An Open Letter to Salesforce

Last week Salesforce announced that it will be acquiring Tableau Software. On the morning of the announcement, my phone was blowing up with messages and calls from people all over the world, asking me my thoughts. Back in 2/2016, I wrote a blog post on Tableau Stock and Technology Trends. In that post, I described my use of Tableau and also disclosed that I was a shareholder, buying Tableau stock at various points in time. In this post, I write an open letter to Salesforce about their acquisition.

To Salesforce,

By way of background, my name is Jeffrey Shaffer and I am the Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Information Technology and Analytics at Unifund and Recovery Decision Science. In the corporate world, our company has utilized Tableau since 2012 as our enterprise Business Intelligence platform. We use Tableau Server, Tableau Desktop and Tableau Online, and we use Salesforce as our CRM. I am also an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati where I've taught Data Visualization since 2011. I have taught Tableau as part of the data visualization class to over 1,700 students and in countless workshops. I have been a Tableau Public Author since 2011 and an active blogger since 2013. I am a four-time Tableau Zen Master, competitor in the 2014 Tableau Iron Viz competition, co-founder and leader of the Cincinnati Tableau User Group and a co-author of The Big Book of Dashboards. In addition, I've personally been involved in several mergers and acquisitions, though only in the tens of millions of dollars range, not in billions. I am writing this open letter to discuss the announced acquisition of Tableau by Salesforce.

First and foremost, congratulations on this acquisition. You have acquired the best data visualization software and business intelligence tool on the market. This is very exciting: as a shareholder it's great. Tableau was acquired at a nice premium. At the same time, it's a bit unnerving to the community, and as a customer it introduces a big unknown. So now what? My advice in four words: don't screw it up!

My advice in four words: don't screw it up!

That said, I'm sure that is not your intention with a $16 billion acquisition. So I will be a little more prescriptive. In my opinion, there are six key areas that are the pillars of continued success for Tableau.

Tableau Public: The Tableau Public platform is a tremendous asset. It allows users to download the product for free, create visualizations on public data, showcase portfolios of work, and allow users a place to practice, innovate or just have fun with data. Tableau Public has become a platform for news organizations, government agencies, and millions of users to leverage on a daily basis. I believe this is critical in adopting new customers (I became a Tableau Customer after using Tableau Public) as well as showcasing the product’s capabilities in the marketplace.

The Tableau Community: This is impossible to describe. Attend a Tableau Conference, ask a question on the Tableau Forum, or search Google for a Tableau blog or a question about how to do something in Tableau and you will quickly see the power, excitement and enthusiasm of the community. There is no other community like it. There are weekly social media projects, MakeoverMonday, Tableau Tip Tuesday, Workout Wednesday, Sports Viz Sunday, Health Data Viz and Iron Quest. There are Tableau User Groups all over the world. All of these efforts are organized and supported by volunteers in the Tableau community.

Development Team: I have been fortunate to meet and work with many of the Tableau Devs. Francois and team have been enhancing the product at a very rapid pace. Updates in the quarterly release cadence are fast and furious. In the last few releases, we have seen dozens of game changing features added to Tableau. Several of these features are so powerful that they could have been released on their own, but instead, we've seen dozens and dozens of new features. This includes features such as set actions, parameter actions, new mapping layers, vector maps, mapping functions and dashboard navigation (just to name a few). Whether it's dashboard design, mobile, server, mapping or any other part of the product, the dev team is critical to the continued success of Tableau as it continues to build and innovate.

Academic Program: This may not be top of mind to many in the Tableau community, but I assure you, this is a very important part of Tableau Software's adoption. In the last 6 years teaching at the University of Cincinnati, I have taught over 1,700 students. Every one of them used Tableau. Over the years, students have requested more and more Tableau. It's a skill that is in high demand in the marketplace, therefore students want to learn this skill. In addition, when students leave the University, go to work in companies across the country and advance in their careers, they will be familiar with Tableau. Tableau has tremendous support through the Academic Teams, offering not just licensing, but also course content in several areas. It is imperative that Tableau continues to support these efforts to help teach and grow the future users of Tableau.

Data Visuaization Research: Tableau has spent a huge amount of money on data visualization research. Tableau could have reduced this research and development years ago to be more profitable in the short-term, but instead focused on the long-term vision. Elements such as ease of use, built-in best practices, the use of color and simple design defaults are all part of what makes it the best data visualization software. Continuing this research and building it into the product roadmap will be critical for the future development of Tableau.

Tableau Foundation: Companies can certainly be profitable without being philanthropic, but instead, Tableau and the community have devoted enormous resources to help change the world in a positive way. Few organization have the power to truly affect large-scale change, but Tableau does. Tableau's vision to help people see and understand their data applies not only to small businesses and billion dollar companies, but it can also help organizations change the world. The Tableau Foundation has had tremendous impact across the world already, for example with projects such as Visualize No Malaria. It's clear that Salesforce has made philanthropy a priority as well. It will be exciting to see what the combination of resources could do on a large scale.

There are certainly other factors that will contribute to the success of this acquisition. For example, the integration of Tableau into the Salesforce platform, or integrating Einstein or other products into the Tableau platform, but first and foremost, I believe supporting and developing these six key areas will be critical to keeping the Tableau community spirit alive.

In the end, above all else, the community is what makes Tableau so successful. The community wants to support this acquisition. They love the product, they love the people at Tableau. The community relationship with Tableau is akin to that of family and friends. That community will want to know that our beloved will continue, as it has, with continued support, improvement, and development. Tableau was our first love, so don't break our hearts.

Jeffrey A. Shaffer
Follow on Twitter @HighVizAbility