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Why open source BI disappoints?

JY Pook, Vice President, Asia Pacific, Tableau Software | July 11, 2014
Unfortunately, the assumption that abandoning commercial business intelligence platforms for open source versions will somehow lead to lower costs and increased use of business intelligence is precisely that – an assumption.

For companies in Singapore and Asia Pacific, the sluggish, slow-recovering economy means a familiar dilemma. An organization's willingness to invest in new ways to innovate is often reined in by justification to raise a flat IT budget, even as the region's business intelligence (BI) market is expected to surpass US$1.6 billion by 2017[1].

In searching for ways to save money on enterprise business intelligence projects, IT departments may consider using open source software. The appeal is that no new software license costs are incurred. Unfortunately, the assumption that abandoning commercial business intelligence platforms for open source versions will somehow lead to lower costs and increased use of business intelligence is precisely that - an assumption.

1.      Major hurdles to business user adoption

Nothing about a software solution matters if no one uses it, regardless of how little it costs. It is not uncommon to hear of organizations having used open source business intelligence solutions only to realize that a very small number of business people adopt them.

One factor is that IT cannot possibly think of every report variation business users might want. Reality is messy; people change their minds within seconds, new needs pop up at random, and information changes constantly. Since open source approaches to BI are fundamentally developer-driven -- not user-driven -- when IT writes a report for end-users, it typically goes through several revisions to get it 'just right'.

The process is obviously cumbersome and stricken with delays. Both IT and business users would be better off if the latter could access simple user interfaces that let them ask their own questions without needing IT assistance.

Second is that dashboards and reports produced by open source business intelligence systems can be difficult for end-users to locate and navigate. If end users have to go through rigorous training before they can use a business intelligence tool, many may choose to drop it altogether, and make do with more accessible options like MS Excel or other spreadsheets.

2.      True Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is rarely recognized

Open source business intelligence software applications are intended to be programmed by specialists, so there are considerable development and implementation costs to installation and maintenance. Even if a company has staff programmers or developers, there are other opportunity costs - what is your IT talent doing other than spending most of their time churning out business intelligence reports?

It is a mistake to think that the total cost of a business intelligence solution is only in software licensing. When cash flow is a concern, it is critical to calculate TCO regardless of the initial capital outlay. Just because a vendor does not charge for licenses upfront does not mean there are no direct costs. In addition, indirect costs such as lost productivity and system downtime also make a significant difference in TCO, especially when calculated over the life of the application's use.

 

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