At 5000fish, our Customer Success Team takes a unique approach to service that includes not only educating potential customers on Yurbi, but also on the pros and cons of other business intelligence (BI) software options. After all, whether Yurbi is the right BI solution for a business or not, it is important that decision makers are aware of their BI options.
It wasn’t long ago that traditional BI solutions like SAP Crystal Reports and IBM Cognos dominated the business intelligence market. But over the last few years, alternatives to traditional BI, such as Agile BI and Cloud BI have surfaced- and they’re gaining traction. Open source BI has been on the scene as an alternative to traditional BI but recently there has been a lot of attention brought to this sector due to some major acquisitions. Open source BI is something that we think you should know about.
In this piece, we’ll help you understand what constitutes open source business intelligence, why some companies consider using it, and outline its pros and cons. By the end, you’ll have a good idea of whether open source BI is a viable solution for your business.
What is Open Source Business Intelligence?
Before we discuss why a business may choose open source business intelligence (OSBI) and highlight its pros and cons, let’s clarify what OSBI is, and isn’t.
Like other open source models, OSBI is community driven.
Open source BI is backed by a community of developers that are collectively working to enhance the solution. Open source provides developers with full (and free) access to the BI software code, so they can create their own extensions, patch up bugs, etc.
There is a component to the software that’s free.
Open source offers a “cost-free license.” That means you won’t have to buy a software license to use open source BI, but many OSBI vendors charge for other features, such as support services, access to code that’s been fine-tuned for specific implementations or for an enhanced version of the software.
OSBI is not a free version of a commercial solution.
Some commercial business intelligence companies, such as Microsoft Power BI, offer a free (albeit less robust) version of their “for-sale” BI software, but that does not mean it is “open source”- it just means it’s free. Developers can’t hack code, fix bugs, or in any way tweak the BI product like they can with OSBI.
Why Do Businesses Choose Open Source BI?
The primary reasons businesses choose to leverage an open source business intelligence solution over a traditional solution include:
The business has a strong development team or an experienced developer that can hack the code, contribute to open source community and manipulate the software to support the company’s BI needs.
They’re trying to save money, and a “cost-free license” is appealing. (We’ll cover below however that software licenses are not the only cost associated with OSBI.)
The business may be an open source company themselves, or have a policy to support open source initiatives whenever possible.
The business has standardized on the Linux operating system and thinks OSBI is the only option available to use with Linux. (Which is not true but that is a belief we have seen customers have.)
The business is fundamentally against the commercial licensing of software; they believe software should be free and transparent.
Whereas many commercial BI products specialize in certain areas, such as offering dynamic dashboards, powerful report building or ETL (Extract, Transform and Load) capabilities, you’ll usually find open sources offers a complete, mature business intelligence stack. That’s because there are hundreds of developers continuously improving and expanding the BI product.
Few, if any, Licensing Fees
Open source BI allows you to install the core platform on any system in your environment for free. And if that’s all you need, great; however, many businesses find they need connectors or other advanced features they have to pay for.
One drawback of traditional BI is a long, complex upgrade cycle and how long it takes to get new features in the product. However, if you choose an OSBI solution that’s backed by a robust developer community, you’ll benefit from frequent software updates and new features, regular bug fixes, and more. Plus, your developers will have the opportunity to join in and contribute to the improvement and enhancement of the software.
Software Can be Customized
Another noteworthy benefit of OS business intelligence (especially over traditional BI solutions) is that it can be tailored to meet your company’s specific needs. Your developer or consultant can create a highly customized software solution for much less than you would pay a commercial BI vendor to develop. Plus, there’s no requirement for you to share your custom code with the OSBI community.
Cons of Open Source BI
Requires Highly Trained Developers
While there are several advantages of OSBI, there are also a few drawbacks. The fact that you need developer expertise in order to fully leverage OS business intelligence software is arguably the most significant one.
Unlike Yurbi and other plug and play agile BI tools, OSBI requires a highly skilled developer- it can’t be leveraged by the average business user. As a result, your employees will have to rely on IT to get the reports, data and insights they need- and that can bring about a variety of challenges for both the requester and IT. Worse yet, your employees may decide that getting the business intelligence they need is “too much work”- and turn their backs on BI altogether. That means they’ll miss out on important business intelligence insights. Plus, if your developer or other OSBI guru leaves your organization, your BI software is rendered useless until you hire a replacement.
Can be Expensive
As we mentioned, open source BI offers you a fairly mature stack of business intelligence features for free, but you’ll typically have to pay the primary owner of the OS community for support, connectors, or advanced features (commonly called Enterprise Edition). For example, open source provider Pentaho offers a core BI stack can that can be downloaded and used at no charge, but they’ve also developed extensions that they sell as a premium. Couple the expense of premium or enterprise features with the salary of a developer or consultant, and the cost-benefit analysis of OSBI is gloomy for small to medium-sized businesses.
User Interface is Not Appealing
Open source business intelligence software is created by (and for) developers, not business users. It’s “function first” design looks archaic and intimidating and feels awkward to non-technical employees. An unappealing interface means your employees are less likely to buy-in to BI. If your employees aren’t going to use your BI solution, there’s no reason to adopt it.
Our Bottom Line: The Pros and Cons of Open Source Business Intelligence
At 5000fish, we believe Yurbi is an excellent product, but we don’t try to be everything to everyone. If your organization embraces the open source philosophy and has an infrastructure and budget to support an open source business intelligence product like BIRT, Jaspersoft or Pentaho, then open source could be a good choice.
On the other hand, if you don’t have a highly skilled developer on staff, or you’re considering open source primarily to save money, OSBI might not be the best option. Keep in mind that although the upfront costs may be nil, the long-term cost of OS can be substantial. Instead, you may want to consider a commercial business intelligence product like Yurbi – one that’s designed to be leveraged by business users and priced right for small to medium-sized businesses.