It's all about the users

The rise of self-service analytics, in 3 charts

I’m trying really hard to write less about business intelligence and analytics software. We get it: Data is important to businesses, and the easier you can make it for people to analyze it, the more they’ll use your software to do it. What more is there to say?

But every time I see Tableau Software’s earnings reports, I’m struck by the reality of how big a shift the business intelligence market is undergoing right now. In the fourth quarter, Tableau grew its revenue 75 percent year over year. People and departments are lining up to buy what’s often called self-service analytics software — that is, applications so easy even those lay business users can work with them without much training — and they’re doing it at the expense of incumbent software vendors.

Some analysts and market insiders will say the new breed of BI vendors are more about easy “data discovery” and that their products lack the governance and administrative control of incumbent products. That’s like saying Taylor Swift is very cute and very good at making music people like, but she’s not as serious as Alanis Morrisette or as artistic as Björk. Those things can come in time; meanwhile, I’d rather be T-Swift raking in millions and looking to do it for some time to come.

Above a quick comparison of annual revenue for three companies, the only three “leaders” in Gartner’s 2014 Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms (available in the above hyperlink) that are both publicly traded and focused solely on BI. Guess which two fall into the next-generation, self-service camp and are also Gartner’s two highest-ranked. Guess which one is often credited with reimagining the data-analysis experience and making a product people legitimately like using.

Narrowing it just to last year, Tableau’s revenue grew 92 percent between the first and fourth quarters, while Qlik’s grew 65 percent. Microstrategy stayed relatively flat and is trending downward. It’s fourth quarter was actually down year over year.

And what does Wall Street think about what’s happening? [company]Tableau[/company] has the least revenue for now, but probably not much longer, and has a market cap more than [company]Qlik[/company] and [company]Microstrategy[/company] combined.

Here are a few more data points that show how impressive’s Tableau’s ongoing coup really is. Tibco Software, another Gartner leader and formerly public company, recently sold to private equity firm Vista for $4.2 billion after disappointing shareholders with weak sales. Hitachi Data Systems is buying Pentaho, a BI vendor hanging just outside the border of Gartner’s “leader” category, for just more than $500 million, I’m told.

A screenshot from a sample PowerBI dashboard.
A screenshot from a sample PowerBI dashboard.

Although it’s worth noting that Tableau isn’t guaranteed anything. As we speak, startups such as Platfora, ClearStory and SiSense trying to match or outdo Tableau on simplicity while adding their own new features elsewhere. The multi-billion-dollar players are also stepping up their games in this space. [company]Microsoft[/company] and [company]IBM[/company] recently launched the natural-language-based PowerBI and Watson Analytics services that Microsoft says represent the third wave of BI software (Tableau is in the second wave, by its assessment), and [company]Salesforce.com[/company] invested a lot of resources to make its BI foray.

Whatever you want to call it — data discovery, self-service analytics, business intelligence — we’ll be talking more about it at our Structure Data conference next month. Speakers include Tableau Vice President of Analytics (and R&D leader) Jock Mackinlay, as well as Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Machine Learning Joseph Sirosh, who’ll be discussing self-service machine learning.

2 Responses to “The rise of self-service analytics, in 3 charts”

  1. There’s something happening with Tableau that isn’t noticed by BI industry analysts. The adoption of the product isn’t coming top-down, it’s the analysts that are loving it. So slowly they are replacing Excel as their reporting tool with Tableau. So even when an organization spends bundles on a BI platform or Data Warehousing, the majority of analysts in the organization simply extract the data and then make their charts or tables in Excel. It’s these analysts that are adopting Tableau and not the other tools which require BI and/or tech knowledge or training.