By Chloe Lutts
Editor of Dick Davis Digests
If you own a business, you'll immediately understand what I'm
going to talk about today. You'll also be a step ahead if you've
worked in marketing in the last couple decades, or in certain
What do all those readers have in common? Those are some of
the professions that have been most changed-in the last decade or
You've heard about Big Data, I'm sure. It's a popular buzzword
and has propelled a few investing success stories.
What sets Big Data apart from regular, lower-case data is
size, primarily. Typically, data is considered Big when it takes
up multiple terabytes or petabytes of information. And from a
technical standpoint, Big Data is different because it requires
new and purpose-built tools to capture, store, search, analyze
and visualize. You can't use Microsoft Excel to wrangle your Big
To get an idea of how big Big Data is, look at the example of
the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, an astronomical survey begun in the
year 2000. Scanning the practically infinite universe, the Sloan
Survey collects about 200 GB of data per night. In its first few
weeks of operation, the survey collected more data than had
previously been collected in the entire history of astronomy.
When you have that much information, you can't just put it in
a table or list and then look at it when you want to analyze it.
That's why Big Data requires purpose-built tools: something that
can store all that data on the night sky and display it in a
useful way that humans can understand.
But Big Data isn't the only kind of data that's changing the
way we live and do business. In fact, most of us have much more
interaction with lower-case-d data. It just doesn't have a catchy
buzzword name that journalists can write trend pieces about.
But data is changing the way thousands of companies
operate-which is why I expect some of you, especially from the
areas I mentioned above, are already experts on this "trend."
For example, at Cabot, where I work, we're constantly using
data to try and make our products better and more successful. We
track how people find us, what they read or click on before they
subscribe, and what our subscribers call and email us about most
frequently. Having this information-and being able to change our
marketing, emails, website, products and customer support
offerings in response to it-has changed our business more than
anything since the advent of online stock quotes, I think.
This isn't Big Data-we collect and store it ourselves, and use
more-or-less off-the-shelf software to analyze it. It doesn't
take up petabytes of storage space. But it has still made a huge
difference in the way we do business.
And thousands of other businesses are doing the same thing. If
you've owned a business, you've probably faced a problem that
could be solved with data. Maybe you wanted the answer to a
question like "what percentage of our customers are repeat
customers?" or "how are people finding out about our product?"
Without knowing the answers to those questions, it can be hard to
make decisions about how to improve your business. Do you need to
advertise more, or are most of your customers acquired through
word of mouth? Twenty years ago, you might have made your
decision based on your gut feeling-it seems like a lot of our
customers know each other, so we should focus on getting
referrals. But now, by collecting and analyzing data on your
customers and transactions, you can find out the real answers.
And I know from experience, sometimes they're surprising!
Likewise, marketers have been on the forefront of collecting
and using data to improve their businesses.
If you've worked in marketing in the past decade, I'm sure you
can think of your own examples of using data to fine-tune your
message or better target potential customers.
In fact, if you have a good story about how you used data to
improve your business, let me know by replying to this email. I'd
be interested to hear your real-life examples and might use some
in a future post.
If you worked in marketing at Target, or Wal-Mart, these
efforts might be classified as Big Data. Wal-Mart supposedly has
over 2.5 petabytes of data on its customer transactions, and adds
one million more transactions every hour.
But if you worked for a small- or medium-sized business like
Cabot, your data was just regular data.
But that doesn't mean it's any less useful. And small- and
medium-sized businesses still need the right tools to analyze
this data for it to make the most positive impact.
That's where I got my investment idea today.
The company is
, and it has the fitting ticker symbol
Tableau makes software to analyze, visualize and share data.
They offer four different "levels" of their Tableau product for
everyone from big businesses to individuals. Tableau Desktop,
Server and Online serve the needs of businesses, and Tableau
Public is a free version of the software that lets people like
journalists and bloggers create their own interactive data
visualizations online. (The company shares some nice examples
I first heard about Tableau from a friend who works in data
analysis. Her company- a for-profit education company with over a
million students a year-had just started using Tableau to analyze
their data on classes, teachers, students and sales, and she
loved it. "It's super fun to use, mostly because you get
immediate, gorgeous payoff," she told me.
Then, a couple weeks later, the company popped up again. This
time, as a mid-year Top Pick from one of our Investment Digest
contributors. Here's what David Bannister, analyst at Active
Trading Partners, wrote about Tableau when he chose the stock as
his favorite investment for the second half of 2013:
"My mid-year pick is
Tableau Software (
. Tableau software has been growing at a 90% compounded rate for
years using their revolutionary Business Intelligence analysis
platforms. Their software allows users across small- to
large-size entities to analyze the thousands and thousands of
pieces of business data that corporations and organizations
"They have developed a graphical user interface akin to what
Apple did for the personal computer and later Microsoft with
Windows. As the graphical interface changed for personal
computers, we saw torrid growth from 1983 through 1999 in
"Tableau, we believe, is doing the same thing for business
intelligence gathering and analysis, allowing even the entry
level employee to analyze data with ease and even have some fun
doing so. We expect the stock to return upwards of 60% over the
coming six-to-nine months as investors catch on to the story." -
David A. Banister, Active Trading Partners, 7/16/13 As Bannister
points out and my friend confirms, what really sets Tableau apart
from the crowd are its clear, useful and beautiful
visualizations. You can see lots of examples on the company's
Tableau also offers Big Data-caliber data analysis to
companies of all sizes, and even individuals. The one downside to
the stock right here is a lack of history-the company just came
public in May. What history is does have is pretty good-the IPO
went well (Wall Street Journal story), and the company has
remained above its IPO price since. But this is still primarily a
story stock here, until it gets some more technical action under
Still, I like it as a speculation, and think it's a great play
on the growing use of lower-case-d data by businesses of all
Wishing you success in your investing and beyond,
Chloe Lutts Jensen
Editor of Dick Davis Investment Digest
and Dick Davis Dividend Digest