Tableau CEO eyes ‘time machine leap forward’ after Salesforce acquisition
Salesforce acquired the data visualisation specialist Tableau in a $15.7 billion (€13.8 billion) all-stock deal last month, making it the CRM giant’s biggest acquisition by some distance. Now comes the hard work of bringing the two organisations, and their products, together to deliver on that valuation for shareholders and customers.
Citing the ongoing nature of the deal at the time, Tableau CEO Adam Selipsky — who will maintain his leadership role and run Tableau as an independent unit out of Seattle, reporting directly into Salesforce founder and co-CEO Marc Benioff – would not be drawn into discussing how Salesforce executives sold him on the deal, but was happy to talk about the broad synergies he could envision and the “shared values and cultures between the companies”.
“It felt like a very strong fit from a cultural perspective, but also felt like there was really exciting potential for synergies on the product side, on the go-to-market side,” said Selipsky, to IDG’s Computerworld UK.
This culture at Tableau is underpinned by a simple mission statement to ‘help people see and understand data’, with Selipsky reiterating: “That was our mission yesterday, that was our mission today and that’ll be our mission tomorrow.” He says that executives at Salesforce have “listened and understood what that mission was, embraced it on our behalf and now are really amplifying it.”
A ‘leap forward’
Naturally, Selipsky is already dreaming about the ways Salesforce’s resources and massive sales team can boost Tableau’s growth at as-yet unprecedented speeds, including the opportunity to use its annual Dreamforce conference as a “megaphone” for the Tableau brand.
“We are keeping the teams separate, as you know, but I can’t wait for the Salesforce team to be able to start sending leads our way. Hopefully we can do some of the same for them,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a fantastic thing for our customers as we essentially turn a dial on a time machine and leap forward and just get there more quickly.”
He also sees a big opportunity in the Salesforce user base. “Just imagine if we could make Tableau more of an easily accessible or even native experience for doing analysis to users of these different Salesforce products? So I think that’s another great customer opportunity,” he added.
Selipsky says that now that the dust has settled on the news “the early reaction from both employees and customers has been really positive. I’ve been incredibly pleased by how excited everybody is.”
The two companies already have clients that overlap, including JP Morgan Chase, Charles Schwab, Verizon and Southwest Airlines, and Selipsky is already fielding calls from some of them to talk about how the deal will change the way they consume products from Tableau and Salesforce.
“People I’ve met with, including big banks and consumer product companies in Europe, all told me how excited they are about this. In some cases, they’re already very large Salesforce customers and they love Tableau but I think this will really kind of give some additional momentum to the relationship and really have them feel that they’re 100 percent going to have an enterprise-grade analytics platform as part of the broader Salesforce platform,” he added.
According to leaked documents seen in 2016, Salesforce has long had its sights on Tableau, with its rival analytics platform Qlik also listed as ‘in play’ in the document, hinting that Salesforce has long wanted to enrich its analytics offering for customers.
Selipsky believes this interest in data visualisation companies, such as the recent Google Cloud acquisition of rival firm Looker, hints towards a larger industry trend where “lots of big companies are realising how critical analytics are to their customers. They’re realising that because their customers are telling them this,” he said. “So if you look at any of the big software companies, any of the big cloud computing companies, analytics is really critical to their customers.”
Part of the family
The Tableau acquisition is just the latest move in a broader strategy for Salesforce, as it looks to compete with enterprise technology giants like Microsoft and offer an end-to-end enterprise analytics solution.
“I think that if you look at all the Salesforce CRM applications that they’ve built, that are so successful, then you look at the Mulesoft acquisition, which is all about app-to-app integration, then you take Tableau as the next piece in that puzzle, I think all those assets give the combined company the potential to really provide customers with a single, unified view of all data in their organisations,” he said.
“So we should be able to help customers discover, access, manipulate, analyse, and ultimately make great decisions based on all of their data. I think, with all these combined products, and technology and intellectual property, that we have the chance to do that better than any other company on the planet. That’s an exciting combined vision as part of that Salesforce 360.”
“At the same time Tableau is going to continue to operate independently, inside of Salesforce under the Tableau brand,” he added. “I think it’s important to a lot of our customers to know that the Tableau that they know and love, and the focus we have on the community and our users, is not going away.”
This includes continuing to build out its machine learning-powered Ask Data and Explain Data features, as well as more enterprise-focused solutions like a new data catalog capability and the recently-announced Tableau Blueprint.
“I think that’s the type of technological leap, which will enable not only millions, but tens of millions of users, who are not necessarily analysts, who are not necessarily sophisticated – who might be pizza shop owners, or accountants, or graphic designers – it will allow those people to be analysts,” he said. “So again, both in terms of the breadth of the capabilities as well as the depth of the platform, we’ve really focused on building out the leading analytics platform.
Selipsky says it is too early to define exactly how the two companies will execute on this shared vision, but he certainly recognises the ability for Tableau visualisations to become part of the Salesforce product in the future, and is excited by the potential combination of Salesforce’s AI expertise, under the Einstein brand, with the Tableau product.
“I know our engineers can’t wait to pop the hood and look underneath that and see on both sides what all this technology is and to figure out opportunities to embed some of that,” he said. “Particularly in the analytics space they are strong in artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities. If there were chances to use some of that inside of Tableau, that would be really interesting for customers.”
He also sees the Mulesoft acquisition from early 2018 as a key part of this equation. “Mulesoft is all about discovering data and linking applications through data, so if Tableau could access all that rich data, which Mulesoft is helping people unearth, that could significantly expand our data reach,” he said.
On the practical side Benioff has already hinted towards opening a new Salesforce office in Seattle to help bring these engineers closer together geographically.
“The two companies recognise that Seattle is one of the best places on earth to really scale a meaningful tech company, not just for developer talent, but marketing, sales and other positions. There’s a richness of talent there and it has become really easy to get people to migrate there, given the strong tech community,” Selipsky said.
“The mental or the psychological distance is a lot more important than the physical distance, and I don’t feel like there’s much distance at all, between our teams, psychologically,” he added. “Everybody I’ve met with at Salesforce – and certainly I can speak for the team at Tableau – everybody’s really excited and very collaborative.
“As long as we keep customers as our true north and just approach all of these questions, by asking what’s going to be best for our customers, it will all quickly reach the same conclusions as to how we can improve all of our products.”
IDG News Service