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Data storytelling a key part of Yellowfin analytics platform

Data storytelling remains a focal point for Yellowfin. Stories, the vendor's narrative generation tool, features heavily in both its latest platform update and roadmap for 2021.

Yellowfin was one of the first business intelligence vendors to add data storytelling capabilities to its platform, and now Yellowfin is attempting to extend the reach of analytics to more users with its narratives.

Data storytelling is automatically generated interpretation of data put in a narrative form rather than a straight analysis, to make it easier to understand and digest. Given the easy-to-understand format, some tech observers think the technology has the potential to revolutionize analytics extending its reach within an organization from an estimated 20% to 40% of employees to nearly all of them.

Yellowfin, founded in 2003 and is based in Melbourne, Australia, first introduced Yellowfin Stories, its data storytelling tool, in 2018. As part of Yellowfin 9.4 in December 2020, the vendor added capabilities that will enable the narratives created by Stories to reach a broader swath of end users by embedding them wherever users are working.

By expanding its JavaScript application programming interface (API) to include support for Yellowfin Stories, application developers can now embed analytics narratives for consumption on a website page, intranet portal or web application so they can be more easily shared and widely absorbed within an organization.

"Our view of the world is we want all of our customers to use our product, but not necessarily within our product environment," said Glen Rabie, CEO of Yellowfin. "The JavaScript API allows our customers to embed Yellowfin Stories anywhere. For us, it's about enabling organizations to choose how they take analytics into their internal workforce or to their external customers and partners."

Meanwhile, Mike Leone, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) said the expansion of Yellowfin's JavaScript API to include support for Yellowfin Stories is a significant advancement for the vendor's platform. The platform's previous update also featured expansion of its JavaScript API, but it did not extend to Stories.

"Expanding the JavaScript API to support Yellowfin Stories is huge," Leone said. "Not only does this further the embeddable capabilities of the platform, but it enables developers to more rapidly provide end users access to what they care about in a simplified manner through web applications."

An organizations' data is visually displayed on sample Yellowfin dashboards.
Sample Yellowfin dashboards display how an organization can visually analyze its data.

The story of Stories

While other broad-based BI vendors now offer data storytelling features -- Tableau offers Explain Data and Microsoft Power BI now includes Smart Narrative, for example -- at the time Yellowfin added Stories to its analytics platform only vendors such as Narrative Science that specialize in data storytelling had such narrative capabilities.

According to Rabie, the idea for Stories started when he found himself having to explain dashboards and charts during board meetings. He was taking the charts and dashboards he created in Yellowfin, then moving the information into a Word document and typing up an explanation much as he did when he was a data analyst.

"I thought, 'This is absolutely crazy,' and asked why we were doing it that way," Rabie said. "It was nonsensical."

Expanding the JavaScript API to support Yellowfin Stories is huge. Not only does this further the embeddable capabilities of the platform, but it enables developers to more rapidly provide end users access to what they care about in a simplified manner through web applications.
Mike LeoneSenior analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group

Realizing that if he was operating that way, in all likelihood most organizations were operating in a similar way. And from there, Yellowfin built Stories.

"It fundamentally is about the narrative and not about the data," Rabie said. "The data supports the narrative. BI vendors historically weren't talking about the right thing when they talked about data storytelling. They were building a lot of charts and hoping that would tell the story, but the reality is people tell the story."

Narratives, meanwhile, are a more natural way for humans to absorb information than the straightforward delivery of information.

Not all Yellowfin's customers take advantage of Stories, but Rabie said the feature's most frequent application is when the reporting is intended for senior management and that many customers -- including Australia's National Health Service -- no longer use Yellowfin's dashboards for their management reporting and instead use Stories.

"They use dashboards for operational purposes, but for their management team they use Stories," Rabie said.

The capabilities of Stories, meanwhile, haven't changed significantly since it was first introduced.

It was always meant to be easy to use, Rabie said, and its intended audience is business users rather than data analysts. As updates have been released, their intent has been to simplify and streamline the ability to create content in Stories and, understanding that enterprises often use more than one BI platform, add the ability to embed reports from other vendors into a story.

Next, as part of an overall platform focus on natural language query in 2021, Rabie said Yellowfin plans to add a highly guided natural language query tool (NLQ) to Stories that will enable users to simply type a question that will then become part of the story.

Recent update

While Yellowfin's expansion of its JavaScript API was perhaps the most noteworthy upgrade in Yellowfin 9.4, it wasn't the sole feature of the update.

In all, Yellowfin 9.4 featured 13 new tools and upgrades, including:

  • an Export to PDF upgrade that includes more than 20 display, font and style fixes, an option to automatically email PDF exports when finished and an option to save narratives generated in Stories to PDF so users can share their analysis outside the Yellowfin analytics platform;
  • a Share Stories everywhere function that enables users to share their Stories outside the Yellowfin platform;
  • a new Super User function that enables system administrators to manage any user's public and private content to make sure content is accessible and usable even if its creator leaves the organization or changes roles; and
  • new support for both Amazon Redshift and Oracle databases that enable users to query files directly from Amazon and improve the safety and security of the connection between Yellowfin and Oracle.

Rabie called the update significant. Leone, meanwhile, said it shows how Yellowfin continues to focus on the needs of its customers, enabling it to remain one of the more vibrant BI platforms on the market.

"While Yellowfin continues to be seen as a niche BI player, they consistently punch above their weight," he said. "They continue to enhance their platform in a way that align with what their customers want. As customers look to broaden data access, Yellowfin is able to check the boxes that matter to organizations as they continue down a path of data use maturity."

Beyond its focus on NLQ in 2021 -- which will be a platform-wide initiative and not just related to Stories -- Rabie said the Yellowfin roadmap includes an ongoing effort to simplify its user interface.

By reducing the number of clicks to get tasks done, the vendor hopes that more users will be able to take advantage of analytics. In addition, a goal of simplifying the user interface is to enable business analysts to take advantage of more of the entire platform.

Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) is a division of TechTarget.

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