Open source BI is gaining popularity as more and more companies start using open source as opposed to commercial software for their businesses. Evaluating an open source product is different from evaluating a commercial product. Because there is no sales force for distribution, gaining comprehensive information on the business intelligence product requires a different approach. Assuming all other things are equal, open source BI shoppers should start by looking at the support forums associated with the community, the source code for the software, and the documentation and training options offered on the website.
The Support Forums
The support forums for any open source software project are one of the project’s greatest assets. By visiting the forums, a CIO can begin to assess whether or not that particular project with work for their company. Each community has its own personality and it is important to learn more about how welcoming the forums are, how capable the main contributors can be, and how active members are in the community.
The Source Code
The nature of the source code is also very important to look at. The source code holds the secrets to what the product is like and what its functionality is.
Documentation and Training
Most open source BI projects will have some kind of documentation that will help those who don’t read code understand how to use the product. Often there are also training options available, as well. If these documents are difficult to understand or if the training is not comprehensive enough, neither will be much use to any company using the open source software.
Once a company finds the open source BI program that they want to use, they have a variety of options on how to proceed with their new product. They can start by actively becoming a part of their community in order to garner good will, with the hope that they can eventually have some influence on the applications that are developed by the community. Although becoming involved is a good idea regardless of a company’s situation, some companies may need to customize the software with urgency. In these cases, the company can use one of their IT people to develop the applications internally. If the applications are developed internally, the company will then need to decide if they want to release the new code to the community or if they should keep it in house. The third option for companies new to open source BI is to hire an outside developer to customize their new open source BI software for them. This option will cut into the upside of avoiding commercial licensing fees, but can end up being a great decision in the end for the right company.
Shopping for open source BI can be a challenge for the CIO who has never dealt with an open source software project before, but it is a task worth taking on. Because the source code is public, the assessment a CIO makes can be more accurate than relying on hearsay or the advertising pitches that are part of shopping for commercial software. The result can be a great program that is constantly improving and offers support and community to its users without a large initial cost.