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Collaborative and mobile technologies continue to influence business intelligence (BI) software products. The recent release of Yellowfin 6 embraces these innovations in a visually appealing, end-user-oriented BI product. Yellowfin is an independent BI software vendor based in Australia that was recently recognized, along with its customer Macquarie University, as a Ventana Leadership Award winner for the use of location–based aspects of its technology for effective planning and student acquisition initiatives.

As I’ve written previously in “The Consumerization of Collaborative BI Has Arrived,” we have begun to see more collaborative capabilities incorporated into BI applications and process. Our firm will soon launch a benchmark research program on this topic to develop understanding of how collaborative and mobile capabilities can enhance an organization’s BI activities.

Yellowfin 6 has a well-integrated set of collaborative and mobile capabilities designed to enhance BI processes. This release incorporates an inbox and activity stream, which enable users to comment on and subscribe to relevant analyses. As consumers move from email-based to collaboration-based communications that use social networking tools, we expect to see the same shift in enterprise communications. Yellowfin incorporates these concepts in its proprietary collaboration technology; I would like to see the company support commercial tools as well, because that would broaden the dissemination of the information. Users can subscribe to analyses based on a time interval, such as every day or week, or based on values crossing a certain threshold. For example, users can have the software send a report if the average hold time in the customer support center exceeds 60 seconds.

Release 6 provides dashboard syndication so that entire dashboards can be embedded in other Web pages. For example, an intranet or wiki page can display a Yellowfin dashboard of relevant information if you copy and embed in it a code snippet, in much the same way you can embed a Google calendar in a Web page. Since Yellowfin’s architecture is entirely Web-based, users have full access to all dashboard functionality, not just to a limited subset.

The new drill-down capabilities in this release will be important to existing Yellowfin users, but these capabilities are common in other BI tools. The company has put some effort into exposing drill-down capabilities in a way that end users will understand. As the designer of a dashboard, you can decide what types of drill paths will be exposed, including a new “drill anywhere” option that lets users pick from a pop-up menu of relevant options. Other elements of the interface have been enhanced, and present a clean and userfriendly experience. In particular, I like the series selection tiles used to display and pick dimension values. They include a sparkline, a value and a trend indicator that provides a lot of useful information in a compact representation. Report previews, another nice feature in this release, show a thumbnail of each report along with its description when a user needs to select one report from a list.

This release also includes native iPad application support. You can try it for yourself here. Not all Yellowfin 6 features are supported in the version currently downloadable, but the company says it will make a new version available early next year that supports the drill-anywhere features, which will greatly aid navigation on the iPad version. Yellowfin also expects to provide a native Android version. In the meantime, the browser-based version of the product runs on mobile platforms.

Though it offers many enhanced features, Yellowfin still has some gaps in product functionality compared to other BI products. For example, Yellowfin does not support planning and whatif analysis. Nor does it support brushing, which would enable users to select a subset of data in one part of the dashboard and see the relevant selection reflected as a subset of the other portions of the dashboard.

Despite these limitations, I expect we’ll see more of Yellowfin. It has amassed 500 customers and more than 100 OEMs and resellers. If you are looking for a user-friendly tool with collaborative and mobile capabilities that I refer to as the next generation of BI software, take a look at Yellowfin.

Regards,

David Menninger – VP & Research Director

Tibco recently introduced Spotfire 4.0, the most recent version of its interactive discovery and business intelligence (BI) tool. Spotfire comes at BI through visualization. It uses in-memory processing and good user interface design to develop highly interactive displays of data. Version 4.0 attempts to enhance Spotfire’s dashboard capabilities and offers integration with enterprise collaboration tools. The former capabilities are necessary to broaden Spotfire’s appeal and applicability for more BI projects, but the latter capabilities are more interesting since they represent a fundamental shift in the way enterprises use business intelligence.

I’ve written about the trend toward consumerization of collaborative BI that is part of new benchmark research in 2012. Spotfire 4.0 supports integration with Microsoft SharePoint and Tibco’s own collaboration tool tibbr. SharePoint integration will earn Tibco points with IT organizations, but tibbr integration is more likely to resonate with end users. SharePoint represents the “old school” model of portal-based collaboration, while tibbr represent the newer message-based form of collaboration. If you are not familiar with tibbr, it is similar to Twitter and Salesforce.com Chatter, but it is designed exclusively for use in an enterprise environment. For example, Spotfire’s analytics are nicely integrated with tibbr. While viewing a Spotfire 4.0 analysis you can send a message with the analysis embedded in it. Within tibbr the reader of the message can interact with the analysis and delve deeper or explore other aspects of the data. Spotfire 4.0 dashboards can include tibbr chat streams bringing together the notion of analyzing data and capturing the discussion about the information.

It remains to be seen if tibbr will grow sufficiently in popularity to help fuel the revolution in BI that we identified earlier this year. Critical mass of collaborators is a key ingredient to success in collaborative BI. If Spotfire or tibbr supported bridges to other social media tools, such as Twitter and Chatter, it could broaden the appeal of the new capabilities. IBM and SAP have taken a similar approach with their collaboration platforms, but some vendors without their own collaboration platform have no choice but to support third-party platforms. As I indicated in a recent post, one such vendor, QlikTech, is working to integrate its QlikView with Chatter.

In regard to new dashboard capabilities, Spotfire 4.0 introduces display objects and provides more finely grained control over existing objects. New objects include sparklines, which are small line graphs that can fit in a row of data, and conditional icons that are often used to give a visual indication of the value relative to its target as well as whether the value is trending up or down. These types of icons are common to performance management applications. Users now can control the display of dashboard objects more precisely. Because of Spotfire’s interactivity, in previous versions the dashboards sometimes appeared cluttered with various controls for altering the data selections. With the new capabilities, the dashboards can have a cleaner look that makes it easier for casual users to focus on the relevant data. It also is easier to embed Spotfire components in other portals and dashboards.

It is disappointing that version 4.0 does not enhance mobile capabilities in any significant way. While Spotfire supports the Apple iPad with a native application, that is really just a wrapper around its browser-based capabilities. When I worked with the application I found the user interface awkward relative to native offerings from competitors. For example, you could not pinch, zoom or pan with gestures. I expect we’ll see more investment in mobile capabilities going forward, especially since mobile and collaborative technologies are closely intertwined.

The bottom line is that Spotfire 4.0 incorporates key collaborative capabilities that can help organizations transform their business intelligence processes. It also includes incremental improvements in its dashboards that should make the product easier to use. If you are already using Spotfire or tibbr, you’ll likely appreciate what version 4.0 adds. Others who are looking to expand their collaborative BI capabilities should consider the combined offering.

Regards,

David Menninger – VP & Research Director

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