Here at CFO, we get a lot of information from technology vendors offering products that promise to do everything from scrubbing your numbers to cleaning your computer screen. We dutifully evaluate these offerings so you don’t have to. Lo and behold, some actually merit a little ink.
To winnow down our list, we summarily dismissed any product described by a vendor as “seamless,” “mission critical,” or “way cool.” Even then, we also had to omit several excellent products for space reasons. For example, we recently visited the latest version of Teliris’s VirtuaLive, a telepresence conference room replete with high-definition screens and integrated audio, and it’s a knockout. Managers at any multinational business looking to cut down on travel expenses should seriously consider it. Those who have no choice but to hit the road on a regular basis will do well to look at Siber Systems’s RoboForm2Go. This souped up thumbdrive offers road warriors a painless — and secure — way to take their passwords with them. On the road or at home, these five picks merit a closer look.
Picture This: Tableau v3.0
Who: Tableau Software
What: Data visualization and rendering software
Why: Brings some intelligence to business intelligence
Data visualization is nothing new. CFO wrote about cutting-edge efforts to create 3-D and interactive charts from financial information back in the primordial ooze known as 2002 (“Now You See It,” July 2002).
Many of those attempts sputtered. Historically, graphics programs in business-intelligence software have tended to produce rudimentary, dull charts. And despite recent improvements, producing truly useful pivot charts in Excel has always been a bear.
That’s where Tableau comes in. Built on a database visualization query language called VizQL (Visual Query Language), Tableau takes data visualization to a new level. Users are able to point to a data source, then easily create drag-and-drop views. Practically any query can be transformed into a chart. A finance worker doing budget analysis, for example, can quickly uncover exceptions, outliers, and hidden clusters — then compare the results against different time periods. More elaborate charts can be assembled to give real insight into what was once a stack of numbers. In a sense, the software creates visual spreadsheets.
Tableau, the brainchild of two Stanford professors, can trace its roots to a concept developed by film company Pixar. Essentially, it’s a front-end rendering engine that is data agnostic. It’s able to tap into relational databases, OLAP data warehouses, and other sources of corporate information. Thus, users don’t need to know query languages like SQL or MDX. What’s more, finance managers can create dynamic dashboards that pull data simultaneously from SQL Server, Oracle, and Excel.
How good is Tableau? In terms of generating useful, multidimensional visual analysis, it’s like going from an Etch-a-Sketch to Industrial Light and Magic. Quite simply, it’s the best piece of software CFO has run across in years.