Business Intelligence Comes to the Masses

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Business intelligence (BI) and analytics solutions have been available for years now, and companies have learned to employ these tools for a variety of purposes, from simple report generation and delivery to more sophisticated data integration, executive dashboards, and data mining. They also recognize the need to get beyond spreadsheets, and to be able to provide more sophisticated, pervasive, and automated BI solutions to more end-user decision makers. However, most see their efforts stymied by the historically high cost of BI software and the complexity of available solutions.

These are the findings of a recent survey of 185 enterprises, conducted by Unisphere Research, a division of Information Today, Inc. The study reveals that while a mature technology, BI has not been as effective as it could be within enterprises. The survey, sponsored by Pentaho, finds that BI tools remain limited to specialists and analysts who spend their time sifting through data and preparing reports and who are still the luxury of organizations with larger budgets and staff for implementing and maintaining these solutions. As a result, many decision makers are still reduced to relying on manual, on-the-fly approaches to BI, such as loading data into spreadsheets.

Close to three out of four survey respondents cite issues that have hampered their BI efforts, led by poor data quality, the complexity of BI tools, lack of BI skill sets within organizations, and lack of management buy-in.

Nevertheless, companies intend to keep buying into BI, because they recognize that maintaining a competitive advantage means competing on analytics-being able to leverage data coming from within and outside the enterprise to identify opportunities and determine trends. Close to two out of three respondents, 63%, expect to increase the number of employees or end users that are accessing their BI environments.

Companies are actively seeking alternatives to costly BI solutions, including open source and high-volume license purchases. Almost one in five organizations says the only alternative they see is to limit the usage of BI solutions within their organizations. Companies are also investigating a range of alternatives to paying the fees associated with BI software licensing.

A new generation of BI solutions-available through the popular open source model-is emerging as an essential part of open source portfolios. Solutions on the market now offer the capabilities of robust BI products-including user configurability, back-end data integration, and data management-but with the open licensing and community and commercial vendor support seen with other open source solutions.

Already, 28% of respondents that are using open source have implemented open source BI solutions on their premises. (This is equivalent to 10% of the total survey sample.) In 2 years, more than a third of open source users will be deploying BI as part of their portfolios.

As has been the case with many other solutions and technologies, open source offers a viable alternative to organizations looking for BI on a tight budget. More than half of respondents have or plan to adopt open source solutions. Growth areas for open source include databases/data warehouses, BI, CRM and ERP systems, content management systems, financial systems, human resource systems, security systems, and ecommerce. Enterprises are comfortable with using open source for mission-critical applications, and they agree that open source BI tools are ready for enterprise use.

While there are challenges to open source adoption, respondents in this survey report a wide range of benefits that could potentially come out of their deployment. More than seven out of 10 companies that have implemented open source report that they are seeking lower total cost of ownership, while more than half cite the open standards that will enable greater interoperability between applications. Respondents also like the fact that such software offers greater flexibility and extensibility, as well as ease of use.