Nearly all companies can benefit frombusiness intelligence software, but not all companies have the budget for it.If you’re an SMB and things are tight, or you’re not totally sure you’re ready to take the plunge into spending on BI software, free and open source business intelligence software might be a good option for you.
A quick search might reveal an overabundance of free BI software… so much so that you might (rightfully) question the quality of available tools. Which ones are best for your business? And if not any of them, should you commit money to BI software solutions?
No worries: I’ve done the research for you.
Below you’ll find open source BI software and free BI software. I’ve evaluated the options based on functionality, popularity, and, in the case of open source, the size of developer communities. They are arranged alphabetically.
BIRT is an open source BI program that is “oftenseenas the industry standard.” This perception has a lot of truth to it, as BIRTboasts“over 12 million downloads and over 2.5M developers across 157 countries.” Their users include heavyweights like Cisco, S1, and IBM (who’s also a BIRT sponsor). They also have maturity going for them, as they’ve been around since the (second) Bush administration.
BIRT can create a range of reports, from textual documents to crosstabs to standard pie and bar graphs. Along with these BI basics, BIRT can also tackle slightly more advancedtasks, “such as grouping on sums, percentages of overall totals and more.” BIRT can also be embedded in a range of other applications, so it may integrate with business software you already use. BIRT is also great if you run an application that usesJava, as components like BIRT’s report engine and charting engine integrate easily with applications and programs that use Java.
Be aware, however, that you’ll need someone who knows code to be able to really work the program. If you’re left scratching your head at terms like “conditional formatting” or “scripted data sets,” you may be in over your head.
You’ll run into Jaspersoft pretty quickly if you search for open source BI tools, but it may be awhile before you encounter this fact: Jaspersoft was bought up by Tibco in April of 2014. How good is Jaspersoft? Good enough that Tibco spent $185 million to acquire them.
Jaspersoft Community is the company’s free offering. There are five editions of Community offered, the latest of which (added July 7, 2016) attests to the program’s ongoing development. You will have to join the Jaspersoft Community to be able to download the software, but that’s a step you’ll want to take anyways.
Jaspersoft’s websitestatesthat 94% of customers recommend their product, and 90% recommend their support. Though that fact’s from their website, you can’t argue with their impressive list of customers: everyone from Groupon to Time Warner Cable to the government of British Columbia and Vanderbilt University.
Like a lot of open source programs, Jaspersoft has a developer community, an online forum for people who use and, well, develop that open source code into a fuller program.
The upside to developer communities for any open source program is that you’ve got a potential support network, or at least people with similar concerns. The downside is that, since developer communities are populated by users, rather than paid customer service advisors, you take your chances when you look for help.
For example, on the Jaspersoft CommunityAnswerspage, you can post questions to the community of developers, at large, on an online forum. Whether you get an answer depends on whether another developer has the time, or interest, to offer a solution. As this article’s writing, the odds weren’t bad: 11 of the 20 questions on the first page had answers.
Pentaho’s another major player in the open source BI space.
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