This year I had the privilege of attending the Tableau Customer Conference with 1400 other raving fans. This is up from about 300 just a few years ago. Tableau is one of those companies doing it right and they’re being paid back with a growing base of loyal customers.

What Tableau does so well is that they make something so complex seem so simple yet so elegant—a description often bestowed upon Apple. Ted Cuzzillo, writer for Information Management, TDWI, and other publications actually said three years ago that “Tableau is the new Apple” and I wholeheartedly agree.

BI marketers use a lot of the same buzzwords to describe their products, including self service, rich applications, and agile. Most of the time, the difference between BI their products is shades of gray. With Tableau, those words come to life in full color

Tableau’s data visualizations, or “viz” as they are affectionately known as, go far beyond the standard bar and pie charts to include viz that make even the hardened critic, Stephen Few, proud. Some of these include line charts, scatter plots, heat maps, and Gantt bar charts. Where it becomes elegant, but still simple, is when Tableau is used to visualize data with not only shapes (lines, bars, circles), but colors and sizes as well.

A beautiful example of the combination of size, color, and directional lines is in the viz on Tableau Public that tells the story of 20 years worth of named hurricanes. The year’s hurricanes are laid out over a map, showing the start and end points, the path it took, the width of the line indicating wind speeds, and a different color used for each storm. It begins to blur the lines between life and art. In fact, you can find more of these or make your own on Tableau Public, Tableau’s free online version for public-use.

So, while many of the other BI players try to be all things to all users, Tableau continues to do what they do best—telling stories with data.

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