Making Big Data easy on the eyes

November 8, 2012: 11:45 AM ET

Tableau Software turns huge data sets into beautiful graphics. And now it has one of tech's most powerful companies as a partner.

Pat Hanrahan, Tableau's co-founder.

FORTUNE -- A big data tool is only as good as the data that feeds into it. Business intelligence startup Tableau Software has earned rave reviews for turning data computations into beautiful graphics, but now the company is busy expanding its pool of partners and building "connectors" -- technology that enables external data sources like Salesforce.com (CRM) and Microsoft (MSFT) and Oracle (ORCL) servers to seamlessly plug into its software.

It's all part of Tableau's strategy of allowing customers to work with their data "no matter where it lives." At its user conference in San Diego, Calif. this week, the company announced its latest partner -- Google (GOOG). The move means Tableau users will now be able to use its visualization software to interact with data on Google Analytics (used to track website traffic) as well as Google's BigQuery cloud-based service, which lets businesses run queries on extremely large datasets (think billions of rows).

"Rather than having someone with a very technical background we're able to empower any business users," says Ju-Kay Kwek, product manager for Google BigQuery. Tableau users can drag and drop large sets of data to create colorful graphs. Teachers at Aspire Public Schools, a chain of charter schools, use Tableau to monitor student performance and attendance. And the National Motor Club, a AAA competitor, uses the software to coordinate roadside assistance calls. (Other, larger customers include eBay (EBAY) and, fittingly, Google).

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Company CEO Christian Chabot says Tableau is for anyone with data and questions. "The idea that analytics is for IT guys only is stupid," says Chabot.

Putting big data at the fingertips of everyday business users is a popular effort. Tableau has plenty of competition from the likes of heavyweights like SAP (SAP) and smaller players like QlikTech (QLIK). But the Seattle-based startup is definitely one to watch. The company's sales grew 83% in 2011 and Chabot says revenue will exceed $100 million this year--not bad for software that puts a pretty face on the complexities of big data plumbing. Plus, an IPO is rumored to be in the works, and soon.

For now, Tableau is focused on improving its product (a new, upcoming version of the software will include a revamped engine for rendering visualizations) and building out more connectors to its visualization tools. Hooking up with Google, then, is a logical and necessary move.

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About This Author
Michal Lev-Ram
Michal Lev-Ram
Writer, Fortune

Based in Silicon Valley, Michal Lev-Ram covers enterprise and mobile technologies for FORTUNE. Prior to joining FORTUNE, she wrote for CNNMoney, Fast Company, Popular Science and other business and technology publications. She was also a staff writer at Business 2.0 and holds a B.A. in journalism from San Francisco State University.

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