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Yellowfin Tweaks Its Positioning with New Yellowfin 7 Platform

Yellowfin's BI platform has been an analytics powerhouse all along, according to CEO Glen Rabie

By now, business intelligence (BI) specialist Yellowfin is no stranger to the U.S. market. Its recent Yellowfin 7 platform release might strike customers in the U.S. and other markets as a little bit different, however.

The aim with Yellowfin 7, says CEO Glen Rabie, is to address the self-service analytic discovery use case in an enterprise context: i.e., to achieve "balance between the two; [the] enterprise use case and the discovery use case." To that end, Yellowfin's marketing collateral now dubs Yellowfin 7 an "analytics platform." It might not seem like much, but it's a distinct departure from Yellowfin's traditional messaging, which used to focus on traditional BI, reporting, and dashboards.

"We're in the business of exposing data to people who want to know what the performance of their job is, or how their business is tracking -- but ultimately, they're not there to ask the big questions: they're there to consume the information that's provided to them," Rabie told BI This Week in 2012.

Fast forward to 2014: Rabie says the analytic functionality has always been there and that the impetus for Yellowfin to play it up came from enterprise shops (also Yellowfin customers), which he says were "uncomfortable" with the lack of enterprise amenities available in popular BI discovery tools. Rabie presumably doesn't mean the BI discovery offerings from IBM Cognos, Information Builders Inc., Microsoft Corp., MicroStrategy Inc., or SAS Institute Inc., which all claim to address the data governance, security, and enterprise connectivity issues that Rabie identifies as problematic.

Perhaps not, he allows -- but these vendors face other, no less daunting challenges.

"When you look at Cognos, their biggest pain is when they went from the desktop to the enterprise level. They started from small users, a lot like QlikView did, but then they went from PowerPlay into Cognos Enterprise and they had to re-write the whole thing. Companies were going to them and saying, 'These are the things that you must have,' and they responded by trying to build them."

That, Rabie continues, is the source of the problems of the big BI suite vendors.

"When you look at all of the [BI suite vendors], they probably did very well in their original [use cases]. It's only when they tried to expand to address these new needs that they ran into trouble."

Thus Rabie's and Yellowfin's trump card: the claim that Yellowfin BI was conceived as either an enterprise-grade software-as-a-service (SaaS) or platform-as-a-service (PaaS) BI offering.

You can subscribe to Yellowfin on a SaaS basis and get a complete BI stack; you can deploy Yellowfin internally on your own hardware as a private PaaS; or you deploy Yellowfin externally as a public PaaS on Microsoft Corp.'s Azure or via other cloud services. In all three cases, Rabie maintains, you're getting enterprise-grade software with all modern conveniences.

This has been Yellowfin's message since it first splashed ashore (or into prominence) in the U.S. market in 2012: when it first began briefing U.S. media outlets and analyst firms, Yellowfin could point to several prominent large enterprise customers, including Honda Motor Co. Ltd., Xerox Corp. Ltd., and Softbank Corp. Even though Yellowfin didn't get everything exactly right from the get-go, the mistakes it made were, for all that, "fortuitous," Rabie argues.

"The idea [with Yellowfin BI] was always to build a product that has really broad appeal and gets people using data a lot more than they currently do -- and doing it in a way that's ultimately enterprise-enabled, which means you have data governance," he indicates.

Besides, Rabie argues, Yellowfin BI has always incorporated analytic functions and capabilities.

For example, in a late-2012 interview, Rabie told BI This Week that "There's a handful of people who work to package up that information [i.e., analytic insights] for [rank and file users], and -- yes -- we can service them, but we don't push that, it's not our core business."

In0020the same interview, he added: "The term [analytics] itself has grown to encompass a lot of the things that were traditionally associated with BI [such that] ... a lot of what we do [in Yellowfin] could be considered 'analytics,' but we don't promote it that way."

An Evolving Collaborative Feature Set

Yellowfin version 6.3 (which shipped in June 2013) introduced a new collaborative feature: "Timeline," a Facebook-like feature that tracks a user's activities and interactions in Yellowfin's BI environment. Timeline compiles a searchable, chronological, and above all visual catalog of these events, says Rabie. Just six months prior to Timeline, Yellowfin had unveiled "Storyboard," which it dubbed a new "presentation and collaboration platform for BI."

Yellowfin 7 enhances both technologies, says Rabie, who's always emphasized the importance of collaboration in BI. "The whole Timeline functionality [has] probably been our biggest piece for both [versions] 6.3 and 7. What this brings is the ability to add decision-making to the process: you can follow [the] content or context [of a decision] and you can see any activity that occurs around that. You can see Storyboards being created and follow that in the Timeline," he explains.

"The focus then becomes more around 'what's changed in my system,' and I'm able to see that instantly without having to go through multiple reports."

Rabie also describes a use case in which Timeline is used in tandem with Yellowfin analytics to measure a particularly important kind of performance. "Most BI tools have really, really low adoption rates and really, really, really low usage rates," says Rabie.

"We're looking at how you get people back into the app. What works? How do you get people engaged on a regular basis? What is in [Yellowfin] 7 is really designed around that. Within Timeline, we've added the ability to track changes or development [of Yellowfin apps or artifacts] themselves so you can actually see what's working."

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