Why I Hitched My Wagon to Tableau FeatureDisclaimer: About five years ago I bet my career on Tableau. Further, I use a portion of the money I make using Tableau to buy Bar-B-Q; I like this arrangement and am biased towards Tableau.

Earlier this month, the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics was released. This is one of the most cited and reputable sources for gauging the competitive landscape of the BI space, and as such, its release is always eagerly anticipated and highly publicized. For the fifth consecutive year, Tableau was named as a ‘Leader’ in the Magic Quadrant for their combination of ‘Completeness of Vision’ and ‘Ability to Execute’.

Being my visual analytics tool of choice, I would be lying if I said I don’t look forward to some objective, third-party love for Tableau. However, I had a realization that this type of validation is only valuable because it helps the perception of Tableau from outsiders. It helps me to cite Gartner when trying to spread the word about Tableau, but for me personally, the report only confirms relatively tiny aspects of what I already know. The real reason I champion Tableau is below.


Why I Hitched My Wagon to Tableau

I’ve been using Tableau for a long time. Seven years to be exact. And for exactly seven years, people have approached me with ‘the next big thing’ in this arena and told me why I should use something other than Tableau. Out of respect for people at Tableau competitors working hard to do the best they can as well as friends in the industry, I won’t name any specific experiences. But I’ve been through this literally dozens of times.

Don’t get me wrong, I am always open to finding better ways to do things; as all good business people should be. If this wasn’t the case, I wouldn’t have started using Tableau in the first place. So how could I balance my positive experience with Tableau and my instinct to ignore the competition with having an open-mind and being a polite Midwesterner? It’s critical for me to learn about serious alternatives as soon as they emerge, but more importantly for me based on my experience with this low likelihood, I need to determine if an alternative is serious as efficiently as possible.

It took me a few years, but after I had built up a solid portfolio of Tableau work, I found the answer. When I’m approached with the ‘next big thing’, I simply send a link to one of my Tableau Public visualizations and ask them:

Can I make this with your product?

And I’m not even talking about Tableau Public itself, which is an amazing free product on its own that no one has come remotely close to replicating. I’m talking about the visualizations.

Would I be able to make What Are the Odds of Going Pro in Sports?

What about 2½ Minutes to Midnight? I think that one’s kind of cool.

Even a simple corporate style dashboard like My Us Stock Portfolio.

If they are particularly confident and persistent, I send them a link to The Cost of Attending the 2015 World Series and everyone goes on about their day.

For that matter, I could probably send them any of my data visualizations, and they would likely have a very hard time replicating them. In some cases, they may be able to create a similar story, but not nearly as elegantly and often with unacceptably rigid constraints.

I hitched my wagon to Tableau because of its flexibility.

There is no product in the Magic Quadrant as flexible, with the same ease of use, as Tableau.

That’s it. There’s not.

I understand you can make certain chart types easily in some of the alternatives. One common example I’m told is crosstabs. I don’t use my data visualization tool to create crosstabs. And secretly, if push comes to shove and I have to provide a crosstab, there are flexible ways to do that in Tableau too.

But what about the data sources? Our product has 12 native Facebook sub-connectors. I can connect to any type of data I’ve ever needed to analyze with Tableau. They don’t put logos next to the connections, but they are still there.


In Closing

I haven’t even got to the real beauty of Tableau’s flexibility. At the end of the day, the value I provide is communicating data, which in turn, leads to actionable insights and positive changes for a business. My experience with Tableau is definitely a bonus, but only because it leads to better data visualizations and analysis. While I will keep an eye out for the ‘next big thing’, there is currently no other tool that provides the flexibility I need to do my job at the highest level.

Thanks for reading,
– Ryan