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Google Cloud unveils integration between Looker and Tableau

Two analytics vendors unveiled an integration Tuesday that enables users to benefit from the semantic modeling strength of one and the data visualization capabilities of the other.

Google Cloud on Tuesday unveiled a new integration between Looker and Tableau that will enable users of both analytics platforms to benefit from the unique strengths of each.

Looker, founded in 2012 and based in Santa Cruz, Calif., was acquired by Google Cloud in June 2019 for $2.6 billion.

Since its inception, Looker has built a platform aimed at application developers, enabling organizations to go beyond traditional reports and deliver data through APIs, data models and embedded applications.

Most recently, the vendor unveiled Looker 21, which included the general availability of a new set of tools for developers titled the Extension Framework. Included in the Extension Framework is a software development kit that enables developers to build applications that can be embedded in either Looker or an external website.

Tableau, meanwhile, was founded in 2003 and is based in Seattle. It was acquired by Salesforce for $15.7 billion just days after Looker was purchased by Google Cloud.

The vendor was at the forefront of the self-service analytics revolution, enabling business users to work with data through visualizations rather than having to rely on IT departments to generate reports.

As business intelligence has moved beyond data visualizations, Tableau has added augmented analytics capabilities such as natural language processing. In addition, through integrations with Salesforce's Einstein Analytics platform, Tableau now features more machine learning capabilities.

Now, joint customers of Looker and Tableau can combine the best attributes of both.

"Today, we're thrilled and excited to announce that we're integrating Tableau, a leader in data visualization, with Looker," said Thomas Kurian, CEO of Google Cloud, during the keynote address of Google Could Next '21, a virtual conference hosted by the tech giant. "Tableau customers will soon be able use Looker's semantic model, enabling new levels of data governance and access to data."

Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian
Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian unveils a new integration between analytics vendors Looker and Tableau during Google Cloud Next '21, a virtual conference hosted by the tech giant.

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Like Kurian, Doug Henschen, an analyst at Constellation Research, noted that Tableau users will benefit from Looker's semantic data modeling capability.

Looker users, meanwhile, will benefit from Tableau's visualization capabilities, enabling them to better understand their data.

"The integration makes it easier to use Looker's semantic modeling and data delivery capabilities in combination with Tableau as the data analysis engine," Henschen said. "Looker is the trusted, centralized source of data and Tableau the front-end tool for analysts and data-savvy business users."

He added that while Looker and Tableau are both analytics vendors and sometimes compete for the same customers, he's not surprised that the two are teaming up.

He also noted that they're not the first competitors to develop partnerships.

In a similar way, longtime independent vendor MicroStrategy has partnered with Tableau, Qlik and Microsoft Power BI to provide semantic modeling capabilities while Tableau, Qlik and Power BI have loaned their front-end analysis capabilities to MicroStrategy.

This is a 'frenemies' move, and it's not the first. Looker has great semantic modeling capabilities that promote reuse of data and analyses and Tableau is hugely popular for its data-visualization capabilities. It's a win-win for joint customers.
Doug HenschenAnalyst, Constellation Research

"This is a 'frenemies' move, and it's not the first," Henschen said. "Looker has great semantic modeling capabilities that promote reuse of data and analyses, and Tableau is hugely popular for its data visualization capabilities. It's a win-win for joint customers."

Meanwhile, Mike Leone, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, pointed out that many Google Cloud customers used Tableau as their analytics platform well before Google Cloud acquired Looker.

The new integration, therefore, potentially stands to significantly benefit -- and perhaps appease -- those customers who chose Tableau and then inherited Looker.

"Many Google customers still leverage Tableau as their visualization platform of choice," Leone said. "The benefits to those customers and end users are what matters most to both companies. Google/Looker users will gain flexibility in how they can visualize data, and Tableau users will gain access to more trusted data."

He added that enabling choice has always been important to Google, which despite acquiring Looker more than two years ago has allowed the analytics platform to remain multi-cloud with support for top Google Cloud competitors AWS and Microsoft Azure.

"Looker is a robust platform that continues to be integrated across Google's unified Data Cloud, but freedom of choice matters," Leone said. "It matters to customers, but it has always mattered to Google. This will enable organizations to use the visualization platform they prefer and will eventually expose them to the entire Google Data Cloud."

Real-world use

During the Google Cloud Next keynote address, Aleksandra Aleksic, a product manager at Looker, gave a real-world example of how organizations can use Looker and Tableau together.

In the example, a business analyst at a retail organization notices that active wear sales are falling month over month. The analyst, who uses Looker to model and analyze data, wants to share the findings with the organization's marketing team, which uses Tableau.

Before sharing the findings, however, the analyst can combine data from the Looker data model with marketing data from Tableau to build a more comprehensive view of the business.

And by drilling down into the combined data, including marketing spend data from Tableau, the analyst is able to discover that marketing spend for active wear dropped, and that is the likely reason for the decline in active wear sales.

The analyst can then share the findings with the marketing team so it can take action.

"Leveraging the integration between Tableau and Looker allows our teams to build powerful visualizations using trusted data," Aleksic said. "We can then share these visualizations throughout our organization to drive informed decisions, action and impact."

Enterprise Strategy Group is a division of TechTarget.

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