Review: Tableau takes self-service BI to new heights

Tableau strengthens its case with cross-database joins, browser-based authoring, and geo-analysis improvements

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At a Glance

Since I reviewed Tableau, Qlik Sense, and Microsoft Power BI in 2015, Tableau and Microsoft have solidified their leadership in the business intelligence (BI) market: Tableau with intuitive interactive exploration, Microsoft with low price and Office integration. Qlik is still a leader compared to the other 20 vendors in the sector, but trails both Tableau and Power BI.

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In addition to new analytics, mapping, and data connection features, Tableau has added better support of enterprises and mobile devices in the last two years. In this review, I’ll give you a snapshot of Tableau as it now stands, drill in on features new since version 9, and explore the Tableau road map.

Tableau describes its products as offering “analytics that work the way you think” and says these tools harness “people’s natural ability to spot visual patterns quickly, revealing everyday opportunities and eureka moments alike.” There’s a certain amount of truth in that, although you could say almost the same thing about at least five other BI tools. The self-service visual analytics approach is becoming mainstream.

The visual discovery phase of the analysis workflow is the sexy part, but it’s not where most people spend most of their time. In my experience, importing and conditioning the data can easily consume 80 percent of the time you spend with a BI product. The same is more or less true for the more complicated workflow needed for machine learning (to make predictions), although when you get to deep learning the time needed to train models starts to dominate the workflow.

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