Open Source Vs. Commercial BI Software

By CIOReview | Thursday, March 9, 2017
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Business Intelligence (BI) software is empowering businesses through numerous features such as spreadsheets, reporting and querying, data mining and cleansing. While many of these functionalities can be separately offered as stand-alone applications, solution providers have developed numerous tools that render these programs as a single software suite. Though the journey of BI has been a traversal from commercialized product to open source BI software, vendees should ponder over the advantages, disadvantages, and alignment of the BI software with their business goals. The comparison in terms of customization, regular updates, license cost, and scope of operability would be beneficial for the buyers while zeroing in on the most apt solution.

Comparing Commercial Products against Open Source Software

As commercial BI solutions empower the users to overcome limitations of Excel-based analytics with ease, they have become a preferred choice for many organizations. The commercial products also offer an extensive list of services and tools to execute conventional tasks efficiently. BI products enable businesses to scale up the operations through data processing capability, analytical power, and mobility. Also, the commercial tools liberate the organization from applying coding tools and practices to develop or upgrade an application that would suit the existing workflows and using third party tools for distinct business functions. Though the license or purchase cost of these products is always more than open source BI software; well defined support and maintenance are the perks offered by the commercial tools, unlike open source. A general business user can easily start utilizing the functionalities of the commercial product without tracing a long learning curve.

Open source BI software score over the commercial platforms as they allow enhancements in the default functionalities and utilities. Developers can dive into built code to explore the shortcoming in the functionality of the tools and bridge the performance gap. Open source tools allow additional developments as part of feature extension, but for a company without programming expertise, dabbling in open source would be a costlier endeavor as the need for hiring coding talent could be inevitable. Enterprises can approach forums dedicated to open source development for guidance and help, but allocation of sufficient funds for enhancing the feature and functionality becomes imperative.

The cost of open source tools escalates as customized development becomes part of the product journey. Open source commercial software won’t remain a cost-effective option with the passage of time as maintenance cost increase and in the long run. Commercial BI tools trump the open source commercial and proprietary commercial tools. An army of developers controls and supports commercial offerings, and refines their features continuously. Their continual support is crucial in big fixes, version control, and in-time query resolution. Scope of operation plays a decider in the selection of BI tools and historically, commercial tools are well-positioned for catering to the needs of the large businesses. The offerings perform end-to-end BI processes and are not task specific unlike open source tools which lack essential wherewithal to cope with the scale of operations and resolve the range of business problems. However, commercial offerings limit the monumental changes in the existing software and do not allow changes in product framework.

In summary, while zeroing in on BI tool, companies should ponder not only over the scope of operation, cost of ownership, and features but also their readiness to leverage the software. In-house programming talent and budgetary constraints are also the key parameters in decision making process. The IT leadership must examine the alignment of the software product with their business goals.