qlik Sense Desktop, dashboards and individual visualization can be added to a story. Compared to Tableau, Qlik Sense has a few more bells and whistles to its stories. First, each page of the story can contain multiple visualizations and/or snapshotted images, with the drill and filter saved. Also, there is an "effect" option that automatically recolors a chart so top (or bottom) performers stand out (in the below image, higher salaries are highlighted). Additional text can be added to the story, whether a simple annotation or a full paragraph. Images and shapes can also be added to the canvas to create a type of infographic. In play mode, each slide nicely transitions to the next. Dashboards remain interactive.


SAP Lumira: Storyboards and Infographics

Earlier this year, SAP added the concept of storyboards to Lumira. While the name may suggest similar capabilities to Tableau and Qlik story telling, in SAP, storyboards are better described as dashboards with multiple visualizations on a single page. Up until that release, Lumira lacked the ability to create these simple dashboards, a capability in most other visual data discovery tools. In addition to visualizations and filters, Lumira storyboards also support text boxes for titles or paragraphs, and images.

Meanwhile, in version 16, released in June this year, SAP added infographics— the ability to add pictograms and shapes to the storyboards. As shown below, there is also a preview ability to see how the infographic will appear on various devices. With infographics, users can also set the color options for the images, background, and some charts. This, of course, should be an expected feature in any BI tool but was lacking in earlier Lumira releases. The infographic capability is an interesting concept, but I found the capabilities too immature to replace PowerPoint. For example, in trying to add a callout, the callout does not natively support text; the text has to be added in a separate text box. As well, the callout pointer cannot be repositioned to connect to the particular image or outlier within the chart.

SAS Visual Analytics: Power Point

The SAS Add-In for Microsoft Office is a little-known but powerful add-in that lets users access and interact with BI content directly from within Excel, Outlook, and PowerPoint. With this approach, users create a visualization within SAS Visual Analytics. Then within PowerPoint, there is a Visual Analytics toolbar that lets them insert the visualization onto the PowerPoint canvas. The visualization is a direct query, not a static export, so it can be refreshed. Users have all the PowerPoint abilities to add text and additional images.

Stories: More to come?

While each of these innovations goes by a similar sounding name, the capabilities differ. All reflect a growing trend of how to better present data, findings, and inflection points into a cohesive story. I suspect story capabilities will continue to emerge in other visual data discovery tools. Like any first novel, I suspect the second releases of these stories will only improving over time.
Dashboards: multiple visual indicators on a single page
Infographic: visual representation of information, used beyond quantitative data such as in subway maps, weather patterns, and so on
Story: collection of thoughts with a beginning, middle and end

Actuate: Can Free and Robust Spur Growth?

By Cindi Howson, BI Scorecard Actuate was once the king of production reporting. But the rise of self-service BI tools, BI suites, and industry consolidation made Actuate a bit player in the larger BI market. Over the past several years, the company has been re-inventing itself and hopes its new "fremium" iHub offering will allow it to capitalize on millions of BIRT developers. Actuate is the sponsor of open source BIRT, the Business Intelligence Reporting Tool, used by an estimated 3.5 million developers. Actuate also have a complete BI solution, based on its iHub server, that customers can buy on a perpetual or subscription basis. Many of the BIRT developers are unaware of Actuate's broader BI offerings. Others find the move from free open source, to paid premium capabilities too steep. With the iHub F-Type, customers get all the capabilities offered in the paid-for iHub server–interactive reporting, scheduling, security–for free. The catch? Customers are limited to 50 MB per day. The usage resets itself each day, and there's a nice thermometer to advise how much disk space is currently used by reports (note: screen shot below based on 500 MB license). Customers can then buy additional capacity at $500 per month per 50 MB.

The iHub F-Type also has a really nice pop up tutorial that guides the developer through the most compelling capabilities of the server. In the screen below, note the buttons on the left pane. The Interact button will show the developer how with the iHub F-Type, a previous static report is now interactive with a pop-up menu to sort or filter, requiring no new programming. The interactive reporting capabilities are a strong-point of the platform (see the BI Scorecard summary and detailed scores for more information), and a core aspect of self-service BI that many vendors are overlooking.

Pay-as-you Go the New Norm

Actuate is betting big on iHub F-Type. It's also betting big on a move to subscription-only pricing. Previously, Actuate offered both subscription and perpetual licenses. In the company's last quarterly investor call, CEO Pete Cittadini said that "going cold turkey to subscription … was the right thing to do." The move to subscription-based pricing is also a stated direction from competitor TIBCO in its acquisition of Jaspersoft in April this year. With BI cloud gaining momentum, customers and vendors alike seem more accepting of the pay-as-you-go model. I have always liked about subscription-based pricing for ensuring customers don't buy any more BI than they need, and conversely, for keeping a vendor focused on meeting the customer's needs. With perpetual licensing, customers risk shelf-ware and when dissatisfied with a product, the license is a sunk-cost with leverage only on a typical 22% annual maintenance fee.

Embedded BI: The Next Wave

Self-service BI and visual data discovery have been all the rage the last two years. These tools typically meet the needs of business analysts trying to mash multiple and new data sources together. At the other end of the user spectrum, front-line workers often consume data embedded within operational applications. In the past, reports and nuggets of data embedded within operational apps may have been custom developed. As these applications get refreshed, and with the growth of start-ups, embedded BI may be the next wave of BI growth. It is a BI segment that Actuate is specifically targeting, along with several other vendors: Jaspersoft, LogiAnalytics, Information Builders, and Oracle has identified this segment as a future direction. To make embeddability easier, in Actuate's F-Type, an "Integrate" button nicely allows a developer to cut and paste the requisite Java Script into custom apps or portals. Actuate may not have the mindshare of some of the bigger BI vendors, but they certainly have sown millions of seeds of developers. This latest offering seems a strong move to allow them to capitalize on that base of developers.

Information Builders Launches New Visual Data Discovery

At Information Builders annual conference earlier this month, the vendor launched a new visual data discovery product and touted its unique ability to replace custom-developed apps.

Visual Data Discovery, Take 2

Enterprise reporting has long been the core of Information Builders capabilities. Aiming to better serve power users, the company announced a new visual data discovery interface, Info Discovery, now in beta and expected to be generally available in the fall (see the keynote here, demo at 55 minutes). This product joins a chorus of recent product releases from new entrants such as Logi Analytics with Logi Vision as well as Birst Visualizer. Vice President of Products Kevin Quinn thinks they will be the first vendor to support "governed visual data discovery," showcasing how their product integrates with the existing server infrastructure and security. To be fair, a few other vendors also have this integration, but arguably, most lack it. The vendor expects to have a free 30-day trial version. The output looked rather Tableau-like, with checkboxes, sliders, and some nice visuals (see screenshot). Some purists in the visualization community may protest the use of pie charts and red in green on the same widget; but I'll wait to see what's in the final GA product.

Some of the differentiators might be that Report Caster, the platform's scheduling and bursting engine, will work with the product. Also, a new Excel processor can help remove data quality errors, a capability in SAP Lumira and Microsoft Power Query, but currently lacking in others. And while vendors such as SAP are pursuing InfoGraphics in Lumira and Tableau Story Points, Information Builders has chosen to stick with the tried and true PowerPoint integration to build their story boards. One of my complaints to Information Builders was the dated looking ribbon bar, similar to the one currently used in Info Assist (reviewed here). It's not that I have a thing against ribbon bars per se; it's something to do with the fonts and design that just doesn't look as appealing as what I'm seeing in competitive products. Arguably, it's a subjective point, and for now, the vendor's argument is, "if you don't like our skin, you can change it." Info Discovery is not the vendor's first foray into visual data discovery. The vendor also OEM's technology from Advizor Solutions, integrated with Developer Studio and marketed as "Visual Discovery." That product had little adoption, which I think was due to a combination of limited marketing, ease of use, and flexibility. Let's see if the second time is the charm.

Build vs. Buy

While visual data discovery may be a new focus for the company, the vendor is continuing to improve its core reporting capabilities. There aren't too many greenfield accounts in BI these days; companies of all sizes have at least some sort of BI deployment. However, one area where Information Builders is carving a new niche is in replacing what previously had been custom-built apps, often for thousands of users. To cite a few examples from the conference:
  • Oklahoma Department of Human Services used WebFOCUS to replace previously Cobol custom application to track child support issues across the state
  • Raintree Oncology assists doctors in dispensing prescriptions for cancer patients. Its new WebFOCUS application combines data from multiple, external sources (claims, prescriptions, clinical outcomes) . The multiple levels of security and ability to create its own branded application led them to Information Builders.
  • Wendy's talked about their journey from mainframe, printed reports, in which sales and marketing was not particularly satisfied to now 6000 WebFOCUS users, with interactive reports and dashboards. The deployment requires only one BI administrator and supports district managers to shift supervisors; they expect to add another 4000 users this year. And did you ever wonder why they have square hamburgers? They don't cut corners. "A cut above" is the company's motto.
Some common requirements from these types of customers included the extensibility, ability to create their own skins or branded applications, user scalability, and a vendor they could partner with. I've attended Information Builder's conference for five or six years, and anecdotally, this year seemed to bring the most new customers. I'll be curious to see if that impression bubbles up to the company financials. As a privately held BI vendor, Information Builders doesn't publish detailed revenue numbers, but the IDC marketshare report is generally released mid year.
BIScorecardCindi Howson
@tpowlas yes, snow is always lovelier when it doesn't stick to the roads ;)
2 weeks ago
BIScorecardCindi Howson
RT @databaseguru: Enterprises tend to think Cloud services lack security, but IMO most Cloud services are far more secure than enterprise d…
2 weeks ago
BIScorecardCindi Howson
RT @cloudera: New @Cloudera Connector enables customers to connect data with Business Intelligence & Analytics from @SAP http://t.co/QNpDfF…
2 weeks ago
BIScorecardCindi Howson
Is #bigdata getting dumbed down? WSJ cites limits w voter profiling. 1)little data 2)not a new problem http://t.co/c4Dry8kk6f
2 weeks ago