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What Salesforce means for Tableau in the cloud

After the Salesforce acquisition, users have wondered about the future of Tableau in the cloud. Experts weigh in on how the transition could benefit the platform.

The recent Salesforce acquisition of Tableau Software could help the data visualization vendor address its cloud strategy challenges. Tableau has officially had a cloud strategy for some time, but experts believe that it has not been a priority in comparison to the desktop version.

Tableau is largely deployed in enterprises on premises, but the trend toward cloud software deployment is generally gaining steam. The company has offered a cloud-based version of its tools, Tableau Online, since 2013, and it has been the fastest growing product among Tableau customers since then.

Rethinking the UI

What has attracted customers to Tableau Online is its access to the features of the traditional Tableau platform without requiring IT support or technical programming. But some users have complained that the version of Tableau in the cloud has not offered the same positive experience as the desktop version.

"I really want to use the current Tableau cloud service, but it is basically a worse-performing version of Tableau Desktop and is also quite expensive when it comes to sharing charts and dashboards with outsiders," said Torsten Volk, research director with Enterprise Management Associates.

He sees this as the biggest challenge when transitioning Tableau to the cloud. Tableau's greatest strength is their well-known UI.

Replicating this experience in the cloud is the challenge, but I know Salesforce is aware of this and will give it their best shot.
Torsten VolkResearch director, Enterprise Management Associates

"But replicating that UI for the web did not work," Volk said.

He believes the company needs to focus on creating a modern user experience without losing too much of the current user base. This is something that Salesforce has excelled at for CRM.

"Salesforce's claim to fame was its excellent cloud UI that beat out all the other tools that were relying on desktop clients," Volk said.

Salesforce certainly has the financial and UX resources to do this the right way. But doing this well requires not taking shortcuts, which is what Volk believes led to Tableau's current problems.

Tableau has the potential to become as prolific as Excel within the enterprise, he said. But this requires keeping it simple and not overcomplicating the creation of quick graphs and dashboards. One reason Tableau became so widespread is the fact that an individual user can swipe a credit card and get started without any setup, training or enterprise agreement.

"Replicating this experience in the cloud is the challenge, but I know Salesforce is aware of this and will give it their best shot," Volk said.

Microsoft competition

Other experts believe that transitioning to Tableau in the cloud has so far proven to be an expensive distraction.

Jen Stirrup, CEO at Data Relish, an analytics consultancy, said that Tableau was a true disruptor of the data visualization market. But things changed when they moved into the business of owning their own data centers to support the data visualization piece.

"This activity was a sidestep for Tableau and misdirected it away from its core business," Stirrup said.

She believes the Salesforce acquisition will help Tableau by bolstering the cloud piece and allowing it to focus on the innovation that made it successful in the first place.

However, Tableau will face competition from Microsoft's Power Platform.

Despite being late to the data visualization party, Microsoft has built their own platform with enterprise in mind. Microsoft has also set up the Open Data Initiative with SAP and Adobe, focusing on empowering organizations with data rather than focusing solely on visualizing it.

"Tableau faces the challenge of coming from behind in the race to become an enterprise platform," Stirrup said.

Tableau will also face challenges in its messaging, particularly to small businesses that may find the Salesforce price point is out of their reach. Microsoft may creep in here with a comprehensive, free Power BI Desktop program, which is a direct competitor to the paid Tableau Desktop.

"That said, Tableau and Salesforce may be aiming toward enterprise customers, leaving the small, less-profitable businesses behind," Stirrup said.

Questions about Einstein

Charles Miglietti, CEO at Toucan Toco, a data storytelling platform based in France, has suggested that Salesforce will reengineer Tableau to be a cloud-first solution given that most of Tableau's customers have the software installed on premises.

The acquisition could also help bring more Tableau users into the Salesforce ecosystem and provide some synergies with Salesforce's Einstein analytics and AI tools. But it will take some time before the integration is finished.

It's still unclear whether Einstein will remain a separate analytics engine or become part of Tableau. It's also unclear if Tableau will benefit from the AI components of Einstein and therefore gain in capabilities.

"Until that becomes clear, new investments in Einstein will probably be delayed at best," Miglietti said.

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