Is Tableau Dead? The Future of Tableau

February 27, 2024
Is Tableau Dead? The Future of Tableau

The company and product has been rapidly shifting. Is it near the end?

Is Tableau Dead?

No... and Yes.

The momentum and community around Tableau has been lost. But current and projected future revenue growth is solid. It's not the company that it used to be, but it'll be a major player as long as it's tied to Salesforce.

Similar to how no one celebrates Oracle products and shouts from the rooftops, Tableau will become a tool in the Salesforce toolbox that major players will continue to use.

I've been working with Tableau for more than 10 years. Back before there was Tableau Cloud (formerly Tableau Online). Before there was Tableau Prep. Before the Salesforce acquisition.

During this decade, you could feel the momentum. The product was up-and-coming. Developers, users, and executives were excited about the future possibilities of the tool. The insights it could and was uncovering.

The "koolaid" tasted good and was still nutritious.

But after the Salesforce acquisition, things started changing.

Unofficial Leading and Lagging Indicators

In 2019, Salesforce acquired Tableau. A heavyweight acquired an upcoming superstar. It would be like Michael Jordan bringing second year Lebron James onboard. Or maybe it is more like Darko Miličić getting drafted by the Detroit Pistons with Ben Wallace, Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, and Tayshaun Prince on it?

For non-NBA historians, Darko was considered a bust after getting brought on by the at-the-time NBA powerhouse, the Detroit Pistons. Lebron James meanwhile has had an incredibly successful career, living up to expectations.

The 2019 acquisition itself was received with mixed emotions. Some were excited about the resources and market Tableau would get access to. Others were skeptical about the product's culture and vision with a new boss in place.

Both parties ended up being correct with their perspectives.

The leading indicators showed up quickly. Product updates that were long overdue started getting built. The community fragmented and lost previously active contributors.

The lagging indicators showed up after 2 to 3 years. People fed up with Tableau/Salesforce support (or lackthereof). Questions about the future of the company and momentum (like this post). Salesforce executives mentioning Tableau less than Slack or Mulesoft on their public calls.

So depending on what you have focused on, Tableau is doing both great and heading in the wrong direction at the same time.

Getting Past the Indicators

When a company grows with koolaid, it also fails when there is a shortage of koolaid. But this is difficult to measure and see from a performance aspect until much later. Right now revenue still looks great. It's growing year over year.

But most Tableau executives have left as of now. We've personally had clients and prospects trading Tableau for Power BI, native data viz tools in their other software, or just simply dropping the software all together.

The Future of Tableau

The competition in the data visualization space is increasing. New companies that directly address the shortcomings of Tableau and similar data visualization tools are starting to take foot.

It'll take years for those companies to eat into any significant market share of Tableau. But like Salesforce's race against HubSpot; new incumbents have ample opportunity to succeed with better custom service and more targeted problems that it solves with data.

Some of these up and comers include more flexible solutions like Omni. Others are more targeted toward simplicity like Databox.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's Power BI is on a hot streak. It's already internally approved and accessible by companies on the Microsoft stack. It's "free" to start with and in Microsoft's customers' stack, so business users and developers alike can build POCs with real company data they have access to.

It's a real threat to the core business of Tableau. Many companies are reducing SaaS subscription costs and complexity after Covid made them run rampant. Microsoft already has relationships to nearly all of these large enterprise accounts of Tableau. And with the stickiness of Microsoft's products, they can take losses on Power BI to take Tableau market share (if they choose).

Obviously there are technical differences between the platforms, but that's not the real decider of whether someone chooses Tableau or Power BI. This is the only true short-term threat to Tableau's enterprise customers in my opinion.

Where That Leaves Tableau

Tableau seems like it's settling into an incumbent role similar to Qlik. I believe it'll be a consistent player at large institutions who typically go through complex project and procurement processes.

It'll be a necessary evil that people will view the same as Salesforce. The view that it's for the more complex use cases and expensive. But once you reach a certain growth point, it's the option you need to go with.

Companies that are already using Salesforce will expand their usage to Tableau as well. Similar to how Power BI is being adopted by companies who are already neck deep in the Microsoft stack. Similar to how Oracle sells multiple products under their umbrella once they have an inked relationship with a customer.

It will no longer be the hot new tool that will be embraced by SMBs. The community will not have the hope and excitement it had in the 2010s. Instead, they'll constantly voice frustration that no one in Salesforce cares about their customers and that they'll just be a line on a spreadsheet again. But it won't matter, because the Tableau revenue will continue to steadily grow as Salesforce digs its heels into current revenue streams.

Small players will snap up opportunities of frustrated former Tableau customers. They'lll grow until they're acquired by a bigger player wanting access to that market.

And the cycle will continue as it always does.

Final Conclusion

Tableau will continue to be used in Enterprise and in large government. Power BI will eat some of that market share (you might've witnessed this at your compay already). It'll be further moved into an "add-on" role for Salesforce instead of a standalone product.

SMBs will seek other solutions that are more flexible, easier to use, or cheaper. Salesforce won't care too much about this as they'll be focused on the larger accounts.

If you're a Tableau developer, your opportunities will be there, but will look more and more like a Qlik developer's opportunities.

The Tableau product and organization will fall into the category of Cognos, Qlik, Microstrategy, and Oracle. It'll be a consistent revenue generator, with a solid machine of driving its existence. So a great win for Salesforce. But a painful transition for the koolaid drinkers like me.

The "good times" in the community have ended. #Datafam will become more like other incumbent communities. The magic is no longer there and that's ok. Nothing lasts forever.

This article is written by Dan Saavedra, Founder of Identify your most profitable customer segment and double down on growing what works.

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