By Elissa Fink 28 Jul, 2009

You’ve no doubt heard the news – IBM is buying SPSS for $1.2 billion. Industry pundits say IBM is rounding out its “Information On Demand” (IOD) portfolio. Meanwhile, did you read that IBM also announced an initiative called “Smart Analytics” Systems? This new series of BI (business intelligence) products combines software, hardware, storage and professional services.

But I have to wonder if these moves by IBM aren’t just attempts to glom together a bunch of software, hardware and services into some strategic vision that in practice turns out to be hard-to-use and holds virtually no advantage for customers.

I think it was last week at Tableau’s annual customer conference that I heard a customer say about this kind of situation, “It’s like these companies have a PowerPoint slide segmenting the market into little boxes. They then go buy companies so that every box is filled in. And therefore because every box is filled in, executive management can say to their Boards and shareholders, ‘we are the market leader because we have the #1 or #2 player in every segment.’” (BTW, brilliant customer who said that, please stand up and be noted.) How does that add up to a strategic vision designed to serve customers?

Tableau has always been focused on a strategic vision that serves customers. It’s really quite simple. It’s the vision CEO Christian Chabot related to me in our first conversation – “Tableau helps people answer questions with their data.” Director of Visual Analysis Jock Mackinlay puts it this way: “We help people see and understand their data.”

Last week in our second annual customer conference, we saw story after story from customers talking about how they can now easily and quickly answer questions with their data using Tableau. And this came from some very large customers with complicated BI systems (much like IBM’s products) already in-house. Customers like Apple, Experian, Barnes Jewish Hospital, and AOL. For example:

  • Experian Automotive developed and launched a major initiative using Tableau Server to provide data to their customers. Experian customers use vehicle statistics to help them make better fact-based decisions about their business directives. Using Tableau Server, Experian took 2 days to develop the first demo-ready prototype, and had a production-ready version in 2 weeks - just in time for the national auto parts convention.
  • AOL slices and dices through human capital metrics using Tableau Desktop to help them understand their employees better. AOL showed incredible insights – and their director of global workforce analytics said “Tableau let us live out the ideas we dreamt of doing.”
  • Barnes Jewish hospital now manages labor hours more effectively than ever before with Tableau Server based dashboards. Previously, it was difficult to make the connection between budget overruns and staff who were clocking in early and clocking out late. With just 4 IT resources and in just 70 days using Tableau Server, their team was able to integrate data from disparate sources and create something they call a staffing board. Now, the chief nursing executive and her teams can adjust staffing levels in real-time using data throughout the day. They’ve cut in half the amount of overtime paid. In fact, they’ve never gone over budget with staffing since implementing Tableau.

The common thread? Fast, easy and driven by the business users. Our customers are getting the benefits of rapid-fire business intelligence.

Filling out more boxes about segments covered and markets served by some mega-vendor is hardly a win for customers. In the end, what matters about strategic decisions is what customers can make of it.


I think it's pretty safe to say that IBM is positioning itself as an alternative to SAP Business Objects. Unfortunately they are both extremely expensive, entirely inflexible and an overall poor solution to what business intelligence should be.

The Gartner Group coined the term business intelligence in the mid-1990s and defined it as follows:

“An interactive process for exploring and analyzing structured and domain-specific information to discern trends or patterns, thereby deriving insights and drawing conclusions. The business intelligence process includes communicating findings and effecting change.”

(Source: A glossary on the web site

Do IBM and SAP fit this definition? Certainly not. If anyone is curious, I wrote an evaluation of Business Objects as business intelligence tool.

Lest anyone forgets, IBM bought Cognos too...

So, the answer to your question was "yes". Perception is that Market Share drives future profits, and they claim to now be #2 behind SAS in market share terms with the acquisition.


I'd be interested in your evaluation of Business Objects. We already have BOE in house but I've managed to make inroads with Tableau as a superior reporting and analytic tool.