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Open Source BI Fights For Its Share

With growing capabilities in a strong segment, vendors are looking past developer markets to business end users.
BEYOND THE SUITES
Two additional open source BI offerings are worth considering. The first, the Eclipse Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools project, is primarily of interest to Java developers. The second, the Palo OLAP Server from German firm Jedox, develops enterprise technologies for Excel applications, targeting enterprise planning, analysis, reporting, and consolidation apps.

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Business Intelligence
Benefits
  • Core software is free, and overall cost can be much lower than commercial packages
  • Less vendor/platform lock-in risk
Risks
  • Commercial products offer more capabilities and better support, and their software is more tuned to specific business or industry needs
Projects/Vendors
  • Eclipse BIRT, JasperSoft, Mondrian, Palo, Pentaho, SpagoBI, Talend
Jedox designed Palo as a "multidimensional OLAP" tool for performance management apps. One customer-- Beyond Compliance, a provider of hosted compliance management software--uses Palo Excel-based reporting for analytical reports that include tables and graphs. Beyond Compliance harnesses the Palo OLAP Server on the back end and the non-open source Palo Worksheet Server for report distribution. "The nice thing about Palo is that we've taken report design away from developers and brought it to our client-services team, to end users," says Rick Clazie, Beyond Compliance's technology and infrastructure manager. The company doesn't measure the ROI of its open source choice in financial terms, trusting that faster reporting turnaround and extended capabilities increase client satisfaction.

MCCA CIO Snyder similarly prioritized the ability to deliver critical BI capabilities over traditional ROI measures. The MCCA's JasperReports solution lets it segment and analyze data and generate advanced revenue metrics along multiple dimensions such as event, industry, and type of service provided. "We're pushing information and knowledge out to the end user, giving them access to what they want to see," Snyder says.

Will others take this leap to open source BI? Gartner projects triple the adoption by 2012, implying much faster growth than the overall BI market. BI is making progress, particularly when commercially packaged to deliver usability and support lacking with free components. As people like Snyder and Clazie push these tools out to employees, that packaging, coupled with open source's lower costs, will be critical to open source BI's enterprise success.

Seth Grimes is an analytics strategist with Alta Plana. He consults on data management and analysis systems.

Photo illustration by Sek Leung