We know choosing business intelligence software can feel overwhelming. That’s why our Customer Success approach to doing business cuts through the marketing fluff and helps decision makers learn the pros and cons of various business intelligence solutions. To that end, we’ve discussed the advantages of traditional BI and agile BI tools, plus offered our thoughts on the best Cloud based BI solutions available today.
We’ve also laid out the advantages and drawbacks of open source BI for the small to medium-sized business (SMB). In this article, we’ll explore open source business intelligence (OSBI) in greater detail and provide you with an overview of four of the best OSBI solutions for tech-savvy organizations.
Before we outline the best OSBI vendors, we want to give you an idea of whether OSBI might be right for your organization. If any of these points hit home, it could be.
It’s important to note that OSBI and free versions of “for-sale” commercial business intelligence software are not one in the same. Developers can’t hack code, fix bugs, or in any way tweak free versions of commercial software like they can with OSBI. That said, this review of OSBI software does not include reviews of free commercial tools.
If you’d like to gain a greater understanding of what OSBI is, and isn’t, we encourage you to read this short article on the Pros and Cons of Open Source Business Intelligence.
Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools (BIRT) is an open source software project that’s been around for about a decade. Actuate, the most significant sponsor of BIRT, was acquired by OpenText Software in January of this year. It’s interesting to note that BIRT experienced a slowdown in new features starting in 2012, but activity has picked up as of the fourth quarter of 2014- this could have been due to the forthcoming acquisition. It’s not clear how involved OpenText will be in BIRT, but it’s something we’ll keep an eye on.
BIRT enjoys strong developer community support, offers a robust set of BI tools, and is often viewed as the standard in open source business intelligence. In fact, BIRT is used by more than three million developers around the world and has been downloaded more than 12 million times. BIRT is known for its strong design and presentation features which allow developers to present data in both text and graphic formats. When compared to the other OSBI products, BIRT’s greatest strengths are its ease of use and the completeness of features.
Clearly, BIRT is doing something right- but we’ve heard many BIRT customers complain they have trouble upgrading to its newest versions, and like all of the OSBI products we’re discussing, BIRT requires developer expertise. Also, BIRT is primarily focused on reporting, not analytics, and if you want to work with OLAP data, BIRT is not appropriate.
In May of 2014 Jaspersoft was acquired by TIBCO, which has its own set of commercial BI products named Spotfire. We’re curious why a well established commercial BI vendor would purchase an OS product, and it will be interesting to find out how TIBCO goes about co-managing Jaspersoft and Spotfire. So far, it looks as though TIBCO is staying committed to Jaspersoft’s OS community, as it has released two new product updates that provide full support for the OS editions.
Like BIRT, Jaspersoft is supported by a big developer community, and boasts a hearty BI suite covering reporting, online analytical processing (OLAP), data integration and data visualization. Additionally, Jaspersoft offers interactive, web-based reports and dashboards. Although these features are impressive and powerful, they can’t be leveraged by the business user- like all of our OS products, Jaspersoft requires developer knowledge.
In February 2015 Hitachi Data Systems announced its impending purchase of Pentaho software. Hitachi Data Systems isn’t new to the OS space; it has a history of supporting OS software and has been involved in an array of open sources projects including OpenStack. The Pentaho suite consists of an enterprise and a community edition. As you’d expect, the enterprise edition contains enhancements and features not found in the community edition.
Pentaho offers a suite of open source business intelligence products that offer data integration, OLAP services, data mining, reporting, dashboarding, and extract transform load utilities (ETL) capabilities. Its greatest strengths are its reporting wizard and the ease of use to create simple to moderate reports. Although Pentaho’s development has slowed considerably from the pace it enjoyed between 2010 and 2012, new features and enhancements continue to be made at a steady rate.
Unlike our other OSBI products, there is no enterprise edition of SpagoBI- it’s completely free and does not market features above and beyond its core BI stack. However, it’s important to note that just like our other OSBI vendors, SpagoBI’s support and training services are fee-based.
SpagoBI is part of the SpagoWorld initiative, founded and supported by Engineering Group. It offers developers a wide variety of analytical functions, and an impressive set of advanced data visualization features including geospatial analytics and mapping – which is an area where it stands out from the pack of other OSBI solutions.
All of the OS vendors we’ve discussed are established and well respected, and with the exception of SpagoBI, all have recently been acquired by large companies. That means you can feel confident they aren’t going out of business in the near future. On the other hand, in an effort to increase revenue, the purchasing companies are likely to invest time and money into enhancing the product’s enterprise features (those that they sell) instead of maintaining or improving the free OS version. This can have a negative impact on the developer community’s support for the free OS product. If developer support weakens the product suffers; as a result, you could find yourself having to upgrade to the product’s enterprise version or looking for a new BI product altogether.
OSBI isn’t for everyone. In fact, in our experience, the majority of businesses are better served by a traditional BI tool or an agile BI product like Yurbi. But, if your organization strongly supports the OS philosophy and has the technical resources to support OSBI, it might be a good fit. If your primary reason for choosing OSBI is to save money, we encourage you to explore other BI options. There are several agile BI solutions on the market today that are not only are affordable for SMBs, they’re also business user friendly.