We’ve all heard the promises around the democratization of data — that everyone will be able to take the digits trapped in the columns and rows inside of spreadsheets and turn them into pictures from which insights can be easily gleaned.
And almost every time we’ve begun to believe, we’ve come away frustrated and/or feeling inept. Maybe business analysts and statisticians were going to have an easier time visualizing, manipulating and making sense of their data, but not us.
Data Vizzes for All, for Real
So when Francois Ajenstat, vice president of product management at Tableau Software, told me about his company’s mission to bring data visualizations (aka vizzes) to all, I dared him to define “all.” Was he talking about people who studied math, statistics, computer science, have PhD’s or MBA’s?
“No,” he said. By “all,” he meant the majority of working people.
“We’re not there yet, but we’re close,” he insisted at Tableau’s annual user conference last year.
I, most likely, responded in some polite way while keeping myself from rolling my eyes and holding my breath.
But maybe I shouldn’t have been so cynical.
Now that’s not to say that users don’t need to be qualified.
“You should have questions, data and an iPad,” David Story, Tableau’s vice president of mobile and strategic growth, told me.
The questions don’t have to be complicated, said Story, and the data you might want to glean insights may be readily available.
“Take your Fitbit data or your Amazon shopping history, for example,” he said.
It turns out that you don’t have to worry about what kind of viz you want to see before you load your data, much of that has been done for you.
And working with Vizable vizzes is completely intuitive. You can explore data by using gestures such as pinching, swiping and dragging, thereby sculpting data into new visualizations in seconds.
Here’s what it looks like:
Insights from a Citizen User
The test for Vizable, from our point of view, is whether a non-geek user can glean any tangible insights from it.
Story introduced us to Roz Edison, co-owner of Marination, a Seattle-based Asian-Hawaiian food truck eatery, who did a beta test of the app.
She was eager to discover anomalies in her business. While Edison thought she might uncover unforeseen insights about which dishes sold best at which time of day, what she learned instead is Marination spends a disproportionably large amount of money on cheese.
“And we don’t use very much cheese,” she said. What she figured out later is that because of the small amount of cheese they purchased, there were no economies of scale.
Another high cost? Plastic gloves.
“Vizable let us look at 100 inventory items and to quickly discover where we were leaving money on the table with two,” she explained.
Is Vizable for You?
You don’t have to buy it to try it or even to keep using it, said Story. For now Tableau’s only plan is to get the word out about it.
And while we don’t know what Tableau will decide later, this might be a clue: Story believes being able to visualize your own data is a human right.