For the first time in decades, business intelligence is actually becoming one of the primary areas of collaboration between IT and the business, says Tableau’s CEO Christian Chabot.

Chabot, a former data analyst who crunched numbers in Silicon Valley, founded Tableau 10 years ago, while looking for a tool that could “help people like me”.

Data-lovers come in all shapes and sizes these days, Christian Chabot, Tableau's founder says ©iStock/Erikona
Data-lovers come in all shapes and sizes these days, Christian Chabot, Tableau's founder says ©iStock/Erikona

“I have been surprised and delighted over the years about how many people are interested in working with data. There’s definitely a new geek in town. And in 2015, this geek is a data geek.”

But today, these "data geeks" come in different guises, he adds.

“It was usually technology people with IT degrees working in server farms. Now it is nurses, teachers, doctors and journalists.”

Staff at private and NHS health and social welfare provider VirginCare use Tableau to help improve patient satisfaction. The tool helped spot trends in complaints that always spiked in December and August - prime time for doctor's holidays. The team were able to present links between dropped satisfaction scores and doctors’ holidays to the board, and consequently executives invested in regular locums so that patients could see a familiar face if their doctor had taken a holiday.

'It is time to change your data strategy'

Chabot is keen to alleviate any tension between stereotypical data warehousing heads and keen marketing teams that want a piece of their firm's data.

He uses car maker Audi, which uses Tableau for internal reporting across the company, as an example of where handing over the reigns to business users has helped a firm flourish.

“Audi is trying to usher in a new generation of business analytics. In previous generations, the goal of a technology department or chief information officer (CIO) may have been to deliver useful information to its employees. Or the goal of its data strategy could be to get reports out on time; or simply find the needle in the haystack and deliver it to the people who can take action.

“I call that very twentieth century thinking. It’s almost like the philosophy of someone who has just been given a computer for the first time. Yet that is what most companies do today - it’s just the way they see data.”

This siloed approach to data is “absurd”, Chabot says.

“Audi is creating a 'self service' attitude and thinking differently about its data strategy.”

Chabot says that simple steps like removing ‘deliver reports on time’ as a target for technology teams could be transformative.

“People like their employer better, they feel like they are making more progress in their job. There is no longer a burden on a technology group to find the needles in the haystack allowing them to have inspired thoughts about how to improve various aspects of the business.”

This emergence of a grassroots analytics culture is one of the predominant tech trends of the century, Chabot believes. But with this data renaissance, wannabe business intelligence (BI) specialists need to learn quickly to boost their employability.

“There are a lot of universities and online education centres with courses on data and analytics science. College kids are already putting data on their resumes.

“If you are not yet getting literate with this new generation of fast, easy visualisation tools - whether it is Tableau or something else - and starting to experiment with little rollouts in your team, a year from now you are going to be behind.”

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Tableau has seen growth in Europe - doubling revenue growth over the past two years. Since 2013, it added 1,000 new customers to its books in UK, Germany and France alone. As well as Audi and VirginCare, its other customers include the French Red Cross and easyJet.

Its rivals include big name enterprise vendors like Oracle, SAP, IBM, Microstrategy, Micros, Splunk and SAS.

But the notion of "self-service" is gathering speed, thanks to several inexpensive, or free, data visualisation tools like Silk, Google Apps, and Many Eyes.

Businesses are encountering a viral type of uptake outside of IT, similarly to when Salesforce entered the market. Other “self-service” competitors include Information Builders, Qlikview and Tibco.

Bypass the IT department

For those considering a tool for a team in the office, or deciding on your firm's main data visualisation tool, Chabot, who has a background in enterprise software, suggests bypassing the IT department if it is not playing ball.

"You see debate and friction, but that is more about control," he says.

"Traditional old school thinkers in workplaces take it as gospel that there should be a centralised technology group that controls all the data and determines who gets to what with it. More modern managers, and more progressive workplaces are saying 'why wouldn't your vice president of marketing be able to make a decision about what information is available to her? Is she not trusted? Are you employing untrustworthy people?”