Social Business Intelligence Q & A with Yellowfin CEO Glen Rabie

The use of Social and Collaborative Business Intelligence (BI) will allow information to be directly linked to decisions made within an organization.

The use of Social and Collaborative Business Intelligence (BI) will allow information to be directly linked to decisions made within an organization.

Social BI, a form of collaborative decision-making (CDM) software, is a mash up of BI, Web 2.0 and social networking technologies.  It allows multiple people to co-operate in making sense of a data set; leading to fast and accurate fact-based decision-making. 

Despite intense interest and projected growth rates, Gartner has noted that Social BI and CDM technologies remain in their infancy.  Many organization decision-makers still only have limited ability to share and discuss reporting and analytics.

So what are the crucial components that comprise a true Social BI solution?  One, capable of facilitating pervasive, centralized sharing, discussion and fact-based decision-making.

And how can organizations position themselves to maximize its decision-making capabilities?

We asked industry expert and Yellowfin CEO, Glen Rabie, to respond to these crucial issues.


Q:  Ok, the term Collaborative Business Intelligence gets flung around a lot – so what is it?

A:  The term Collaborative BI encompasses and describes those shared activities and processes that, when drawn together, enable a collective decision to be made.

Collaborative BI, a type of CDM platform, is about harnessing and applying the functions and features of social networking and Web 2.0 technologies to the enterprise, to enable a better CDM process, leading to better, faster decision-making.

Social and Collaborative BI is helping organizational decision-makers to more effectively and efficiently discuss, analyze and share information to empower organizations to act.

Collaborative BI is about maximizing the effectiveness of data analysis.  An effective Social and Collaborative BI module should encourage all relevant BI users and business decision-makers, from inside and outside an organization, to share ideas and information to support better strategic decision-making based on the information generated by data analysis.


Q:  Why are companies finding it hard to achieve Collaborative Business Intelligence?

A:  The great failing of traditional reporting products is that they deliver technology rather than business oriented solutions.  They ignore the business-oriented end-user and create barriers between non-technical personnel and corporate data.

Collaborative technologies are beginning to address this problem, changing the way business people interact with data, and with each other in relation to that data.

However, the CDM software industry, despite projected growth rates, remains highly immature.  Many BI solutions and modules that are branded as ‘Social’ still have limited reach within organizations – they’re too complex and do not facilitate widespread enterprise CDM based on reporting and analytics.  Without that, Social BI will fail.

It seems that many BI tools, despite being branded as “social”, do not actually enable collective decision-making and action.  They aren’t actually collaborative.


Q:  What do you think is driving companies’ desire to add collaborative features to their reporting and analytics environment?

A:  It’s quite simple.  Organizations want to achieve better ROI from their BI rollouts.  They want to arrive at better decisions in shorter timeframes.  The problem with many traditional BI projects is that, despite large amounts of time and money being spent, poor business decisions are still made.

Now what does that reflect?  In most cases, the right data is being collected and analyzed correctly.  The problem is that the insight isn’t being effectively shared, discussed and used to underpin collective fact-based decision-making.  Social BI bridges the gap between insight and action.

Social BI takes advantage of existing analysis and information, ensuring that it is used to its fullest potential.

The widespread collaboration that Social BI technologies can facilitate stimulates better, not just faster, decision-making across all business departments.  It is the accuracy of decisions made and actions taken from data analysis, that help an organization maintain competitive advantage.  Accurate decisions, not just quick decisions, help underpin strategic planning for continued future success.


Q:  What are the components that make up a collaborative decision-making (CDM) solution?

A:  There are three crucial components that combine together to form a complete CDM module.  These are the ability to: Discuss and overlay knowledge on business data; Share knowledge and content; Collectively decide the best course of action.

Most analytics-based decision-making occurs outside organizational BI platforms, opening a gap between human insight and the business data itself. Decision-making remains isolated from the data that should drive and underpin it.

Using a single open-access forum integrated within the BI tool, business decisions are able to be made alongside business data, to ensure steadfast, fact-based decision-making.  The right people are connected with the right data, supporting a culture of organization-wide information sharing and data access. This breaks down departmental knowledge silos, enabling faster, better and more effective decision-making. 

Users should also be able to embed reports and other contextual information in threaded conversations, and add annotations, to further explain patterns and trends in the data.  Integrating these social networking capabilities into existing BI applications allows users to undertake discussion, analysis and CDM in full-view of their data, within a uniform environment.

Secondly, the value of information resides in its ability to be shared. A Social BI module must support the ability to share data and insights wherever they are required, and in a manner that suits individual circumstance.  Users should be able to share content internally, on the integrated CDM platform or on company networks, such as intranet; or, outside company firewalls, on external networks such as wiki’s or blogs – wherever it is needed. 

Lastly, the usefulness of networking at the enterprise level rests on the ability to reach appropriate and timely decisions. For Social BI to be successful, it must include a mechanism for deciding action, such as voting or polling, to help push conversation towards a specific, measurable and desirable course of action.


Q:  How are organizations meant to establish an effective measure for ROI regarding Social and Collaborative Business Intelligence?

A:  Social and Collaborative BI is the ROI.  Let me explain. 

A BI solution is just an enabler in an organization. Without a decision there is no ROI.  Of itself, it is not capable of delivering a decision.

You can have the best BI solution in the world, but unless your users actually use the solution, and make business decisions as a result of the information provided, there’s no justifiable ROI.

Traditionally, the decision process occurred independently of the BI solution. This posed a problem – BI solutions did not facilitate the discussion or the decision process. That’s now changing.

With Social BI, we bring the discussion and the decision-making into the BI environment. The application facilitates the process of evaluating data and the actions to be taken as a result of that data analysis.

Social BI directly supports goal-oriented collective decision-making.  Social BI allows users to make meaningful business decisions based on the data analysis generated from their BI tool.


Q:  What effect do you think including collaborative components will have on organizational culture?

A:  By implementing CDM technology you are simultaneously initiating a shift in organizational social patterns and protocols.

The success of collaborative technologies rely on organizational acceptance of these technologies and the social media style mandate that anyone should be able to share content and contribute to discussion, anywhere and anytime.

To facilitate the cultural change needed to realize the benefits of CDM software, organizations must create a business environment that encourages open discussion, sharing, and collective decision-making based on data analysis.  They can achieve this by implementing three cultural enablers: Senior executives must lead the way and embrace collaborative processes as routine best practice; An anti-hierarchical organizational structure should be embraced to ensure all relevant parties can participate equally; and the HR department should incorporate relationship building modules into learning and development programs.

If you fail to establish a corporate environment conducive to collaboration, how will you achieve the best from your CDM software? Effective CDM requires the right mindset, not just the right tools.