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Salesforce has been powering ahead in the data analytics space for years now with its own internal developments and through the occasional acquisition. None of these efforts, though, can match in depth and breadth what the company accomplished with its newly-announced $15.7 billion acquisition of Tableau. For starters, the buy gives Salesforce a way to support non-Salesforce data sources — an area where it has come up short and in which it has traditionally partnered with lead players. “Ultimately, single platform analytics don’t tell the true story,” said LeadMD CEO Justin Gray.

This acquisition also took Tableau off the table for Amazon to buy, said Amalgam Insights CEO and principal analyst Hyoun Park.“Amazon, as Tableau's next door neighbor, seemed like a potential acquirer. And Tableau CEO Adam Selipsky was previously from Amazon, which led to a lot of speculation.” 

Most of all, the deal signifies Salesforce's willingness to make big bets to continue its massive growth.

Tableau Meets Salesforce

Tableau is a business intelligence (BI) and analytics platform that has become beloved for its ability to visualize data in an easy-to-understand format.

Salesforce will be incorporating this functionality into its various products, such as its AI for CRM powered by Salesforce Einstein, which offers sales and marketing analytics. “Tableau will make both Customer 360 and Salesforce's analytics capabilities stronger than ever, and enable the company to reach a much broader set of customers and users,” Salesforce stated when it announced the deal. 

The buy comes a few months after the company announced a move into the Customer Data Platform space, another sign of its push to extend its data analytics' capabilities.

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Extending the Data Source Pool

Significantly, the Tableau transaction will give Salesforce a way to support non-Salesforce data sources. Salesforce’s analytics efforts to date have been specifically tailored to Salesforce data sources, said Park. “Salesforce had not put significant effort into creating an analytics solution that supported non Salesforce data sources."

Tableau’s integration links, on the other hand, have burnished its reputation. LeadMD uses Tableau in-house, according to Gray, who noted that the Tableau connector has continued to evolve over the years. His thinking is the acquisition will provide better flexibility and overall power when accessing and visualizing the Salesforce data schema. “This is absolutely critical when combining CRM data with other platforms across the enterprise.”

One apt comparison for this deal could be Salesforce’s $6.5 billion MuleSoft acquisition last year, which provided Salesforce with the general application integration cloud. Now, Park said, Tableau is providing Salesforce with a general analytics cloud.

A Cloud-First Solution

Part of the reason this acquisition makes sense is that Tableau has made a lot of efforts to create a cloud-first analytics solution, allowing Tableau to compete with Salesforce in providing Salesforce analytics. “Rather than compete against each other, Tableau can now be the analytic discovery cloud while Einstein Analytics continues to provide basic dashboards and reports based on Salesforce data and Einstein AI services,” Park said.

“Salesforce can avoid the work necessary to become a general analytics solution, and now Salesforce is a leading analytics provider as well, which fills and application gap that Salesforce has traditionally had,” Park said.

Related Article: An Introduction to Tableau: What It Is and How it Can Provide Insight for Your Business

Tableau Gains, Customer Misgivings

Some Tableau users have met the news of the acquisition with reservation. Eric Smith, director of BI and Data Science at LeadMD, for instance, said he hopes that Tableau, under the influence of Salesforce, doesn't sacrifice freedom for packaged "features." “It seems like Salesforce tends more toward chopping services up into modular products, and it would be a shame for Tableau to just become a visualization layer for Salesforce.”

There are reasons to fret: Tableau has started to work more deeply in memory data and data prep capabilities and its product roadmap has pointed to developing more data and analytics capabilities over time, according to Park. It remains to be seen if this roadmap is continued under Salesforce.

Indeed it seems that many Salesforce acquisitions have receded from view once the deal closed. “MuleSoft has faded a lot from developer discussions outside Salesforce developers and Heruko went from being a cloud PaaS contender to being mostly a Salesforce community,” said Amalgam Insights’ research fellow Tom Petrocelli.

It is possible, he said, that the fanatic community of Tableau users will decide that Salesforce won't give them the autonomy they need and the partner relationships that are vital to independent companies. “The backlash could be huge and I'm sure that Tableau's competitors will be messaging that to the world,” Petrocelli said.

Park, though, sees Tableau benefiting from the acquisition. “Working with Salesforce will accelerate Tableau's AI capabilities, as Salesforce has already invested deeply in AI talent.”