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Tableau update targets analytics collaboration, storytelling

The vendor's first 2023 update makes Data Stories available in Server after it was initially launched only in Cloud. In addition, the update includes an enhanced Slack integration.

Tableau on Wednesday unveiled the latest version of its analytics platform, which includes broader availability of Data Stories and an enhanced integration with Slack.

The 2023.1 release comes just over two months after the vendor suffered personnel losses as part of layoffs at its parent company ,Salesforce. It has also been a little more than three months since Mark Nelson left his position as CEO and it was revealed that Tableau would no longer have an independent executive suite.

Salesforce acquired Seattle-based Tableau in 2019, and for three years Tableau retained much of its previous management structure. Now, however, the product and engineering teams that once reported to Nelson -- and before Nelson to Adam Selipsky, who is now CEO of AWS -- are being more closely managed by Salesforce and report to Salesforce personnel.

Tableau's previous platform update was released shortly after Nelson's departure. It featured an integration with Salesforce Flow that enables users to trigger actions directly from their dashboards to save the time it takes to toggle between their BI environment and other work applications and make taking action a more natural part of their analytics workflow.

Tibco previewed a similar tool in June, and Qlik already has similar capabilities as more vendors emphasize the importance of making action part of the analytics process along with insight generation and decision-making.

New capabilities

Tableau first unveiled its integration with Slack -- another subsidiary of Salesforce -- in September 2021.

At the time, the integration enabled users of the two platforms to use Tableau tools Einstein Discovery, Ask Data and Explain Data, and Notifications within Slack to collaborate during the decision-making process.

Tableau 2023.1 updates the vendor's integration with Slack to make it easier for users to search for data and to share data in direct messages and channels.

I am a big fan of collaborative analytics, so the integration with Slack is a big win from my perspective. As an industry, we need to find better ways to integrate data and analytics into people's day-to-day activities.
David MenningerAnalyst, Ventana Research

And given that business decisions are rarely made by just one person acting independently, product developments that enhance collaboration in analytics are significant, according to David Menninger, an analyst at Ventana Research.

"I am big fan of collaborative analytics, so the integration with Slack is a big win from my perspective," he said. "As an industry, we need to find better ways to integrate data and analytics into people's day-to-day activities. Integration with collaboration tools like Slack make it that much easier to find, deliver and collaborate around analytics in the regular context of conducting business."

In addition to the enhanced integration with Slack, Tableau's latest analytics platform update makes Data Stories available to users of Tableau Server after being released initially to just users of Tableau Cloud.

Data Stories is Tableau's automated data storytelling tool.

The vendor acquired Narrative Science, a data storytelling specialist, in December 2021. In May 2022, Tableau retooled Narrative Science's capabilities to make them compatible with Tableau and revealed Data Stories in preview. Just one month after that, the vendor made Data Stories generally available in Tableau Cloud.

Now, it is also available in Tableau Server, which is the online version of the vendor's analytics platform.

Data storytelling is the translation of data into everyday language so users can digest a narrative about their data rather than view a spreadsheet or report that needs to be interpreted. And with many organizations struggling to enable more than just trained analysts to work with data, data storytelling is viewed as one of the ways those organizations can broaden their usage of analytics beyond a small percentage of their workforce.

In fact, in 2021, Gartner predicted that by 2025 data storytelling will become of the most widespread way business users consume analytics. The research firm predicted that 75% of data narratives will be generated by automated data tools such as Data Stories.

"The delivery of Data Stories in Tableau Server is … the completion of this feature," Menninger said.

He added that vendors often roll out products in one version of their platform before adding it to others to bring the products to market as fast as possible. By making Data Stories available in Tableau Online before Tableau server, it shows that the vendor is now prioritizing its cloud-based suite, Menninger explained.

"It suggests the company's focus is on their cloud-based products, but they are not abandoning their Tableau Server customers," he said.

Beyond Data Stories and the updated integration with Slack, Tableau 2023.1 includes:

  • data mapping that enables customers to use an accelerator -- prebuilt dashboards provided by Tableau -- or other available dashboard and reconfigure it to match their unique data sources without having to use tools from third parties; and
  • a feature that enables the personalization of embedded analytics workflows so that business users see only the insights most relevant to their jobs while administrators can enforce data governance and security policies based on the end-user's role.

"While it may not be sexy, the data mapping features are a very practical way to accelerate data access and preparation," Menninger said. "This is still the most time-consuming part of an analytics process."

Future plans

Moving forward, Menninger said he'd like to see Tableau add features that foster decision intelligence.

While business intelligence is the use of data to inform decisions, decision intelligence is the use of augmented analytics and machine learning (ML) to surface insights that humans might never otherwise discover and use those insights to fuel decisions and action.

Vendors including Pyramid Analytics and Tellius have made decision intelligence a prominent part of their platforms.

But many vendors, including Tableau, still leave the vast majority of the work that goes into decision-making and triggering actions entirely up to the people consuming the data.

"We need to move beyond analytics to supporting decision-making and implementing the actions resulting from those decisions," Menninger said. "Most analytics vendors, including Tableau, still leave a lot of the exercise to the reader."

In particular, scenario planning in which AI and ML enable users to play out various scenarios and learn how to react should one or another play out is an area Tableau and its competitors could do more to aid their customers, he continued.

"As an industry, we need to do more to help decision makers develop and evaluate different scenarios," Menninger said. "Only then can we make fully informed decisions. Once a decision is made we need to support the process of implementing that decision with better connections to the applications where those decisions would be implemented."

Eric Avidon is a senior news writer for TechTarget Editorial and a journalist with more than 25 years of experience. He covers analytics and data management.

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