Open source business intelligence: The next big thing?

Open source business intelligence gains credence as more companies adopt BI and large vendors partner with open source players in an evolving BI ecosystem.

The expansive growth in the business intelligence (BI) solutions market has resulted in open source players joining the fray, observes Yahoo India’s Rohit Chatter while describing how business intelligence is rapidly becoming an operational process in Indian organizations.

The observations by Chatter, who is a BI and Data Architect with the R&D arm of the Data & Insights Group at Yahoo India, should be viewed in light of Yahoo’s development and adoption of an open source BI tool in the recent past. Yahoo’s example underscores the need felt by Indian companies to make use of analytical capabilities offered by a BI tool while leveraging the cost savings of the open source alternative.  

Rise of open source business intelligence

“BI was viewed as an additional layer of reporting and an isolated business process.  This has changed today with organizations considering BI as a unifying layer for all their business processes,” says Bhavish Sood, a Gartner India research director who covers market trends in business intelligence for the Asia/Pacific region.

Emergence of open source business intelligence is the result of a few catalytic trends in the market today. The BI market underwent major consolidation during the past few years. For example, SAP acquired Business Objects and Oracle acquired Hyperion in 2007, while IBM absorbed Cognos in the year 2008. The reduced number of players created a void for new entrants to jump into.

Soon, several regional players entered and open source alternatives emerged; the market for business intelligence expanded. New investments in open source business intelligence continue unabated, with the entry of companies such as Pentaho, Jaspersoft and Hadoop, among others.

Adoption trends

Open source alternatives have opened up the possibility of BI adoption for small and mid-sized companies whose analytical needs may not be highly complex. Further, users are not concerned whether the software is proprietary or not, as long as it does the job of unlocking the value in their data efficiently and easily. Open source business intelligence as an option thus receives a boost due to its cost-effectiveness, especially in organizations already with some experience of using BI.

Vineet Dahiya, co-founder and director of InfoAxon Technologies, an open source integration company, has observed an increased interest in open source business intelligence from organizations. However, he acknowledges that full migration to open source business intelligence is not quite the norm yet. Dahiya says, “We do see an increased interest in open source and companies are adopting a hybrid strategy when it comes to open source business intelligence.” Dahiya’s opinion is that organizations are using proprietary tools for core analytics but dabbling with customized open source tools for BI dashboards.

Plug and play

Another aspect contributing to the growth in adoption of open source business intelligence tools is their technical readiness. Dahiya’s colleague Shubham Nagar, CEO of InfoAxon, observes: “Chunks of BI are getting commoditized with plug and play models. It is becoming easier to develop open source products.”

John Hansen, who works as senior director for outbound product management and strategy in APAC applications development at Oracle Corporation, states, “We have realized that open source is a serious and viable option now and cannot be ignored. As a reaction to customer demand, our new lines of products including BI are becoming more modular to facilitate a plug-and-play environment. This will also enable organizations to use open source standards to play around with customizations.”

Along with a modular approach, there is a growing inclination amongst proprietary vendors to work with commercial open source business intelligence vendors, a viewpoint endorsed by Nagar of InfoAxon.

Benefits of innovation

The general advantages that the open source model affords over proprietary software hold good for open source business intelligence as well. These include quicker introduction of new features, quicker bug-fixes and a feature set that caters to a wider base of users. Community-driven innovation is one of the key advantages of the open source model, often scoring over the more isolated manner in which proprietary vendors work.

A word of caution

Although there is an increased interest in open source business intelligence, it would be premature to conclude that open source has become the enterprise standard for BI.

Rohit Chatter of Yahoo India cautions organizations against opting for open source business intelligence purely to save costs. He points out that there are several prerequisites to make an open source BI deployment succeed. For example, says Chatter, “The resource needs for any open source business intelligence tool would have to include an IT team with experience in Java, cloud infrastructure, knowledge of distributed systems, and distributed processing.”

>> Read Rohit Chatter’s tips on implementing open source BI tool, head to toe.

Thankfully, for companies that are willing to consider open source business intelligence, the ecosystem of integrators and solution providers is expanding. Proprietary vendors too are opening up their partnership channels to accommodate the open source component. As the parts of the jigsaw continue to fall into place, the prognosis for the expansion of open source business intelligence is healthy indeed.

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