Innovation and agility - Yellowfin partners with Melbourne Business School to deliver real-life experience to students

In 2003, a young business analyst decided to launch his own start-up – business intelligence software that approached data warehousing and analysis from a different perspective.
“I was working for National Australia Bank and responsible for rolling out a business intelligence (BI) project. It was terribly expensive and complicated. I started thinking about how we could do it better. That was the genesis for Yellowfin,” recalls Yellowfin Co-founder and CEO, Glen Rabie. “A lot of BI tools started with the analyst sitting on his own thinking about how things can be done on his computer. We came at it from a different perspective – how do you roll it out for the enterprise, how is the data shared and controlled, what security and governance structures are required… in short, how do you create a product for enterprise deployment.”

A decade later, Yellowfin has offices in the United States, Japan, Europe and Australia. When asked whether he could foresee the successes in those early years, Glen laughs: “I had never run a business before.  We made some classic mistakes!  We were learning a lot along the way. We were also phenomenally lucky that analytics became such a big trend and we were there to grow with it. But fundamentally, we believed in the importance of what we were doing, we always knew the importance of data, and that there would always be a market for that. We just couldn’t foresee that it would be such a big market.”

Agility key to success

Despite the successes, Yellowfin continues to evolve and Glen nominates agility as one of the most important traits to its success.

“We have a better sense now of who we are compared to even just four years ago,” says Glen. “When we started back in 2003, we thought everyone wanted to get dirty with the data, do analytics and write reports. The reality is that most people only want to consume the information. Not everyone wants to create it. The analogy that I give is that most people want to buy a house, but few will actually want to build it and even fewer will need an architect. So when you understand that consumer model, you realise that the audience is more important than the analyst. That was a big penny dropping moment for us.”

That realisation has impacted on Yellowfin’s strategy across the organisation, from product design through to marketing strategy. The success has allowed Glen to expand with offices globally, and the scale has enabled Yellowfin to become more agile and responsive to customer needs.

“We have a client for whom the commercial was created in the US, the development took place in Australia and the first market launch will be in Japan,” recalls Glen. “We wouldn’t have won that business if we didn’t have people on the ground to make it happen.”

But managing multi-national offices also brings challenges and opportunities.

“We try very hard to build relationships within the organisation,” says Glen. “The Japanese and UK approach is collaborative whereas in the US, it’s an individual focus and autonomous. We’re looking at how to change that focus so that the emphasis is on the whole of the organisation.”

Talent management

Attracting the right people is also an important component of success. 

“Getting great people has always been a challenge,” says Glen. “It’s easier now that we have a known brand.  In those early days, we just took anyone with a pulse!” Glen jokes. “But seriously, we’ve been extraordinarily lucky with our people. The nature of agile organisations and how it moves to being self-managed requires a very different person than the standard organisational beast. Having people who are adaptive and who can pick up many things is more valuable than a person who can only do one thing.”

Consideration of a talent pipeline and developing the right people through Yellowfin’s philanthropic endeavours are reasons for Yellowfin’s support of the Master of Business Analytics program through a student competition.  Using the Yellowfin software, students were required to analyse the data in the Carlton Group Pharmacy and produce a report about key customers, most profitable products, store location and most profitable time periods. The judging panel included faculty and Teresa Pringle, Yellowfin’s Content Services Team Lead, who awarded the prize to the team of Leo Leng, David Loong, Andy McCall and Jason Widjaja.

“We were looking for people able to think a little off-centre,” says Teresa when asked why this team stood out.  “They had key insights and their solutions showed that they took it upon themselves to think outside of the box.  It’s important to be creative. That’s when you see something special.”

For the winning team members, the Yellowfin experience was more valuable than the first place prize of $2000. 

“We’ve taken something from the classroom and transferred it to something that is a fair representation of a commercial project and that’s encouraging,” says Jason Widjaja, one of the winning team members.  “It reassures us that we are on the right track. We’re also learning a tool that’s in practice and that will be an advantage to our career when we graduate.”

Yellowfin’s BI platform is used as a core piece of software for student learning and assessable coursework throughout Melbourne Business School’s Masters of Business Analytics program.