Tableau analytics platform gets AI, data management upgrades

LAS VEGAS — Improved augmented intelligence and data preparation capabilities are at the core of new updates to the Tableau analytics platform.

The Seattle-based vendor unveiled the enhancements on Wednesday at its annual user conference here.

Tableau revealed an upgrade to Ask Data, the Tableau analytics platform’s natural language processing tool that was introduced in February. Ask Data is now able to interpret more complex questions than it could before, and it can now do year-over-year geospatial comparisons, according to the vendor.

Tableau evolving its platform

In addition, with the recent introduction of Tableau Catalog and an upgrade to Prep Conductor, users of the Tableau analytics platform will be able to prepare data within Tableau itself rather than another product before importing the cleansed data into Tableau.

Finally, Tableau added to the Tableau analytics platform Metrics, a mobile-first tool that will enable users to monitor key performance indicators.

The product moves unveiled at the conference show that Tableau is continuing to evolve its popular analytics and business intelligence platform by adding features to help end users do more with self-service, said Doug Henschen, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

“With great self-service freedom comes great responsibility to do a better job of data governance,” Henschen said. “Tableau Catalog gives Tableau customers a data access and data lineage tracking aid to help users spot the data they should be using to help avoid recreating data sets and analyses that already exist or that could easily be extended to cover new use cases.”

Tableau Catalog gives Tableau customers a data-access and data-lineage tracking aid to help users spot the data they should be using to help avoid recreating data sets and analyses that already exist or that could easily be extended to cover new use cases.
Doug HenschenPrincipal analyst, Constellation Research

The host of upgrades come a day after Tableau revealed an enhanced partnership agreement with Amazon Web Services, Modern Cloud Analytics, designed to help Tableau’s many on-premises users migrate to the cloud.

A user looks at the new features

Meanwhile, one of the self-service customers Henschen alluded to is the University of Michigan, which has nearly 100,000 potential users with 50,000 employees and 48,000 students.

While it hasn’t yet taken advantage of the burgeoning data management capabilities of the Tableau analytics platform, the school is interested in Tableau’s natural language processing capabilities.

But with nearly 100,000 potential users — from hospital staff to the history department — nothing is as simple as choosing to use one BI tool within an overall system and eschewing another.

“Our data is relatively simple enough that we don’t need to constantly pivot or join a number of different things from a number of different places together,” Matthew Pickus, senior business intelligence analyst, said of Michigan’s decision to not yet employ tools like Tableau Catalog and Prep Conductor. “We try and keep the system as enterprise as possible.”

Christopher Gardner, business intelligence senior analyst at the University of Michigan, added that the potential cost of using the data preparation tools, given the number of users across the university, is a constraint.

That said, because data across the university’s myriad departments is often kept by each department according to that department’s own method — creating data silos — data standardization is something that could be on the horizon at Michigan, the school’s BI analysts said.

“It’s starting to get talked about a little more, so it may be something we start investigating,” Gardner said.

Bringing analytics to end users

“Some of the data management tools will become much more needed in the future,” Pickus added. “We’re just trying to figure out the best way to approach it. It’s going to become more important.

Tableau reaching down not just how to visualize your data but how to help you manage and organize your data across all the sets is going to be very helpful in the future.”

NLP, meanwhile, is something Michigan’s IT leaders see as a way to make analytics more accessible to its employees and students.

A gif displays Ask Data, Tableau's natural language processing tool.
A gif shows Tableau’s Ask Data, its natural language processing tool, in action.

But Gardner and Pickus said they want more from NLP tools than they’re currently capable of providing, whether part of the Tableau analytics platform or any other BI vendor’s suite.

“Our executives are very interested in it,” said Gardner. “They’re looking for ways to make data more accessible to users who aren’t familiar with reporting tools. To us it’s kind of frustrating, because we’ve got the reporting tools. Let’s take it a step further, and instead of just reporting let’s start doing analysis and start getting trends.”

Perhaps that’s next for the Tableau analytics platform.

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