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Data can be complicated to collect and it is often even more complex to understand in a way that brings a business value.
Salesforce’s Tableau business unit today announced the 2023.1 release of its enterprise platform known as Tableau Server, which can run on-premises or in an organization’s own virtual private cloud deployment. Tableau is generally used as a data analytics technology that helps users get insights from data.
The new 2023.1 update integrates enhanced features to help organizations connect to data including a data mapping feature that has been designed to make it easier to execute analytics on any data source. There is now also a deeper integration with Salesforce’s Slack messaging application in a bid to help users benefit from data analytics directly within Slack.
Telling ‘stories’ with AI
Connecting to data analytics is one thing, but actually being able to understand what the data actually means is another. That’s where Tableau is leaning on artificial intelligence (AI) to make a difference. With the enhanced Data Stories feature, AI is used to create an explanation that Tableau refers to as a “story” about what the data means.
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This AI feature, while based on a series of foundational AI technologies, does not currently use the Einstein GPT generative AI technology that Salesforce announced earlier this month.
Tableau Server 2023.1 benefits from AI capabilities derived from Saleforce Einstein, without the GPT integration. Among those capabilities is one called “Explain” that helps to explain not just what happened with data, but also what didn’t happen, Francois Ajenstat, chief product officer at Tableau, told VentureBeat.
Tableau Server also has an Einstein AI feature called “Ask” (again, not GPT based), that provides an NLP-based query engine for users to ask natural language queries about data and get a response back.
“At the end of the day, what Tableau is all about is helping people see and understand data,” Ajenstat said. “It’s a simple mission, but actually it’s one we believe that’s really really important.”
NLP acquisition by Salesforce plays role
Tableau has always provided its users with dashboards to help visualize data trends.
While the saying goes that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” that’s not always true, especially when users are just looking at a picture of a line graph without any context.
“Data Stories writes the whole story about what the data says; instead of giving a picture, it actually writes the full story and it is fully interactive,” Ajenstat said.
Ajenstat explained that the core technology that helps enable the Data Stories feature came to Tableau via the acquisition of privately-held startup Narrative Science in December 2021. Narrative Science had been working on natural language processing (NLP) capabilities for data, which Tableau has since extended and now integrated into its platform. The NLP technology that Tableau uses for Data Stories has been specifically designed for math and data analytics.
As a company, Salesforce has pledged to integrate generative AI across its various divisions under the banner Einstein GPT. That integration hasn’t come yet to Tableau, but it will in the future according to Ajenstat. He emphasized, however, that the NLP engine that powers Data Stories is a better first step for AI than starting off with something like a GPT-based generative AI engine.
“GPT doesn’t really understand math or data analytics,” he said. “The engine we have now is trained and it knows how to write about data in particular.”
The addition of Einstein GPT on top of the existing Tableau NLP-based AI in the future will bring a different experience for users. Ajenstat said the goal for the in-progress Einstein GPT work for Tableau will be to simplify the Data Stories analysis and summarize it to make it even more approachable for business analysts.
No time to Slack off
Tableau Server 2023.1 also brings a more integrated approach for Slack messaging as well.
Ajenstat said that previously, users could set up Tableau to send an alert to a Slack channel, based on data thresholds or key performance indicators (KPIs). With the new integration, users can stay inside Slack to query data and get analytics results.
“We want to integrate analytics into the workflow,” he said. “The reason for this integration journey is to keep people where they work and bring Tableau in that environment.”
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