Tableau revamps its BI visualization tools with user-centric focus

Tableau 7.0 is geared at getting BI into the hands of more users

BI (business intelligence) vendor Tableau Software on Wednesday announced the availability of Tableau 7.0, a release that boosts speed and scale as well as providing what the company calls "human-oriented" design and accessibility.

One main new feature is Data Server, essentially a central repository where users can share datasets and database connections with people who have the granted permissions. Tableau supports direct connections to many popular data sources, such as Excel and the Oracle database.

Tableau has also rolled out a number of new visualization tools and chart types, such as filled maps and area charts. The company has redesigned many other visualization elements for better ease of use.

"The key emphasis here is putting the power into the hands of people who have questions," said Francois Ajenstat, director of product management.

Tableau is also looking to get into larger and more complex deployments, with new support for multitenancy. This means that multiple user groups or departments' data can be stored in isolation from one another inside the same instance of Tableau's flagship Tableau Server product.

The company previously introduced an in-memory data store, which brought it into close competition with the likes of Tibco Spotfire, Qlikview and Microsoft's PowerPivot tool. In-memory processing places a data set in RAM instead of reading it off of disks, and can allow users more freedom to explore information.

Until the in-memory addition, Tableau wasn't necessarily something a company already invested in a BI platform from SAP or Oracle would need, according to Forrester Research vice president Boris Evelson. "These days all of the other vendors have perfectly fine data visualization capabilities," he said. "Now they let you do this in-memory, which very often is what the business users want. They don't want to be restricted to the underlying database structure."

At the same time, Tableau and its competitors need to further differentiate themselves. Microsoft is pushing PowerPivot as an extension of Excel with not much of a learning curve, while Spotfire features integration with Tibco's middleware stack and offers advanced analytic capabilities, he said.

However, "whatever [Tableau] is doing, they're doing it right," as Forrester client interest in the company has jumped significantly of late, Evelson added.

Tableau pricing scales depending on number of employees, but generally starts at US$1,000 per user or $10,000 for Tableau Server, according to an emailed statement.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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