Tableau Conference 2022 - Tableau CEO Mark Nelson tells the story of getting data to speak the language of people

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan May 17, 2022
Making data speak the language of people - a bold ambition from Tableau, one backed up by new storytelling capabilities in Tableau Cloud.

Mark Nelson

As Tableau Conference gets underway today, the firm’s Tableau Online offering gets a rebrand to become Tableau Cloud while the firm sets out an ambition to get analytics to speak the language of people, not the other way round.

Tech enhancements announced today include:

  • Data Stories, to add automated ‘plain-language’ explanations to Tableau dashboards at scale, helping customers understand and interact with data faster.
  • More Accelerators - ready-to-use, customizable dashboards - to bring the total to more than 100 on the Tableau Exchange hub.
  • Advanced Management to help users manage, secure and scale mission-critical analytics across the enterprise.  Examples cited include Customer-Managed Encryption Keys, to help customers meet organizational compliance standards and add an additional layer of protection for data; and Activity Log, to provide detailed event data to help administrators keep track of how individuals are using Tableau.

Einstein AI enhancements include:

  • Einstein Discovery: Text Clustering leverages machine learning (ML) models to extract keywords from large text fields to quickly reveal hidden insights and improve decision making.
  • Einstein Discovery: Bias Detection for multi-class models expands the use-cases for multi-class models by rooting out bias by variable, preventing the need to re-train an entire model.

Back on the ground 

Today’s gathering is the first real-world conference for Tableau since 2019 with 4000 attendees expected in person. It’s a rather different macro-environment against which they are gathering, says CEO Mark Nelson :

The world is a super-complicated place today. Pandemic, geopolitical instability, once-in-a-generation inflationary effects - it’s moving really really fast and getting harder and harder to predict what's going to happen next. Data is the answer. Data can add real value to our personal and professional worlds. We also know that more than ever, this is the time for data. It's the time for exploring data through the power of AI, the power of using data to navigate the complexity and changes all around us. There are so many challenges data can help us overcome and we believe it's the best way to bring lasting change to businesses and to the world.

Of the rebranding to Tableau Cloud, he adds:

Users need to be able to get to their data faster, get faster time-to-value, get the innovation faster, and get insights from their data faster. It's why many enterprise customers are already running their analytics in the cloud - nearly 70% of our new customers start their analytics journey online. They're doing this because they know what we know - cloud is the fastest way to make data work. And cloud is the future of analytics. That's why the time has come to reintroduce Tableau Online as Tableau Cloud.

We have more than 100 Accelerators or pre-built dashboards on the Tableau Exchange. Soon you'll be able to access search and launch these accelerators from directly within the product. This means anyone in nearly any industry can plug into their data into a pre-built dashboard and be up and running immediately. For large enterprise customers running Tableau Cloud at scale, new Advanced Management capabilities will bring richer data preparation, better governance, tighter security and easier ways to share your data. And soon there's going to be an enterprise bundle that includes all of these advances and Slack so you can collaborate more easily and put data at the center of every conversation.

Changing culture

But this vision is also about cultural change, he adds, not just technology:

We want to help people see and understand data. To do that, you have to give people the ability to explore data and allow them to take an active role in the success of your business. We hear a lot about employees wanting to feel like their work matters, and that there’s meaning in their work. If you're leading a business, where do you look for guidance on how to provide employees with great experiences? Data! The unique thing about data is not only can it point us to the right answers, it can be the answer.

Tableau’s own research in association with Forrester Research has found that nearly 80% of employees are more likely to stay at a company that trains them with data skills. That has implications for organizations, says Nelson:

What you really need to offer in the future of work is a chance for employees to find the meaning they want in their work. The most successful businesses in the future will be the ones that promote data cultures that managed to find value in both the data and the people that use it. Because think about what you're offering when you provide data training. You're fostering creativity. You're helping everyone learn and grow in their jobs. You're giving people an opportunity to take an active role in your organisation success. Teaching data skills will be key to everyone. feeling fulfilled by what we do.

Data also needs to be more ‘approachable’, adds Chief Product Officer Francois Ajenstat:

Some of the challenges that we hear in the industry are that we have a data literacy problem, where people don't necessarily speak the language of data. They're intimidated by data. Data is just too hard. What we've been thinking about is how to flip that equation around, how do we make data speak the language of people? Normally, we ask people to speak data, but actually we should flip that around,  make data speak the language people because 70% of people, they don't know how to speak data. So we're going to enable them to find the story in their data really, really easily. The next step in this data revolution is having the software write the story in the data for users automatically. This is going to make data feel more natural.

This is where the new Data Stories feature comes in, he says:

This is a brand new capability, fully-integrated into Tableau [that] will automatically write stories out of data and empower every single user with actionable insights at their fingertips. We're using AI in the background to pull out the insights automatically for users. So this is really powerful, but this is also really, really easy to use, because data is really much more approachable. And it brings data to life in a way that everybody can understand.

Closer to AI

Along the same lines, Tableau is also pitching that there’s a need to bring more AI closer to people. Ajenstat explains:

If you think about the area of data science and AI, it's really the area of the specialists. It is fairly technical. It is expensive, it's time consuming, and it's for the few and we want to bring it to the many. We want to democratize data science, like we did for BI more than 18 years ago.

When you think about what is done in data science, you need to do a few steps on a regular basis. You need to connect to data, prepare data, model data and visualize data. Then you go through that same process over and over again. Tableau today can already connect to over 100 different data sources out-of-the-box. We can prepare and wrangle data really easily with Tableau prep. We have the best visual analytics tool in the world so you can see and understand data.

But an important piece of the puzzle is missing, he admits - the ability to build models and make predictions right out-of-the-box in Tableau. This is where Model Builder comes in, says Ajenstat:

We're bringing predictive analytics to Tableau. For the first time, users are going to be able to build models right in the workflow that they already have. It's fully integrated with everything they have in Tableau. [Models] leverage your security, their governance and all their work, and they can make predictions right where they make their decisions.

Model Builder is built on top of the Einstein capabilities at Salesforce. Einstein is a proven technology within Salesforce, generating billions of predictions every single day. So we're bringing the power of Einstein and integrating it directly inside of Tableau and opening up that technology to dramatically more use cases and dramatically more users, anywhere. Model Builder truly democratizes data science, makes it accessible to a whole new category of users and it's powerful and easy to use.

My take

Data storytelling is the next wave of analytics.

This is a big week for Tableau as its fanbase - and they are fans - gathers in person en masse for the first time since the COVID crisis began. A lot has happened since the last on-the-ground gathering, not least Tableau’s integration into the Salesforce ecosystem. The deliverables announced today are elements that have been talked about for some time. As diginomica has highlighted on numerous occasions, the practical application of Tableau’s tech has been impressive. We’ll be picking up on more exemplars in the coming days.

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