(ACP) Reporter Michael T Franks recently had the opportunity to talk to Yellowfin CEO Glen Rabie about Business Intelligence software, Web/BI 2, the BI software scene and Yellowfin's aggressive approach to a competitive market space. Here is that complete interview:
Michael Franks: What do you think about the uptake of business intelligence in the corporate community?
Glen Rabie: BI is pervasive, in the sense that virtually all organisations in some form within their IT environment - from excel through to the big global brands. If we exclude excel from the equation, however, we know that 75% of BI software ends up as shelf ware – only partially implemented and often not at all. It’s the pain, complexity and cost that are holding up this market segment.
MF: What is Yellowfin’s position in the current BI climate?
GR: Fast growing and dynamic. We are not locked into the old way of doing things and are delivering fantastic results through our easy to use and implement solution.
MF: Gartner rates Business intelligence as number two in the list of priorities for CIO's. Is that your shared perception?
GR: I think as a concept yes that would be correct – but the gap between a strategic wish and the realities of operational IT, which tends to be shaped by IT priorities, is large. For example I have been watching this list for a number of years now and it is always the same - BI is number one or two. I just do not believe that with the traditional tool sets and approach that BI is actually being delivered in line with this Strategic need.
MF: Yellowfin's motto is "Making BI Easy", what does that really mean for you?
GR: It comes back to basics. Who is the customer? Most BI products are developer centric tools not end user or business user applications. They have been designed for the wrong person – what do most developers know about business information and analysis needs? So why create tools for the techie when really the business user needs to be able to access their own data. I know everyone is talking about this but at Yellowfin we are passionate about it. What we strive for in our user interface is an application that anyone with basic web skills and business knowledge can use to gain insight into their business – it is that simple. What this means however, is that it has to be easy to implement, integrate and use – BI is a life cycle. We are also aware that for us it is a journey and that is why with each new release we aim to make BI even easier.
MF: Talking about new releases, you have just released version 3.2. Is this a major release and what can you tell us about any new features you are excited about?
GR: I have to be honest I get excited about every Yellowfin release. This one especially – we have really made some wonderful changes to the UI – we just keep refining and refining. Also this release and 3.3 will be heavily focussed on data visualisation – so better charting options, and more user interaction with the data such as date sliders and the ability to annotate data in a report. Very very exciting stuff. The positive feedback we are getting is overwhelming.
MF: What is Yellowfin’s position on WEB2 and BI 2 market trends, are they real or just marketing hype ?
GR: Hype – all technologies mature and Web2.0 is just a continuum of improved delivery over the web. Where is the quantum leap that really gets people taking notice? For my part I am waiting for Web3.0!
MF: How far can you go in BI innovation, are there only so many sensible ways to deal with data sets.?
GR: Probably – it is all pretty basic – tables and charts – it’s the delivery that matters. I think the future of BI is going to come through improvements in web delivery, and collaboration. The reality though is that most users still just want to generate fairly basic reports – and this after 15 years of a recognised BI market – why not get this bit right before trying to deliver too many more widgets.
MF: How has the market reacted to your interesting approach to pricing structures ?
GR: I assume you are referring to our OEM pricing. Well with much interest and bemusement. Our model is easy - we do not have a price for an OEM partner – we work with them to determine a pricing structure that best fits their price model. It is the only way that we can ensure maximised revenue for all. We do not give Yellowfin away but we determine how it fits for each partner uniquely.
MF: How is the Yellowfin platform doing in the corporate space from your perspective?
GR: Very well – through our channel partners – either OEM or resellers Yellowfin has been very successful in quickly entering the market and securing very large customer sites. We continue to focus on solving specific BI issues that can quickly deliver a ROI rather than bloated enterprise deployments.
MF: Ok, let's talk about Business Objects and Cognos. Clearly in terms of market share these are the leaders, both having strong presence in large global corporations. How do you compete or not compete with these established players ?
GR: I think they need to re-think their strategy. Their market – the top 500 is saturated with product and yet not delivering results - and their attempts to capture the mid-market are set for failure. To work in these markets you have to be channel centric. Yet even though they rely on channels for implementation the predominant strategy continues to be direct selling. It’s going to be tough for them. Also the market is changing. Embedded BI is shifting the goal posts – big enterprise projects have failed and most users just want to get data out of the business processes they are responsible for. I think the biggest threat is going to be nimble players that can cherry pick multiple processes within an organisation through multiple channels and grow customer share.
MM: What about the open source applications, like Pentaho? Are they a competitive threat in the BI market?
GR: The Pentaho and Jasper Soft approach is an interesting model – yes open source – but scratch the surface and if you want enterprise support or the best tools they have to offer you are back to a user pays scenario. The issue facing open source BI is that users – either corporate users or software vendors do not actually want to get their hands dirty in the code. They both have core businesses to worry about. So when paying the same for a quasi open source versus a proprietary application chances are that companies will choose the best product – now being biased I would say that would be Yellowfin! What I love about them is that they are raising awareness of alternative BI options.
MF: Microsoft is dipping more than its big toe in the BI market. What sort of threat are they to both the niche and established players in the market?
GR: Well they are a threat – and always have been. Excel is their BI platform. Reporting and Analytical services are woeful end user reporting solutions. I think that even Microsoft will compete with itself in the BI space – their market which is the excel user is incredibly hard to convert – especially if the tools on offer do not live up to the same level of ease of use. Their underlying strategy is to own the enterprise stack. This will be their failure in the long run because they do not have a laser like focus on BI – it will just be another product in their stable. That approach will just not be good enough moving forward.
MF: Is educating the market about Yellowfin a major strategic imperative?
GR: Yes and no – like all new kids on the block we do not have a globally recognizable brand. But then outside of BI neither do Business Objects or Cognos. Sure if you know the industry you know the products but take one step outside and it is a free for all. One thing that has occurred over the past 10 years is that there has been a massive education of the market for BI in general. So when people go looking for product they tend to be scouring the web to find what’s right for them – and this is what is working for us. Either web traffic or channels – both are quickly growing our base.
MF: You mentioned that making your software easy and friendly is a clear point of differentiation for Yellowfin in the market, are other BI products so unfriendly, haven’t they spent massive amounts on product development?
GR: Well they have – and I would suggest that a fair component of that spend has been on what are now legacy applications and integration of 3rd party acquired products. Coming back to my earlier point we have a different end user. The traditional tools are aimed at developers whilst our entire application is written with the business user in mind. An easy to use, fully integrated web interface.
MF: Do you give away anything for free?
GR: Yes – advice. Try Yellowfin you will be amazed! Oh yes our evaluation and developer licenses are free.