Last year’s acquisition of Tableau by Salesforce was a milestone for the end of an era and the inception of a new one, which will make data analysts of many who had never thought to try it.

Tableau’s free-form, instantly responsive data analysis opened new possibilities for data analysts – only to confront resistance from IT departments protective of the data those analysts needed.

The Tableau mission, “to help people see and understand data,” has evolved. For years, it rang like a revolutionary slogan: It was clear that ‘the people’ were individualist data analysts who disdained what was then standard business intelligence – i.e., standardized reports issued periodically and very hard to change. If you wanted a new field, for example, you put in a request and then waited weeks.

The IT managers in charge of those reports did what they had to do – protect the data, govern it – all within the hours they had. To them, these new individualistic analysts looked like trouble. Some of those analysts had actually hacked IT systems just to get at the data. Some called them ‘cowboys.’

Salesforce shifts focus for Tableau

Over the years, that long-running insurgency seems to have cooled somewhat. Perhaps the ‘cowboys’ joined the mainstream. But more likely, the mainstream joined them. Many IT departments had loosened their protective grip on data or otherwise came to a reconciliation with the raw data-hungry users.

Meanwhile, Tableau’s focus had gradually broadened to include not just those individual users but also whole business units and enterprises.

Most recently, Tableau began a shift away from its horizontal orientation, in which it aimed to serve all business needs with one tool, toward a vertical one. Now with Salesforce, the horizontal-to-vertical shift has accelerated toward Salesforce’s super-vertical: sales.

Tableau will be infused thoroughly within its new master. Despite protestations to the contrary from Tableau, the brand will eventually fade and disappear. That will leave a hole for new competition and new innovation. The giant that once dominated, though still present for a while more, will have been tamed. The giant’s eventual fall will leave room for new sprouts.

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