From our CEO: “Self-service” is the biggest lie in BI

From our CEO: “Self-service” is the biggest lie in BI

I have a friend, who, like so many people, renews his gym membership every year, despite never using it. He understands that the gym is a good thing and he should work out, but things just get in the way and it seems too hard.

He sheepishly asked the manager, “What do you call people like me?”

“Profit,” the manager said.

It’s the same in the BI and analytics industry. The industry has approached low adoption rates by ignoring them and hoping to still sell a ton of product. We still make money if you buy it and don’t use it.

The ex-Marketing Manager for Cognos said something to me that is eerily similar to that gym manager: “Our best customers are those that buy the product and never use it,” he told me, “because we make a ton of money from them.”

That statement reflects the fundamental (mis)understanding that low adoption rates aren’t really a bad thing. It’s what is wrong with this whole industry.

Why BI has such low adoption rates?

Simple: vendors have been selling the wrong product to the wrong audience.

Don’t get me wrong. The modern generation of BI delivers a fantastic experience for the data analyst. The problem is that the business user has no real interest in BI, other than the end insights that help them do their job better. Data preparation, discovery and report building are not “self-service” activities, and they never will be.

I challenge anyone who disagrees with me to come and meet some real sales managers, or marketing coordinators, or CHROs, or any of a million other business oriented job roles. We’ll talk to these people about how much they enjoy data discovery. And we’ll understand how much spare time they have each week to spend building new dashboards.

If you spend time in a real enterprise, really talking to employees about the ways they use BI, it doesn’t take long to see how flawed “self-service” truly is.

Despite all the marketing bullshit, the reality is that most business intelligence and analytics tools are currently only built for data analysts. They’re the ones who build the content; if you don’t have data analysts, you’ll never do great analysis.

In the simplest terms possible, we have terrible adoption rates because the industry is selling a product built for data analysts to millions of unwilling and unwanting business users.

Marketing BI as “self-service” is the fundamental lie of the industry.

Moving from self-service to curated content


You don’t just throw someone a spanner and a wrench and go “Build yourself a car.” You let the experts build it for them and then give them the keys so they can drive away and use the car in the way that suits them best. When it comes to BI and analytics, business users are the drivers, not the mechanics.

People will adopt whatever you give them if the experience is awesome and the content is curated for their needs.

There are thousands of newspapers and magazines, all of which have their own audience. People buy a particular publication because somebody has curated the content to match what they are most likely to be interested in. We filter our Twitter feed so that we’re only following the people who are most likely to tweet news we’re interested in. We could follow everyone in the world and get every bit of news there is, but who has time for that? We demand curated content.

How we’re approaching the challenge at Yellowfin


When we started the Yellowfin journey, I’ll be honest and say I didn’t really imagine the world in a different way to any other vendor. But we were lucky to work with many organizations that were thinking about the problem in a different way to traditional BI. Rather than self-service, they were thinking about building curated apps that solve business problems with analytics (today I call these “analytical applications”).

The result is that we ended up building the functionality to support what they wanted. We listened when they said they needed Yellowfin to do A, B, and C because that was what they needed to deliver their application. We built a platform that lets any organisation build and deliver powerful, curated analytical applications. And more than ever before, I’m convinced that curation is the cure to the industry’s terrible adoption rates.

Fundamentally this is about building stuff that people will use. You do that by giving people the tools to solve business problems, not just data problems. It’s as simple as that. Build it, curate it and they will come.


Glen Rabie is a data geek and CEO/co-founder of Yellowfin. You can follow Glen on Twitter or LinkedIn.