Making A Bid For 'Business Analytics For The Masses,' Tableau Adds Natural Language Capabilities To Its Platform

Tableau is adding natural language capabilities to its business analytics platform in a move the company says will accelerate sales and boost its adoption by a wider audience of business users.

Tableau, which is holding its Tableau Conference 18 in New Orleans this week, also unveiled a number of new automated data preparation and data modeling capabilities—among other enhancements—to its flagship product designed to improve its usability.

The expanded capabilities in Tableau's desktop, server and online products will help it compete as companies with older business intelligence tools such as Cognos, Business Objects and Hyperion look to upgrade to the newer generation of BI tools such as Tableau, Qlik and Microsoft Power BI.

(Related: Tableau Launches Partner Program 2.0 Initiative Emphasizing Vertical Industry Expertise, Full-Cycle Customer Support)

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"We understand that data isn't just data. Data is power, data is change, data is innovation," said Adam Selipsky, Tableau president and CEO, in a keynote speech before 17,000 customers and partners touting what can be achieved by applying data analytics to industries such as financial services and pharmaceuticals.

"How many decisions, careers, lives are missing out on the benefits that come when you harness the power of all that data that we're all collecting?" he said, citing a study that found 70 percent of business workers use no business analytics at all in their day-to-day decision- making. And he cited an IDC report that said the amount of data subject to analysis will grow 50-fold in the decade ending 2025.

Tableau will ship its 2018.3 release next week with heat map capabilities, zone transparency and other enhancements. But the focus this week was on improvements being made in software for release next year and beyond.

The new Ask Data natural language processing technology being added to the 2019.1 release of Tableau Server and Tableau Online is based on technology the company acquired when it bought ClearGraph in August 2017.

Ask Data will make it possible for users to query data in a conversational manner, such as typing the question "What were our sales in 2017?" and get an interactive visual response. That will make it easier for more people to engage with the business analytics platform and develop analytical insight without the need to learn data dimensions, structures or measures, the company said.

Ask Data will work with published data sources and adhere to an organization's governance requirements by using existing permissions and security policies defined by IT, according to the vendor.

"We are on a journey to make analytics easy for everyone," said Chief Product Officer Francois Ajenstat when introducing Tableau's product development road map Tuesday. One day earlier, during Tableau's Partner Summit, Ajenstat told partners that the goals of the company's product development efforts are to bring analytics to a wider audience of business users, enable self-service data management and add analytics to any application or process.

Ajenstat said a beta version of Tableau 2019.1 is now available.

The need to make users more independent in business analytics is a major demand-driver for software like Tableau, said Sanjeev Vohra, senior managing director at Accenture Technology and Group Technology Officer for the company's big data practice. Accenture partners with Tableau and offers Tableau's software as part of the Accenture Insights Platform.

Vohra agreed that adding natural language processing (NLP) capabilities is a significant step for spurring adoption of the Tableau platform by business users. "If you want the technology to be more responsive to a human, you need NLP," he said.

The company also debuted Tableau Prep Conductor, a new add-on product for Tableau Online and Tableau Server that streamlines the often-complex task of large-scale data preparation by centralizing the administration, scheduling and monitoring of data preparation flows.

The software automates data flows created in the Tableau Prep desktop application. The company said Tableau Prep also now supports the R and Python programming languages.

"We see a future where data prep is so easy anyone can do it," Ajenstat said.

Tableau is also expanding the data modeling capabilities in its software, making it easier to analyze complex data without learning advanced database concepts or writing custom SQL code, according to the company. The new technology, slated for availability in 2019, will automatically recognize data relationships in databases such as Oracle and SQL Server and leverage common data warehouse standards such as star and snowflake schemas.

Also new is a joint initiative with Amazon Web Services, with which Tableau already has an extensive relationship, to offer services that make it easier to move to a cloud-based analytics platform. The first offering is a new Tableau Server on AWS Healthcare Quick Start to provide analytical services that meet HIPAA regulations.

And the launch of the new Tableau Developer Program will help business customers and ISV partners more easily integrate, customize and extend the Tableau platform. The program offers a development sandbox with demonstration and sample code, as well as access to Tableau engineering resources and a Developer Community Forum for support.

The program is designed to help developers build embedded analytics systems, dashboard extensions, custom data connectors, integrations with data science platforms and business workflow automation capabilities.