Will Developers Help Drive Open Source Business Intelligence?

Ann All

Updated · Nov 08, 2010

Actuate, sponsor of the open source business intelligence project BIRT and a provider of commercial BI software based on BIRT, last week announced the project has surpassed 10 million downloads.

An item on PC World dashes a little cold water on that number with a quote from Forrester Research analyst Boris Nevelson, who said the number isn’t meaningful unless it results in an increase in paid subscriptions for Actuate. The company reported BIRT-related revenues of about $5.1 million for the third quarter, up about 8 percent from Q3 2009.

Jaspersoft, another open source business intelligence provider that offers both free and paid versions of its software, said it passed the 10 millionth download mark earlier this year. As Mike Vizard wrote on IT Business Edge, even Jaspersoft doesn’t know how much of that software is being used, but it believes there are about 150,000 commercial production deployments of its software. Some 11,000 entities have purchased something from Jaspersoft, ranging from basic documentation to full support.

Evelson told PC World that concerns over vendor viability may keep some companies from making significant investments in open source BI. He said:

One of the reasons the open-source BI really hasn’t taken off to the next level is that all the companies are relatively small. Clients are concerned about what’s going to happen to them.

Open source has a strong reputation in the developer community, which is probably why open source BI providers like Actuate, Jaspersoft and Pentaho are staking their futures on communities of developers who embed their software into applications.  In a post on Network World, Alan Shimel writes about how his former company StillSecure embedded BIRT reporting capabilities into its security software and says  “the vibrant community gathered around it” is BIRT’s real strength.

It’s not a bad strategy. David Menninger, VP and research director for Ventana Research, makes the case that embedding BI in common productivity tools and applications is the only way it will ever achieve widespread adoption. He writes:

For truly widespread adoption, BI needs to be packaged and delivered to business users in bite-size, pleasing morsels that are easy to swallow. Or using a different analogy, you might even say “invisible” – users shouldn’t think they are using BI. They should think they are just doing their job – whether that is managing payables and receivables, sales pipelines, new product research, workforce management or any other performance-related activity.

Thanks to Apple’s success with its App Store, many companies are trying to create development ecosystems around their products. But open source had development communities before development communities were cool. Will providers of open source BI benefit from their roots and longstanding experience? Developers don’t typically make IT purchasing decisions, but they can certainly influence them. 

At least one vendor, Pentaho, thinks interest in data management framework Hadoop will also drive increased interest in open source BI.

Ann All
Ann All

Public relations, digital marketing, journalism, copywriting. I have done it all so I am able to communicate any information in a professional manner. Recent work includes creating compelling digital content, and applying SEO strategies to increase website performance. I am a skilled copy editor who can manage budgets and people.

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