ClearGraph team members, from left to right: Naomi Bancroft, Ryan Atallah, Andrew Vigneault and Vidya Setlur.
ClearGraph team members, from left to right: Naomi Bancroft, Ryan Atallah, Andrew Vigneault and Vidya Setlur.

Tableau, a Seattle-based business intelligence and analytics provider, announced this morning that it has acquired ClearGraph. 

Based in Palo Alto, Calif., ClearGraph provides smart data discovery and data analysis natural language query solutions. The purchase price has not been disclosed.

NLP, ML Put to Work

ClearGraph was founded in 2014 by investment specialist Andrew Vigneault (CEO) and CTO Ryan Atallah. 

It is expected that ClearGraph’s entire team will join Tableau and help integrate the technologies. 

Tableau currently has 3,305 employees, according to its latest quarterly report

What’s special about ClearGraph? It not only uses natural language processing to read, hear and understand words, but also leverages machine learning to help augment intelligence.

So say, for example, that you are a merchandise buyer at a national department store chain who wants to know where in the United States you might be able to off-load the pastel pink dresses with jeweled collars that no one in New York City is willing to try on, much less buy. 

Instead of shipping them to “anywhere but here,” waiting for a data scientist or data analyst to become available to point you in the right direction, or hacking a query, with ClearGraph, and soon with Tableau, you can use plain English to ask your questions. 

"We founded ClearGraph because we saw a need to bridge the gap between humans and computers through natural language, especially when it comes to exploring data," Vigneault said in a statement. "Tableau is a natural fit for us because we have similar missions, cultures and genuine desire to help more people around the world access, interact with and get answers from their data."

Investing in 'Conversational Analytics'

Though Tableau executives have yet to say exactly how they will leverage ClearGraph, we do know that they will be looking to integrate its capabilities into its products as opposed to milking them for its revenue streams.

Tableau is looking for profits. It reported $827 million in revenue its 2016 fiscal year with a net loss of $144.4 million. Its net loss in 2015 was $83.7 million after net gains of $5.8M, $7M and $1.4M the prior three years. 

Reports say Tableau is trying to shift to a subscription-based model.

As for its newly-acquired tech, it is not too far-fetched to believe that users will be able to speak their queries and to have their data-rich answers delivered in pictures.

Francois Ajenstat, chief product officer at Tableau, said in a statement that natural language queries will make it easier for more people to interact with Tableau. It will bring answers from data quickly on mobile, he said, referring to this as "conversational analytics." 

Ajenstat last November at his company's 13,000-attendee user conference cited an important strategic shift, telling CMSWire Tableau is "broadening from a visual analytics product to a complete data platform."  

New Era for Data?

Great debates have been had as to why decision makers ask for data but ultimately go with their gut when the data doesn’t support their hunches. New technologies like Tableau and ClearGraph might lead the way to a new era of data-driven decision making because the decision makers will have human ways — visual and voice — to interact with their data.

The companies that leverage their data best will win the future. We have been saying this for so long it’s practically cliché. 

But while in the past we thought that the data-blending, algorithm-crafting data scientists would unlock the riches of the new economy, it is now beginning to look as if it will be line of business workers like you and me.

And while there are many reasons for that, one of the most important is that Business Intelligence (BI) and analytics vendors are making it easier and easier for us to interact with data and to understand the stories it tells us.