Tableau introduces NLP: Ask Data

Tableau’s NLP addition has arrived at the perfect moment, giving us an easy way to ask questions to our data. By bringing NLP to the table, Tableau aims at swishing all-new budding aspirants in the BI market today.

The burden for good communication doesn’t just fall on humans anymore but machines are now equally responsible. The communication process begins by asking the right questions to reach a good analysis that will ultimately lead towards a better understanding of data hence reaching toward better data literacy.

The fierce competition in the Enterprise Business Intelligence (BI) platform market is dotted with everyone claiming to change the future of Enterprise BI. This is fine if not a bit grand. Since the past two decades, the BI giants have been creating new packaging for similar products and solutions. Although decision-makers have accepted this proposition, they are not the direct users of these tools. The ones who work up the magic are the analysts, a costly and sensitive resource which needs to be taken better care off. So how can companies help analysts? Let’s find out what Tableau did.

In the winter of 2018, Tableau announced that they are bringing AI to the game. This is not to be confused with the fancy one (like face recognition or Sophia) but the kind that makes charts and visualizes graphs at your command.

Peter Sayer from CIO says that “Data scientists spend up to 80 percent of their time on data preparation, she said (referring to Forrester analyst, Martha Bennett), and the less time they spend on it, the more they can spend on things that create value. One way around the time crunch is to hand over workloads to the machines. Another is to make it easier for people that couldn’t previously manipulate the data to do so, the so-called democratization of data.” This is where Augmented Analytics steps in, an approach to democratizing analytics using AI/ML techniques. It allows everyone to have rapid access to insights and faster discovery of information through complicated BI tools.

Bearing all this in mind, Ask Data, Tableau’s NLP addition has arrived at the perfect moment, giving us an easy way to ask questions to our data. By bringing NLP to the table, Tableau aims at swishing all-new budding aspirants in the BI market today.

Ask Data

Tableau’s NLP release, Ask Data lets you ask questions to your data in a natural human way. NLP stands for natural language processing which is a technology that parses natural language into computational inputs. This allows us to query a published data source using natural language. Just by typing a question, Ask Data will produce a visualization that meets our needs; it is available in both Tableau Server and Tableau Online.

However, NLP is not the only prime technology added to Tableau through Ask Data: it also includes additional machine learning components, operating while Ask Data decides which is the proper visualization to display.

Let’s look at some of its features:

1. Visualize as you type

You can now make a query using natural language. Furthermore, Ask Data will recognize the keywords and match it with the associated data points or variables and provide you with powerful and relevant visualizations.

2. Aggregations, grouping, and sorting

Ask Data allows you to group using multiple dimensions. It also has five different types of aggregations: sum, average, median, count and distinct count. Note that we also have the option to select maximums and minimums.

3. Synonyms

Ask Data doesn’t have pre-built synonyms. However, we can add, delete and edit synonyms to reference dimensions and measures from our data.

4. Choose the visualization you need

Tableau’s default visualizations are available in Ask Data. You can choose an optimal one by just typing the name. We can also select the top N or the bottom M elements of our visualization if we need to.

5.User interface

One of the most interactive features of Ask Data is a user interface that can refine your queries.
NLP is the perfect tool to get feedback from your data easily which is why it is gaining popularity in the business intelligence world. Hence, it’s natural that many BI market leaders are concerned with obtaining maximum value addition while reducing the learning curve. Ask Data is not just useful for answering your questions, but also for creating visualizations for dashboards, by simply asking!

Full disclosure: I work at Alphaa.AI and when Tableau introduced Ask Data, I was one of the happiest individuals. Alphaa.AI is a voice-enabled decision platform that augments analytics through AI/ML tools. When Tableau, an industry leader in BI tools introduced NLP in the form of Ask Data, it validated a fundamental market need that Alphaa AI has set out to solve.

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