Open Source in Business Intelligence

By CIOReview | Friday, May 19, 2017

‘Open source’ has been the buzzword in almost all aspects concerning enterprises, ranging from operating systems to storage. It has spread its tentacles to include even business intelligence and analytics, which is testified the popularity of Hadoop and Spark. The expansion pace of the open source market raises a very basic question on the future of proprietary software for analytics—such as those of Oracle, IBM or even Microsoft—whether or not it would survive the competition wagered by open source offerings. This calls for a comprehensive analysis of the advantages and disadvantages associated with the open source and close source product categories.

Advantages of Open Source Analytics Software

Most advantages associated with the open source product category, generally hold good for analytics, as well. The ease of downloading, absence of licensing or even the scope for customizing source code to suit the needs of enterprise, apply for the analytics product domain too. The absence of license costs simplifies the task of building prototypes and testing with minimum investment.

Like other domains, Open source Business Intelligence (OSBI) too has a developer community that is constantly working towards innovating and improving the products. Organizations can leverage the frequently enhanced features offered by the community, to their benefit. The advantages get accentuated further by the inclusive and integrated business intelligence stack featuring the Extract, Transform and Load (ETL), dynamic dashboards for predictive analytics, besides the data mining software. On the contrary, commercial products tend to be specialized in a subset of tools required for analytics. The dynamic discussion forum of open source analytics software doubles up as a customer support platform for the enterprises.

Motivation for Open Source Analytics

The absence of intellectual property rights tends to reduce the total cost of ownership, which is a huge draw for open source products. Further, companies having a robust programmer team that can alter the code to suit their requirements, find it easier to customize the product. The absence of a strong developer team to manipulate the raw source code could potentially manifest itself as a disadvantage for the companies.

Disadvantages of Open Source Analytics Software

While there are several advantages of using open source analytics software, there are certain factors that tend to pose a problem. Most conspicuous among them is the lack of availability of support documentation. Even if available, the documents tend to be mostly technical in nature, which is a challenge for non technical users like business analysts to follow. Also, the user interface for some of the OSBI software tends to be very basic, which can impact the user experience negatively. Close source products tend to win in this aspect, as vendors take all care to ensure a good user experience.

Also, users’ demands are not always on the focus of the open source community, while improving the existing features or implementing new ones. This may result in companies without a dedicated team of programmers waiting longer to have a desired functionality, which is bound to affect the business workflow. Further, compatibility issues between the software and the database system or any other data source, could cripple the functioning in totality. Companies could end up losing opportunities due to the lack of advanced functionalities, which deals a huge blow to the revenue.

Lastly, there is also the question of legal liability. In the case of licensed commercial software, the licensors are answerable to the legal complications that may arise, unlike in open source where the user is held liable.


Selecting an appropriate business intelligence solution requires thorough brainstorming over whether the project has been budgeted for customization of an open source product or for the purchase of licenses of commercial products that come with a high cost of licenses. These are usually determined by the project goals. OSBI is not exactly free; the costs are indirect. Companies having the technical calibre and resources to carry out customization could leverage open source to enjoy the reduced cost of ownership. Other organizations could move forward with licensed products that guarantee advanced functionalities customized to their requirements, besides good technical support.