Francois Ajenstat, Chief Product Officer at Tableau, talked with Bill Detwiler about how the integration with Salesforce is going post acquisition, the product roadmap for Tableau, and how data visualizations can help respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s been a year since Salesforce announced the acquisition of data visualization company Tableau. In the run up the TrailheaDX 2020 virtual event, I had a chance to speak with Francois Ajenstat, Chief Product Officer at Tableau, about what’s happened in the last 12 months and take a look at the Tableau and Salesforce Analytics product roadmap. The following is an edited transcript of the interview. You can also listen to the interview on TechRepublic’s Dynamic Developer podcast.
Bill Detwiler: So let’s start with the acquisition. It was completed, I guess, at least in the US in August, and then as we were talking right before we began recording, in the UK later in the Fall. Give me the breakdown on that, and how’s the integration been going?
Francois Ajenstat: Well, it’s been an amazing year, I just have to say. What an exciting year for everyone. We announced the acquisition just about a year ago and then we closed technically in August, but we were still under regulatory review by the U.K. So the official, we can actually start talking, wasn’t until November in the middle of Dreamforce, so perfect time to start working together. But it’s been a really exciting year. When I think about joining into Salesforce, it’s always scary and intimidating to join a bigger company, but from a cultural alignment, the values that Salesforce has, are incredible. The focus on trust and customer success and innovation and equality really align so well with Tableau and we’ve worked extremely well between the teams on engineering, on sales, on marketing, on operations to make this a great win for all of our customers.
Bill Detwiler: What about from a product perspective? Tableau, one of the most well known data visualization tools, Salesforce, of course, leaning more into analytics and really sort of building out a platform, not just around CRM but around all kinds of corporate data. Talk a little bit about the conversations going on around integrating Tableau into the other Salesforce products and platform ecosystem as a whole.
Francois Ajenstat: Well, I think it’s important just to start little bit by looking at the bigger picture, which is that, how does Tableau fit within the Salesforce ecosystem? Because Salesforce is the customer 360 company, really about creating interactions with customers. And if you think about what our customers are going through, they’re going through a digital transformation, and when they go through a digital transformation, guess what? It creates a data transformation. All of these clouds, all of these services, are creating tremendous amounts of data, which is then ripe to be analyzed, visualized, and really we can unlock the power of all that data so that people can do more with their customer interactions. And so that’s really where the potential is. We can now unlock the value of Salesforce data and bring more value to Salesforce, and because Tableau is really focused on choice and flexibility, we can analyze any data.
Data coming out of Workday, out of SQL Server, out of Snowflake, out of SAP, and really provide an end to end integrated analytics platform for all of our customers, whether they’re Salesforce customers or not Salesforce customers, because we really believe in choice and flexibility so that people can analyze their data anywhere they are.
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Tableau updates 2020.1 and 2020.2
Bill Detwiler: And I think that’s really kind of important, something I want to kind of touch on in my next question. So let’s talk a little bit about the product roadmap moving forward. When it comes to Tableau, you’ve got two big updates so far in 2020, we’ve got 0.1, and that brought some improved admin features as well as things like dynamic parameters and Viz Animations. And then with the more recent 2020.2 rolled out some new modeling features, set improvements, and something that you just touched on, which was the ability to connect Tableau directly to location data in Esri. So maybe talk about that, those updates, the features, just a bit, and then what’s next on the roadmap for Tableau?
Francois Ajenstat: Well, this is exciting because we’re a product company, we’re an innovation focused company since the acquisition was announced a year ago. We’ve actually already released four versions of Tableau. So every quarter there’s a new release and we’re just accelerating our pace of innovation. As you said, this year, we’ve had two releases. We’re six months in so that means two releases, two quarters. And what we’re doing is we’re really listening to our customers. We’re listening to the big requests that they have, the big needs and challenges that they’re trying to face, and seeing how we can make analytics easy. So if you think about the beginning of the year, we added something called dynamic parameters. Well, what is that? Well, from a customer standpoint, it’s the number one request from all of our customers of all time.
Of all the features that they’ve wanted us to deliver, this was the top for so many years, and we just got that out there. It enables them to really have their parameters, the interactions that they have in the product, to be live and always refreshed. We added animation so that data feels like it’s moving. It tells a story by seeing how it transitions. But we didn’t stop there. We continue to listen to customers, and in our 2020.2 release, which came out just a few weeks ago. We added a new data model so that people can analyze more complex data more easily. It’s really a game changer in the platform and some people have described it as the biggest improvement and the biggest change to Tableau in a decade. That’s how meaningful that is.
We added a capability called metrics, which helps people keep track of their KPIs, their key performance indicators, and keep it right there on their phone so they can see it anytime, anywhere. And, of course, we’re not done. There’s more capabilities coming, because there’s a new quarter that we’re about to start. So there’s going to be a new version of Tableau and we’re going to keep listening to our customers, we’re going to keep delighting them. We’re going to add more features around analytics, around self service, around enterprise, around cloud, around Salesforce. I’ve got to tell you, the future is bright. There’s so much coming. I’m so excited about the road ahead.
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Tableau roadmap for 2020 and beyond
Bill Detwiler: So let’s talk about Salesforce analytics a little more broadly. Talk about the integration with Tableau into the bigger analytics platform, and then what we can kind of expect in the future. You kind of alluded to that already.
Francois Ajenstat: Well, Salesforce has been on this journey of data and analytics for many years. It started with Einstein Analytics, which was really an analytics built into Salesforce, optimizing the CRM workflow. We then expanded that with MuleSoft, and MuleSoft is an integration platform, but what it does from an analytics standpoint is it unlocks more data to be used for analysis. So really thinking beyond just Salesforce, but really any system and how do we unlock that data. And then we added Datorama to the mix for marketing integration and really harmonizing all marketing sources. And then Tableau fits on top of it all to really provide analytics at the enterprise wide level. So really a broad stack of capabilities to help customers do more.
So as we think about where we’re going to go from here, first is, we’re going to make it so easy to visualize, explore, analyze all Salesforce data, whether it’s sales cloud, or service cloud, marketing cloud, or commerce cloud. We really want to make visual analytics on top of Salesforce so easy. The second is we’re going to lean into artificial intelligence machine learning by leveraging the power of Einstein, which has been really a game changer for Salesforce customers. But we’re going to take Einstein’s predictive capabilities and weave that more deeply into the platform. And because we’re all about innovation, we’re going to look to accelerate the innovation and find new ways to leverage Salesforce technologies to bring even more value to Tableau customers.
Using visual data analytics to make policy decisions
Bill Detwiler: I think that’s a really interesting point, especially when it comes to visualizations. As someone who used to work in social science research way back before I was in IT and certainly in the tech media, but who looked at a lot of data analytics or research data and then tried to sort of bring that data together to help tell a story to enable decision makers to actually take action based on the data, visualizations were really important for doing that and I think it was sometimes hard to build a visualization that sort of told the right story or that told a story in a way that people could understand. Talk a little bit about maybe how AI could help build those kinds of visualizations. I guess, make it a little easier to pick out the relevant story points to say, “Oh, look, it does look like there’s a correlation here between these two data points.” Can you speak to that a little bit?
Francois Ajenstat: Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean, I’ll start first by saying that vision is one of our most powerful senses and the reason that visualizations are so useful is that your eyes can really perceive what’s going on in the data so much better than, say, looking at a tabular report, which is what we used to do. And so what really Tableau has done is leveraged visualization technology to help people understand what the data means. And we like to say that it’s not really about the visualization, it’s about using the visualization to make sense of the data that enable the next question, and the next question, and the next question. And so we really think about helping people think with data. That’s the core. And so we take that premise and then you start thinking of, how does AI fit into that equation?
Well, if a lot of the technologies have been used to look at what happened in the past, so what happened now, we’re adding, why did it happen? And that’s where you can use AI technologies to pull out the why in the data. And then you can go one step further with predictive analytics to say what might happen in the future. And so there’s this continuum of questions, and then you start thinking of, what’s going on? Why is it going on? What might happen? How can I change it? But then you can also use AI technologies to start uncovering hidden insights in the data. If you’re trying to maximize profit, well, we can crunch the numbers behalf of the users and tell you, “Hey, these are some factors that have the biggest impact on profit. Here’s what you might want to do.” And really using AI, you can really pull out insights automatically for the humans, for the person doing the work, so that they can do their jobs better, faster, and deliver more value to the organization.
COVID-19 has brought data visualizations into the mainstream
Bill Detwiler: Francois, that leads me to my last question. I’d like to get your thoughts on the use of data analytics and visualizations to help companies, to help governments, address big problems. We were talking about right then, you gave a great example of maximizing profits, but often these same tools are used to address these big social issues like the COVID-19 pandemic. And I know that this has been at the forefront of what Marc Benioff and Salesforce has really wanted to do is helping to use its tools like the recently announced Work.com platform. How do you see Tableau fitting into that and helping us address some of those kinds of pressing social issues?
Francois Ajenstat: Well, data is so powerful. It can give you insights into companies. It can give you insights into pandemics. It can give you insights into how our communities are doing. And it’s really pretty incredible to think that data’s really gone mainstream through this pandemic. I think everybody’s heard of flattening the curve. We’re all seeing the curves on TV and how we’re doing. We’re all looking at the data every single day. How many new cases? How many new deaths? How much testing? So we are living right in a data world right now and it’s gone everywhere, and we’ve seen the power that, that data has to shape policy, to shape our communities, to shape our behaviors, because we might act differently based on what the data’s telling us. But it’s really gone mainstream. And in partnership with Salesforce, what we try to do is really showcase the power of that data, but not just here’s the data, there it is.
But the different ways that you can visualize it, which counties are growing faster than others, which ones have correlations to health factors or racial factors, and really trying to connect that data and help people visualize that. And we launched this COVID data hub. It’s been seen by millions of people, but what’s more exciting is that there’s been more than 20,000 visualizations created out of that data that people are communicating the impact of COVID in their communities and they’re visualizing it and combining it with other things. But as we’re going into reacting to the crisis, to getting back to work, to setting ourselves up back to growth, and getting back to work, well, guess what? We’re looking at pandemic data, COVID data and where are impacted populations? We’re looking at local government regulations and which phase of reentry are we in? We’re combining that with our employee data to see what is our at-risk population? Where are people?
And so data and analytics is a fundamental part of Work.com, of helping people get back to work and really minimize their risks and manage the well-being of their employees, and really ensure that their companies or organizations are set up for long term success. And as we get out of the re-entry mode and we get ready for growth, well, guess what? Data is how we’re going to use the insights to help power the next generation of our companies. It’s a really exciting time.