September 2009

The editorial theme for the September issue of the OSBR is business intelligence (BI). The authors in this issue provide an overview of the importance of BI, the tools which are available, and the role that open source is playing in this increasingly important field.

Sam Selim, Founder and Chief Technology Officer of SQL Power Group, discusses how companies can reduce their costs and dependency on proprietary BI tools by adopting an open source BI model.

John Kemp, a Principal Consultant, and Benjamin Dietz, a BI Consultant, provide a primer on BI, introducing the terms and concepts used throughout the issue.

David Currie, founder of Clearview Informatics, examines the keys to success that allow an organization to extract maximum value from an investment in BI software.

John Kemp takes a look at how buying patterns have changed and what it means for businesses looking at open source BI software.

Steve Holub, a BI Consultant, reports on a recent survey of open source software tools used in BI and data warehousing systems.

Benjamin Dietz and Lily Singh of SQL Power Group compare the features of four popular open source reporting solutions.

Thierry Badard, CTO of Spatialytics, highlights the need for geospatial BI software and the integration of the spatial component in a BI software stack in order to consistently enable geo-analytical tools.

Tom Bondur, Content Development Manager in the Developer Communications group of Actuate Engineering, and Jason Weathersby, the BIRT Evangelist at Actuate Corporation, introduce BIRT and discuss why Actuate chose the open source development model and the benefits that this project brings to the BI user community.

Victoria Eastwood, former VP of Engineering at Infobright, provides an overview of some of the lessons learned from the 2008 launch of Infobright's open source BI product.

Sam Selim answers the question "What will Oracle do with Sun’s open source offerings?".

As always, we encourage readers to share articles of interest with their colleagues, and to provide their comments either online or directly to the authors. We hope you enjoy this issue of the OSBR.

The editorial theme for the upcoming October issue of the OSBR is "arts and media" and the guest editor will be Anthony Whitehead from Carleton University.

Dru Lavigne



For the past decade, traditional proprietary tools from Cognos, Business Objects, Microstrategy, Hyperion, Oracle and Informatica have dominated BI environments throughout North America and Europe. The larger the customer it seemed, the bigger their appetite for spending money on proprietary BI tools. BI vendors have made billions selling software to larger clients throughout North America, much of it in the form of multi-million dollar site licenses. Large customers continue to pay huge perpetual annual maintenance fees, usually 20+ % of the initial license cost. Costs for additional users and new features requiring additional license fees can quickly add up to 40% - 50% of the annual BI budget. This has caused many organizations to scrutinize and question the value of their ongoing BI software expenditures.

In these challenging financial times, cost conscience CIOs and Directors around the world are looking for ways to reduce the ongoing costs of administering their BI program, and a large number of them are turning to open source BI tools. Table 1 summarizes some of the differences between proprietary and open source BI tools:

Table 1: Proprietary vs. Open Source BI Tools


When compared to proprietary BI solutions, open source alternatives offer significant advantages:

Free end-user deployment: proprietary BI software licenses are typically per-user, thus penalizing organizations for their BI success and for wide end-user adoption. Most open source BI tools offer server-based subscriptions that offer unlimited end-user deployments at no additional cost.

Higher quality code: unlike closed source proprietary BI software, open source software is generally more modular, with its code reviewed, critiqued and enhanced by a potentially larger number of code contributors.

Low risk: everyone has access to the source code and developers around the world are able to extend or fork it should the project sponsor go bankrupt or decide to pursue another agenda.

Logical product evolution: open source communities tend to evolve the product based on real life needs and worldwide market demands rather than on finances, sales targets or a marketing agenda.

Product stability: there has been a huge consolidation in the proprietary BI software market over the past few years, so the company you purchased your BI tool from may not be the same company that is now providing you with support and product enhancements.

Wide adoption of open source BI tools: open source BI tools have evolved significantly over the past four years, and now serve to offer a complete low cost alternative to traditional proprietary BI tools. The maturity of these tools, along with the need to reduce annual BI software budgets, is causing hundreds of organizations throughout North America and Europe to start launching proof-of-concepts and adopting them for new departmental projects.

The above arguments for reducing the dependency on proprietary BI tools are gaining worldwide acceptance among CIOs and Directors. Recent examples include the adoption of open source BI Tools at the Bank of America, Motorola, Expedia, the US Air Force and Google. Organizations that are open to using open source BI tools can save close to 50% of their annual BI budget. They can utilize these funds to hire new resources, deliver more BI functionality, or bolster their company’s bottom line. This growing adoption of open source BI tools has already taken a bite out of proprietary BI tools vendors' profits and market share. We expect this trend to continue over the next five years, further eroding the popularity of traditional BI tools and the market share of its vendors. The maturity of open source BI tools has also changed the financial landscape of the BI industry. No longer are organizations willing to spend large amounts of money up-front on BI. Instead, most BI program managers are more comfortable with a pay-as-you-play model, usually in the form of annual subscriptions or other forms of software support, from open source vendors. These annual subscriptions are usually in-line with the 20% annual maintenance that proprietary software vendors charge, but without the up-front license fees. Additionally, organizations are freed to switch tools or use multiple tools without incurring any major software investment.

The authors in this issue of the OSBR examine the various open source alternatives to proprietary BI tools, offer in-depth comparisons of the leading open source BI offerings, and provide thoughts on how to assess and select BI solutions.

Sam Selim

Guest Editor


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