There's never been a question on the advantages of open source software. Crowdsourcing, vendor independence, ability to see and in some cases control the source code, and lower costs are just a few benefits of open source software (OSS) and business model. Linux and Apache Hadoop are prime examples of successful OSS projects. It's a different story, however, when it comes to OSS BI. For years, OSS BI vendors struggled with growth because of:


  • The developer-centric nature of open source projects. The target audience for open source projects is developers, which means deals are mostly sealed by technology management. The industry, on the other hand, has gravitated toward business decision-makers within organizations over the last several years. However, business users are less interested in the opportunities that a collaborative open source community offers, and more concerned about ease of use and quick setup. Indeed, Forrester's research constantly finds evidence correlating business ownership as one of the key success factors for effective BI initiatives.
  • Its focus on custom development. While the commercial versions of OSS BI offer complete platforms and solutions, the free community editions mostly provide components that can be leveraged in custom development projects. However, many popular commercial BI products now provide a plethora of intuitive plug-and-play, drag-and-drop, and point-and-click-based customizations, and therefore fewer and fewer clients find the need to custom develop BI code.
  • The unproven benefit of long-term total cost of ownership. While the community versions of OSS BI are free and the commercial versions' subscriptions are somewhat less expensive than commercial licenses (with maintenance, over a three-year period), the cost of BI software licenses or subscription is a tiny part in the long-term total cost of ownership of BI platforms and applications. The cost of professional services, plus other key BI components such as data integration, data governance, master data management (MDM) and data quality, data warehousing and integration with other enterprise applications like enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM), dwarves the cost of BI software licenses or subscriptions.
Confirming Forrester's cautious point of view on the OSS BI market (also confirmed by a recent survey finding that only 12% of global developers use open source BI), three major acquisitions took place in a rapid succession within the last nine months:
  • Tibco acquired Jaspersoft and rolled it into its Tibco Analytics offering.
  • OpenText acquired Actuate and intends to run it as a separate business unit.
  • Hitachi Data Systems' intent to acquire Pentaho opens up a variety of opportunities.
While Forrester feels that there's no immediate obvious vendor risk associated with the three acquired technologies, any technology mergers and acquisitions (M&A) carries certain risk (management reshuffling, key employees' departures, etc.) For those BI pros who may be getting queasy stomachs about the acquisitions, there are still a couple of OSS BI options left, such as:
  • SpagoBI — a BI software arm of professional services vendor Engineering Group.
  • BPM-Conseil Vanilla BI — the last fully independent open source BI project.
Please read Forrester's latest report report (co-authored by Martha Bennett) which takes a deeper dive into the above acquistions, plus provides actionable advice for BI pros considering or already using OSS BI