Imhoff: Yellowfin’s Collaborative BI “incredible”, business model “refreshing”

Renowned independent Business Intelligence (BI) analyst, Claudia Imhoff, has praised global BI and Analytics vendor, Yellowfin, in a one-on-one interview developed as part of a Boulder BI Brain Trust (BBBT) briefing.

The BBBT is a BI forum based in Denver, Colorado. The BBBT is a gathering of leading BI analysts, experts and practitioners, who participate in regular half-day briefings with ‘interesting and innovative BI vendors’.

For a summary of the group BBBT briefing, and associated Twitter stream under the hash tag #BBBT, go HERE >

Imhoff – BBBT host and Present & Founder of Intelligent Solutions (the company responsible for coordinating the BBBT and producing its events) – applauded Yellowfin’s commitment to consumerizing its BI platform, by continuing to make it as accessible as possible to a wider business-user-oriented audience. In particular, Imhoff highlighted the vendor’s efforts to integrate Collaborative BI features and functionality capable of facilitating better, faster collective organizational decision-making.

In the interview with Yellowfin CEO, Glen Rabie, Imhoff also underlined Yellowfin’s “remarkable” year, pointing to its “refreshing” overall business model as a source of success – a model that puts the needs of customers and partners first.

BBBT podcast

The entire interview between Rabie and Imhoff can be listened to here:

The interview discusses:

  • The progress and industry recognition achieved by Yellowfin in 2013
  • Yellowfin’s marketplace positioning
  • How Yellowfin’s unique business model puts the needs of clients and partners first
  • How Yellowfin believes Big Data hype is hurting BI and analytics
  • The potential dangers and drawbacks of prescriptive analytics
  • How Yellowfin’s focus on Collaborative BI is responding to changing workforce demands

A remarkable year: New customers and industry recognition

Yellowfin’s strong 2013 performance to date, in terms of new customers signed and industry recognition achieved, was acknowledged by many BBBT analysts in Yellowfin’s broader briefing, as well as Imhoff in the subsequent one-on-one interview.

Yellowfin’s rapidly expanding client base caught the attention of Founder and Consultant of Rebaie Analytics Group, Ali Rebaie, who tweeted: “Interesting – 500 new customers this year for @YellowfinBI #BBBT”.

President and Founder of analyst firm BI Research, Colin White, was also full of admiration for Yellowfin’s performance in Dresner Advisory Services2013 Wisdom of Crowd Business Intelligence Market Study – an industry report directly comparing the capabilities of the globe’s foremost BI vendors.

“Another congrats to @YellowfinBI for being number 1 in @howarddresner ’s Wisdom of the Crowds survey! #BBBT #BIWisdom,” said White.

For more on Yellowfin’s performance in the 2013 Wisdom of Crowds BI Market Study, go HERE >

CEO of BI Consulting and organizer of the Budapest BI Forum, Bence Arato, emphasized Yellowfin’s recent European exploits:

For more on Yellowfin’s performance in BARC’s The BI Survey 12, go HERE >

But Imhoff left it up to Rabie to do the talking…

Imhoff: “You’ve had a remarkable year. I was just amazed at the new customers and survey results [in particular]. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about the year of Yellowfin.”

Rabie: “Firstly it’s our 10th anniversary… and I think this represents a real watershed year for Yellowfin – there’s been so many things that have happened throughout this year which have been fantastic.

“We’ve put on a lot of new customers globally – in the US, throughout Europe, Southeast Asia, etc. We’ve grown our direct presence in the US, in EMEA, specifically South Africa, and [we’re looking to] have a big direct presence in Asia as well. So the business is really flourishing at that level.

“But I think ultimately what has made us really, really proud this year is the survey results. [Firstly], the Wisdom of Crowds [Business Intelligence Market Study], where we were ranked the number one BI vendor [overall], represents things [that we do well] in terms of our approach and what we want to achieve in the industry. And then also the BARC [The BI] Survey, which ranked us as the number one dashboard vendor globally. There’s also a number of Gartner surveys coming out now as well, which recognize that we’re doing things differently. We’re really walking the talk in terms of endeavoring to do something that’s different in the industry – and not just from a technology perspective, but from an organizational one as well.”

Yellowfin’s marketplace positioning: “The middle tech between data discovery and enterprise BI”

Imhoff: “Well let’s talk about that a little bit more. One of the core messages you have is that BI should be easy as pie – and I added in that it should be as consumable… it’s an interesting message. And it leads immediately into [the question]: Where do you see the company in terms of the overall BI landscape? Where does Yellowfin fit in?

Rabie: “When we started Yellowfin, I came out of a banking background, and so for me, the enterprise infrastructure was really important, in terms of making sure that the product was robust so that you could scale and rollout to thousands of users.

“But, on the same side of that, I do believe that you have this dichotomy of needs. You’ve got the enterprise need, but then you’ve got the needs of the individual consumers and analysts – which is far more flexible, with a lot less constraint than what’s offered with some of those traditional tools.

“So we’re trying to walk that middle ground, and I think it’s a balancing act between being at the data discovery end of the spectrum and the enterprise end. I think, for most organizations, they’re looking for something in the middle. Data discovery needs to scale, it needs to be getting into the hands of many, many people. So how do we do that? If you’re going to do that, you need enterprise control, you need security, you need scalability. And that’s really where we’re trying very, very hard to build out the Yellowfin platform.”

Rabie’s goal of positioning Yellowfin as a middle ground technology also caught the attention of a number of analysts during his BBBT briefing:

  • Imhoff: “@YellowfinBI wants to be the middle tech between traditional BI and data science. A gap that needs filling! #BBBT"
  • Arato: “@YellowfinBI aims to hit the middle ground between the traditional BI tools and the newcomers #BBBT”
  • Josep di Paolantonio@JAdP [VP & Principal Analyst for Constellation Research and President at InterActive Systems & Consulting Inc]: "#BBBT @glenrabie says @YellowfinBI facilitates bringing the insight from #DataScience to the rest of the organization.”

Imhoff: Yellowfin business model puts clients & partners first

Imhoff: “I like that, it fits in with your overall business model, [which] I found refreshing. I found it remarkable that someone in our business would have the business model that you do. I’m going to ask you to explain it, because I think it serves your company, customers and partners well.”

Rabie: “Our goals are like any other business – to grow our customer base and to grow our revenue. But I think our approach is very different. When we do business, the first entity that we think of is actually the customer. We don’t think about ourselves. That’s one of the core tenants of our business.

“We don’t have quarterly targets internally – our sales guys or our partners. They have monthly targets, that we wish them to achieve. And the reason is because we want them to think about the long term. We believe that thinking monthly makes you think long term because you’re building a sustainable model, which has predictability in it – rather than pushing people to sell hard at the end of the quarter or up-sell a customer and create these terrible dynamics that exist in software sales. [The type of dynamics] where there’s inordinate pressure placed on the customer to buy – I don’t think that should be the case.

“We want our customers to buy when they’re ready, and we want them to buy in a way that’s scalable. In an ideal world we actually prefer our customers to start small. We want them to start small. We want them to grow, and we want them to be successful. If our customers are successful, we ultimately know that means more sales for us. So that’s probably the difference in our approach.

“Now, the difference with [how we interact with] our partners is that, again, everyone has the same percentage discount. So there’s no differentiation based upon volume of sales. The reason for that is because we don’t want to create a situation where a smaller partner is disadvantaged because there’s a big elephant in the room who can go and discount significantly, and therefore really impact their capacity to win business. We want everyone to be on the same playing field.”

Imhoff: “And you stated earlier that the reason for that is because the small guys are sometimes very innovative…”

Rabie: “That’s right. Firstly I think that [smaller reseller partners] often have deeper customer relationships, because their business is small and they rely [upon those relationships].

“Now, imagine a potential customer has a choice of being able to buy cheaper from a bigger partner. I think that customer could actually make the wrong decision. By taking price out of it, customers really make their choices based on the type of engagement model that’s important to them. And again, most of our customer success is built on the implementation, and the implementation partners we have. So we want our customers to have the best experience woe-to-go – from the product to the implementation.”

Imhoff: “Well, and you also have – which again I found refreshing and remarkable – a rather forgiving stance with your customers as well. If they say I need a thousand seats, and they come back six months later and they say, geez, we’re not even using 300, what do you do?”

Rabie: “Well, we just take them back. Again, who wants to be lumbered with shelfware? It’s a cost to the organization, it’s complex, and it’s dissatisfying. We want our customers to feel that they’ve achieved value. And, that can only be done if you’re completely transparent around your pricing. You tell them what the price is, and that there’s no ‘gotcha’s’. We’re just a user-based pricing model – it’s very simple. We don’t charge by module or anything like that, and it’s all of those things combined that gives the customer a low risk environment in which to make choices.”

Imhoff: “Well, and confidence that you’re not going to pull the rug out from underneath them…”

Rabie: “That’s right. We talked about the fact that there’s no fine print. We don’t [turn around and say], ‘oh, we can’t believe you’re using it that way – we’re gonna charge you more for that’.

“Even when we issue licenses, we only issue licenses for exactly what you’ve bought. So you can never [accidentally] use more than what you’ve purchased – there’s no [usage] audit. It’s great for the customer because they’re never going to have a situation where they have accidentally used too much product, and we come storming in with the lawyers and say ‘you owe us’.”

Yellowfin: Big Data hurting BI & Analytics

Imhoff: “Let’s turn to the more philosophical part of the podcast. You did make an interesting statement – one that I’d like you to explain. You said that Big Data is actually hurting BI.”

Rabie: “Look, Big Data as a technology and a concept is fantastic, and so that’s not the point. What I was really aiming at is that I think it’s a step backwards in terms of the engagement model of the BI industry with its customers. And what I mean by that, is it’s become a very technically complex conversation. So rather than being about the business, and what businesses do with their data, and how we’ll help them to make decisions, all we’re doing now is selling the virtues of technology. We’re not being very precise about when to use what. And so we’ve created this level of complexity that’s creating paralysis with our customers. Our customers don’t know what to use and when to use it, and we as an industry aren’t helping them. We’re not saying ‘this is when you use Hadoop, this is when you use a columnar database, this is when you just hit your relational database. [What we as an industry are saying is that] we want you to spend lots of money with us, buying all this technology, whether you need it or not. You’ve got to have a strategy and a business problem to solve. People shouldn’t buy technology for the sake of it.”

Imhoff: “I think I would agree with you, the marketing hype has been over-the-top – actually that doesn’t even begin to cut it. Especially around Big Data and what data science will do for an organization. I do think there’s value there, I do think there’s a good future there. But I think that the over-marketing has caused tremendous confusion. Not only just in IT, but also, as you say, in the business as well. [And as a result] there’s almost this paralysis of ‘I don’t know which way to jump’. We’ve got all this technology – almost too much technology at our fingertips now. [Now the problem is] which one do I pick to solve what problem?”

Rabie: “And no vendor is actually helping in that space. No one is saying this is when you use my technology, this is the most appropriate time, or this is the most appropriate use case. Everyone’s saying we will solve all your problems, which is just not true.”

Prescriptive Analytics

Imhoff: “Alright, let me talk about the last topic here, and that was talking about prescriptive analysis. Again, another interesting comment from you, that it was actually somewhat disempowering of the employees in a company to have prescriptive analysis tell them what to do basically.”

Rabie: “Yeah, it comes back to my theme about technology driving Business Intelligence and analytics – you know, this theme that it’s all about the technology and not about the people and engaging with people. And so, when I think about organizations and people making differences within them, and why they turn up to work and what’s important to them, it’s because they want to be engaged – they want to use their minds. They want to make decisions. And so, I think we need to be very careful about how much of that we’re going to automate. At what point do we take away the creativity of people and completely productionize work environments… where people just become robots?

“When we’re talking about prescriptive analysis and analytics these days, the challenge I have, again, for the industry is to talk about how this actually involves people. At what point are people a part of the discussion and the process? How do they engage and collaborate? How do they actually work together with the technology? And I don’t’ think it’s a one or the other type of scenario. There’s an inevitability that there will be a certain level of prescriptive analytics out there, but the question is how can we still make room and understand the important role that people play [in the decision-making process].”

Collaborative BI: “Yellowfin has an incredibly bright future” – Imhoff

Imhoff: “And that brings in the whole aspect of collaboration. I think that the workforce that’s coming into our companies today, and in the next five years, will be much more collaborative in nature – it’s how they’ve grown up. They all have Facebook and smartphones and so they’ve very collaborative to begin with. And, I hope that we embrace that kind of change in our workforce; that we do actually promote that type of collaborative capability that’s being brought into our businesses.”

Rabie: “From a Yellowfin perspective, we’re pretty much betting the house on that. But I’m going to say it a little differently. I ‘m going to say that if organizations want to attract the workforce of today, they’re going to have to be collaborative. So when we started Yellowfin, somewhere in the middle there, we started talking about the consumerization of IT, and the fact that interfaces had to become simpler and more user-friendly. So that’s happened. And some vendors are better than others at that – it’s certainly a big part of what we do. But, I’d say equally that the whole collaborative aspect – the way people work, the way people will engage with data – that’s the bit that we’re saying needs to be addressed. And, we may or may not have it right, but the reality is that with every release we continue to refine it and work with our key customers to understand how people are using [Yellowfin] and collaborating internally.”

Imhoff: “At least from my perspective, I think that Yellowfin has an incredibly bright future, I think you’re on track. I think you’ve got a really good handle on what we need – you’ve just got to convince the rest of the world.”

Rabie: “Look, I think ultimately, coming back to the fantastic year that we’ve had, the results are a reflection of our customer base. And our customer base is talking to analysts and saying, you know what? This stuff is great. And it always comes down to the coalface. The people who actually use the technology, the user adoption rates we see in our clients, and the value our clients are getting out of our technology. These factors, ultimately, I think, are what’s driving our business, and is now also getting analysts to take notice of what we do.”