Is Tableau’s data visualisation software part of the shadow IT trend or an exciting tool to cut IT’s time spent answering the same business intelligence questions over and over again?

The company’s second UK conference last week was filled with IT and business users anxious to hear about how companies were using its tool to keep the C-level executives happy. The software has spread through word of mouth and can be found in most enterprises in the UK, across small-scale projects up to those dictating high-level business decisions.

“It’s more common to see Tableau start in the business and IT will embrace it over the time. That is borne of the fact that business people are increasingly competent and confident around data,” says Tableau’s European head of sales, James Eiloart.

“They have an ongoing sense of frustration using technical technology to get to that data, which is usually a path through IT who are too busy.”

Case studies

St George’s NHS Trust is using Tableau to analyse sensitive data to evaluate staff and department performances through mortality rates, patients’ surgeon requests and patients’ visit durations.

After entering into “an ecosystem of BI” in 2012, the trust’s head of information, Tom Dewar, deployed Tableau, which now feeds from the trust’s recently installed data warehouse. The trust is hoping to cut down on Microsoft Excel use and eliminate Access entirely.

With a 15-strong information team to pull reports to answer the questions of 8,000 staff, Dewar’s team was relieved to find a tool that they could give to different departments so they could begin to query the data themselves.

“It removed the request, response cycle”, he says.

“I want more people in clinical and corporate care to have desktop licenses and build their own dashboards [tool in Tableau to visualise data]. That will allow my team to spend more time analysing, rather than answering, questions.”

Leicestershire County Council’s use of Tableau bypasses IT entirely. The council’s research and insight lead Robert Radburn told ComputerworldUK that he was faced with resistance from IT departments. With dwindling budgets, supporting external applications like Tableau is impossible, and this makes getting access to the data to use in the application difficult, he told ComputerworldUK.

But it is not only insight or analyst teams that are using Tableau en masse across the business.

There was a C-level IT presence from the private sector who seemed impressed with what the software could offer their company.

MoneyCorp’s CTO Henry McKeon gushed that Tableau had transformed MoneyCorp's data analysis and that the business is rolling it out extensively to present reports internally and to its partners, like the Post Office.

MoneyCorp, McKeon said, was suffering from a complex, slow business intelligence model that was frustrating both IT and the business users who were looking for more answers than before - and at a quicker pace. McKeon ripped out and replaced the foreign exchange company’s system to a leaner SQL server model with Tableau sitting on top.

Allowing business users access to data has allowed them to improve their loyalty card scheme, and target the most-used cash machines in airports across the UK. Moneycorp are going to use Tableau to work on pricing sensitivity data, so the business can predict when customers will trade their money.

The fraud department and the finance team are also moving from Excel to Tableau, McKeon added.

What response has Tableau had from IT leads?

“It is unusual to see IT really concerned”, Eiloart says.

“Inevitably, there is an element of change going on and there are always people who are afraid of that. Ultimately if the business is pulling together to empower people to answer their own questions rather than sending them back to IT, it can only be a good thing.”  

But Eiloart emphasises the importance of data cleaning prior to crunching, and making sure there is no ambiguity over semantics.

“If two people from different parts of the business look at revenue, you need to be confident that they are both clear it is the same thing. But IT has been working on that for a long time.”

Will Tableau save time or create more problems?

“IT’s role is to help with the most complex of questions or for providing data in a clean, consistent, governed manner so that business people can ask questions and get consistent, correct answers back,” says Eiloart.

“Now they can focus their efforts on making sure the data assets are in the right format, rather than running around writing up reports – that bit you can give to the business people.”

He adds: “It’s about democratising data and making it available to everyone”.