Adoption levels of business intelligence (BI) solutions are on the rise, says the recent Forrester Wave: Open Source Business Intelligence Q3. BI is becoming increasingly important for several keys reasons - an ever-expanding volume of customer data, increased complexity in business operations, more stringent regulatory reporting requirements, and an increased need for competitive differentiation. More than ever, you need to "know" your customer. But what do you do if your business doesn't have the resources needed to purchase the expensive BI solutions provided by companies like IBM, Oracle, and Microsoft?
"Management has caught on to the fact that developers increasingly use open source to run key parts of their IT (information technology) infrastructure," write Boris Evelson and Jeffrey S. Hammond, authors of the report. "And management has grown increasingly comfortable with it."
Open source BI offers quite a few advantages over commercial BI. Users of open source BI applications benefit from flexible support sourcing, extensive integration options, improved staff engagement, and, of course, lower initial capital costs.
So what should your business look for if/when you decide to invest in open source BI software? Forrester Research evaluated seven vendors in this year's report against 157 criteria. The criteria were grouped into three high-level buckets:
- Current offering: Forrester evaluated each offering against four groups of criteria: architecture, development environment, and functional and operational capabilities;
- Strategy: Each vendor's strategy was assessed, including how well each vendor's plans for product enhancement position it to meet future customer demands; and
- Market presence: To establish market presence, Forrester combined information about each vendor's financial performance, installed customer base, and number of employees.
Forrester acknowledges that comparing open source BI products is difficult, as each offering in the free community version provides different functionality, and also because some tools offer full BI suites, while others offer only reporting and analytics.
"By rolling up the scores to high-level aggregates, providing customizable weights to each evaluation criteria, and drawing a clear distinction between community and commercial editions," Evelson and Hammond write, "we have achieved as close to an apples-to-apples comparison as possible."
The seven vendors analyzed in the report were divided into three categories: Leaders, Strong Performers, and Contenders. The results are as follows:
Actuate BIRT is the only vendors listed in the Wave's leader category. Evelson and Hammond write that the lack of leadership in this category is "a testament to the fact that open source BI is still an evolving market, with multiple opportunities for existing vendors to grow and newcomers to take advantage of existing functionality gaps and opportunities."
The reason for Actuate's success is that its reports can be used for mass distribution and for highly complex applications like interactive online customer statements. But, the report explains, users of Actuate will have to rely on other vendors for broader BI capabilities such as ETL, data quality, or advanced analytics.
Vendors in the Strong Performers category are said to offer real competition to commercial, closed source BI suites, the report says. "While Forrester rarely sees Jaspersoft Enterprise, Pentaho (both editions), and SpagoBI in competitive situations against each other," write Evelson and Hammond, "we do find them competing with and sometimes replacing more expensive and more complex closed source BI platforms and suites."
Eclipse and Jaspersoft Community are not yet ready to compete with major commercial vendors on a feature-per-feature comparison, says the report. But these two community solutions meet the needs of individual project teams and BI initiatives.
"Sometimes basic functionality is enough," the authors write, "and in this case, the price is certainly right."
The direction of the open source BI market is still unclear, Evelson says. He sees two options for the industry: 1) A continued path of increased adoption or 2) A slew of acquisitions in which these small companies get swallowed up by information technology giants.
"The demand for open source BI tools will continue to increase," Evelson says. "[But] these companies are tiny so there is a bit of risk dealing with them because they may not survive in the long term."