Benefits of broader access to open source BI

Lyndsay Wise, president, Wise Analytics
Lyndsay Wise, president, Wise Analytics

The appeal of open source software to developers has included the promise of free source code, quick development cycles, and community collaboration contributing to software development projects on a broad level. Over the past several years, some of these attributes of open source have also made their way into the business intelligence (BI) market. Open source BI offerings entered the market as the direct competitors of established analytics vendors and their products have matured to offer both community and commercial solutions. This shift affects the way in which solutions are delivered, creating:

  • An increase in free trials and free software offerings
  • Broader access to community resources
  • More diverse options that include both community and commercial versions of open source software and more flexibility within standard BI offerings
  • Demand for lower cost offerings
  • Better collaboration within user communities and enhanced collaborative capabilities within the solutions themselves
  • Flexible licensing and subscription-based user models

If Big Data technologies based on open source platforms are added to the mix, the influence of open source in the marketplace becomes even greater as organizations look to leverage Big Data solutions to manage ever more extensive data challenges.

The mainstreaming of open source BI offerings delivers many benefits to consumers and has expanded several vendor go-to-market strategies, allowing vendors to address the broader needs of the marketplace through free, lower cost options based on free versions, access to user communities, and subscription payment models. These shifts are also helping organizations and influencing the way the apply analytics within their businesses.

How open source expansion benefits the broader market

Now that the distinctions between open source BI offerings and commercial BI have dissipated, organizations no longer look at open source BI solutions as providing a separate value proposition from that of other analytics players. However, the wider availability of different types of solutions have led to some additional benefits for organizations evaluating the market, such as:

  1. An increase in flexible pricing leading to broader BI adoption – the reality is that for many years, BI implementations were limited to organizations with large budgets willing to pay for yearly licensing and support fees, in addition to the cost to acquire hardware and software. With subscription models, analytics adoption becomes a fixed cost. This helps organizations more realistically manage their use and future expansion.
  2. Free software and access to source code have always been targeted at the developer community. The availability of both commercial and community solution options expands this access to BI consumers and to advanced users as well. In turn, as organizations evaluate solutions to identify which ones best address their business challenges, the ability to leverage free trials helps support the decision making process. Consequently, solution providers not offering free trial access to their products may be seen as less flexible and amenable. After all, many organizations like to download and try potential solutions before making final investments.
  3. Community participation and insight into product development has always been available to open source adopters and larger clients of mainstream vendors. With the expansion of open source’s reach and more community access for support, organizations expect to have input into the roadmap of their solution provider or at least know that their specific challenges will be addressed. At the same time, this level of input allows user organizations to insist on development of solutions that better meet their requirements. The combination of many different ideas for improvement may help vendors develop the best products possible for their customers, in essence, using community resources to provide the same type of value promised by open source.

These three points above highlight the obvious ways that the analytics industry has been affected by the open source world. The main benefit, though, to organizations looking at analytics adoption is that these changes have created a shift away from solutions that had to be adopted and implemented in a way dictated by software vendors towards a more open approach that provides organizations with the tools and flexibility they require to ensure their needs are met – both technical and business related.

What BI consumers need to know

If the benefits of open source BI to organizations are clear, the reality is that open source generally appeals to IT developers, while business users remain unaware of market shifts that work to their advantage. Today, more and more software acquisitions and BI projects are being sponsored by business units and a shift from IT backing is underway. It is especially critical that these groups within the organization understand the best way to take advantage of market changes. Questions to ask when evaluating potential solutions include:

  1. How long do free trials last? Organizations need to identify the current workload of their development staff to make sure they have the time needed to commit to a project, and to develop some sort of working application or set of metrics that can identify whether or not the solution meets business requirements.
  2. What restrictions exist? For example, what data sources are supported, how much data can be loaded, how many users can be supported, and what types of applications can be developed are all areas that need to be addressed.
  3. What skill sets are required? Many solutions now tout their potential for download and use without IT intervention. However, some level of technical expertise is often required, so it becomes important to understand what skill sets are needed.
  4. Is it possible to compare apples to apples? Sometimes organizations choose to download multiple solutions at once and compare each against the other. In some cases, this is the right way to proceed, but only when decision makers understand that each offering will differ and that direct comparison may not lend itself to a fair or realistic assessment.
  5. What are the takeaways lead to a final decision? After the trial period, organizations will need to make a decision based on whether the solution can address business challenges and meet the needs of individual users. The organization should develop the criteria for this in advance, and revisit it in final decision-making.

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