On April 15, 2015, Birst announced a technology partnership with Tableau in which Birst’s BI platform will connect via ODBC to Tableau, allowing Birst users to directly connect Birst to Tableau, and for Tableau customers to directly connect to Birst. This may come as a bit of a surprise for customers who have previously considered both Birst and Tableau in competitive settings for business intelligence purchases, and for existing customers of both vendors, who may have considered both of these vendors to be similar in nature. So, why does this announcement make sense?
Although both of these companies have been lumped into the “BI Platform and Solution” bucket by a number of analyst firms, Blue Hill believes that these companies are actually quite different both in their focus and in their core value propositions. Typically, Blue Hill has found that when Birst and Tableau are head-to-head in a deal, the decision ends up being relatively straightforward because these vendors differ significantly in their strengths and weaknesses.
Although both companies are rising stars in their own regard, end users must understand how both of these vendors are actually quite different in their approach to supporting business intelligence. This technical partnership is a reflection of the fact that Birst and Tableau, although typically seen as BI competitors, can also be used in a single analytics environment. To understand how this works, consider how both Birst and Tableau have evolved over the past several years.
Birst and Two-Tier Data Architecture
Although Birst has its own visualization capabilities, as well as a predictive visualization wizard in Birst Visualizer, its greatest strength is actually as a bridge to bring together legacy data sources and data warehouses with emerging needs for new datamarts and cloud-based data into a single destination for corporate BI. This bridge occurs through Birst’s user-level data tier, which brings in a unique data view for each user within an organization based on the combination of internal and third-party data sources that an enterprise user may need.
By allowing each user to access and shape their own data environment based on individualized needs, and then serving as the intermediator to update enterprise data environments, Birst ends up being the key traffic director between individual data explorers and the enterprise truth. Because the social, mobile, and cloud technology paradigm has led to a splintering of data sources and data analysis, companies now must figure out how to put all the pieces together again. It’s a Humpty Dumpty problem where all the king’s horses and all the king’s men must put Humpty Dumpty together again, or risk losing basic visibility into key business processes. This is where Birst has a strong opportunity to support individual analytic choices and tie each individual’s actions to an enterprise environment.
Tableau and Data Discovery
Over the past few years, Tableau has instigated a new arms race in visualization where cloud BI vendors such as Birst and GoodData; standalone players such as Qlik, SAS, Information Builders, and MicroStrategy; and megavendors such as Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, and SAP all had to improve their visualizations and data discovery capabilities. The BI market can thank Tableau for creating a new standard that every other vendor had to match.
Now, companies doing their due diligence in BI typically know who Tableau is. The next step is for Tableau to increase the size and scale of its data discovery environments, which is most obvious through Tableau’s Drive methodology designed to “scale a culture of analytics.” This culture challenge has been one of the greatest contests in business intelligence. Although a fair number of enterprises have developed a BI center of excellence, and vendors have become increasingly flexible with their licensing approaches, the real difficulty to adoption has been the complexity of building true IT-business partnerships to support analytic environments. This is the predicament that Tableau has sought to tackle with the Drive approach and then to support with its own software and technology partners.
Birst and Tableau: Two Roads Diverged
This partnership reflects Birst and Tableau’s diverging paths in the enterprise BI world. Although both vendors will still find themselves competing against each other in specific deals, Blue Hill believes that this partnership is a good example of how each company is pursuing its strengths.
The reality is that datamarts and basic reporting have been around for decades. If the traditional methods of supporting these needs were good enough, in and of themselves, neither Birst nor Tableau would have ever taken off. But to reach the next level of integration with legacy enterprise environments, Birst and Tableau now can work together, at least on a technical level.
For business leaders, this partnership should help paint a clearer picture of their organization’s data analysis roadmap. The relative strengths of each solution illuminate the need for a combined approach. Ultimately, in order to ensure meaningful top-level data exploration, you must first ensure that the underlying data is trustworthy and complete. To build a full stack of data analysis capabilities, the choice was never really one or the other; it was combining the complimentary aspects of each. Now, with this partnership, the choice has become a little easier.