Open-Source BI Development in 2022: Pros and Cons
The Wild West of Open Source Business Intelligence
Long gone are the days when the market of business intelligence was at the mercy of proprietary BI tools. In 2022, top-flying companies and startups opt for open source business intelligence to supercharge their business resilience.
According to the statistics, the popularity of public BI owes its rise to Fortune 500 companies. 99% of top-grossing businesses employ open source software. The warm support of the tech community spearheads the adoption as well. Github lists over 140 million open source projects, while 80% of IT departments ramped up their open source initiatives in 2021.
The increased adoption rate can also be attributed to a raft of benefits that open source BI tools deliver. Agility, affordable costs, and personalization add to its favorable image. However, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns for non-proprietary software. Just like any technology, it has some potential risks that we’ll introduce to you in this post. Also, if you doubt the adoption of open source, we’ll list the optimal use cases for a shareable codebase.
Three pillars of open-source BI tools
Although non-proprietary software has made significant inroads into enterprise systems, it’s still wrapped in myths. Below, we outlined the main differentiators of open-source BI solutions or OSBI, that separate it from traditional, closed products.
An avid developer community makes business intelligence open source
Transparent BI software is backed by a large community of enthusiasts. These communities don’t have a corporate hierarchy and allow each developer to make their contribution to the open source code. Contributions may include custom extensions, security patches, and others.
Open source BI tools are free. But not completely
Unlike commercial products, public business intelligence software doesn’t charge any license fees to access its core functionality. However, these tools may still bill an additional amount for other add-ons or lack some functionality. That’s why Apache Superset has drill-down limitations in data visualization tools.
OSBI is not synonymous with free commercial products
Some popular business intelligence companies roll out a free version of their canned BI software. However, a license-free model or a trial period does not make these freebies open-source. Users face different kinds of constraints in free versions of commercial software, for example, Tableau Public.
The bright side of open-source business intelligence
Non-proprietary solutions are treasured by thousands of companies and tech-savvy individuals. Just like for-sale products, public business intelligence guides its users into taming huge datasets and generating critical insights.
Here is a breakdown of other unique benefits open source BI software has in store.
No license fees
Open source business intelligence platforms require little to no upfront investment since they are accessible with no licensing. In most cases, OSBI products offer the core modules at no cost, while additional features can be unlocked for an affordable fee. For example, you can get an infinite number of reports and dashboards, yet your data storage and data connectors will be limited.
If you already have an in-house team of developers, they can build the needed functionality on top of core modules with no additional costs. In any case, open-source software doesn’t incur the overheads of commercial licensing and offers an affordable takeoff for small and medium businesses.
A dedicated community
According to StackOverflow, open source solutions often topple or are on par with closed source software in terms of quality. The high quality of open source software is courtesy of a large developer community that is collectively working to enhance the solution.
A strong and mature community, in turn, translates into a number of other benefits, including:
- Faster response to market trends;
- Faster bug resolution;
- More consistent release cycles, which equal regular updates;
- Better reaction to security issues;
- The diversity of ideas with no bias or lopsided vision.
For companies, it means that it’s not that difficult to find experienced developers. In some cases, enthusiasts can even chip in with a free custom feature for your unique case.
No vendor lock-in
Statistics show that 62% of companies use open source software to avoid vendor lock-in. Open source BI allows businesses to use an optimum set of tools to fit their unique footprint with no price hikes. Most importantly, you don’t need to pay for a package solution from the vendor. Instead, you can get the best of the platform and combine it with the tech stack your company uses.
Instead of being shackled by one technology, you can test your options and decide on the most optimum one. It also means that you can keep pace with the new transformational trends without costly migration or switchover.
Freedom of choice
Non-proprietary systems put you in a favorable position to hand-pick each component of your BI solution. While many commercial BI products focus on specific fortes, such as ETL pipelines or interactive dashboards, open sources tend to excel as a solid, full-fledged BI solution. This is a direct result of strong community support and a regular rhythm of new features and updates.
Thus, your developer team can take out each system component and enhance it or combine it with other functionality. For example, at *instinctools, we use data integration studio and Apache Airflow to set up a custom-built ETL pipeline. At the visualization stage, our BI engineers manipulate visualization components with hand-coded libraries such as D3.js to add funnels, pivot tables, and other custom representations or open source BI tools like Redash or Metabase.
All the benefits mentioned above naturally flow into the power of customization. As developers have access to the core code, they can make changes on demand to better suit their needs. Unlike a closed system that locks users in, open-source allows them to adapt and modify the code to meet a particular need or application.
Therefore, coders can tweak and twist open source software for a unique fit — be it functionality or design — to make it a natural part of any type of operating system for any application.
More flexible integration options
The adaptability of open-source tools allows for integration tolerance to support personal data processing needs. It means that you can seamlessly embed the OSBI solution into your enterprise system, even if it doesn’t consist of open-source components, with no disruption or system changes. Thus, if the rest of your business ecosystem is open source (CRM, CMS, ERPs, etc), you are free to plug them into your open source BI tool to create a blended single platform of data excellence.
Proprietary software, on the contrary, tends to cover a specific set of integrations that may limit your business intelligence. Power BI, for example, sits within the Microsoft ecosystem and integrates naturally within Microsoft products, including Excel, Azure, Access, and others.
Timely and quality support is a must for any business intelligence software, be it commercial or free. However, OSBI tools add a bit more confidence to the business owners if the latter faces an issue or needs a quick walk around.
Issues are resolved even faster when you have skilled developers at your service.
The secrecy of your code doesn’t guarantee its security. Instead, making the backend available for the public exposes it to a thousand vigilant eyes. As a result, community involvement accounts for responsible vulnerability disclosures that would take longer to detect if the code was closed.
Moreover, open-source BI software gets faster patches and updates when a severe vulnerability is detected. On average, it may take a couple of days until the vulnerability is eliminated. Open source also fares better for compliance and internal security policies since it’s fully customizable for any regulation.
The dark side of open source BI
Open-source business intelligence may still come at a cost. Below, you’ll find the main downsides of such projects.
Requires experienced developer talent
Ready-to-go technology doesn’t free you from the skill investment. To make the most of open-source business intelligence, you need trained developers who can find their way around it and make it work for your benefit. Adjusting the system to your business framework and maintaining it is also knowledge-intensive and mandates an experienced developer pod.
If you’re looking for a vetted team of developers that can keep your system up and running, *instinctools provides open-source BI services for companies of all sizes. Drop us a line to get a ready-to-go team of BI experts.
Total cost of ownership can be higher than you expected
Until your BI platform is bug-free and fault-tolerant, it doesn’t need any effort from your side. But once you’re facing an issue, your company is left on its own to resolve it. Therefore, while being free, open BI may still require investment to adjust the infrastructure or eliminate a bug. Introducing extensions is also on your payroll.
Basic and hard-to-use interfaces
Finally, public software is purpose-driven. While it isn’t a bad thing, the user experience of open solutions may not keep up with its functionality. Open source business intelligence doesn’t have a team of UX/UI experts to polish its look. Instead, each community member contributes to the software, which makes it a patchwork, rather than a singularity.
To improve user experience, businesses can add new design elements or other strategies. However, these modifications will incur additional costs.
This is how we handled an open-source BI project for one of our clients
For over 20+ years, our team at *instinctools has been helping global businesses introduce custom digital solutions that target their unique needs. Open source BI software is what adds an extra individual touch to our business intelligence services and allows our engineers to sculpt a unique business intelligence infrastructure.
One of our clients, an agency of the federal government, was looking to build a custom business intelligence infrastructure. However, a Qlik-based solution, which had been initially offered, didn’t meet both the technical and budget requirements. A ready-made analytics platform required significant upfront investment and an in-house IT department to manage the solution. Moreover, a commercial solution didn’t cover the user’s needs and experience at a given destination.
To eliminate these challenges, our BI engineers suggested a get-started BI infrastructure that covers the individual needs of our client. Our team came up with the following plan to accommodate the data needs of this client:
- Postgres — as an open-source data storage;
- ClickHouse — as an open-source data storage system for large data analysis;
- Apache Airflow — for building a robust ETL pipeline and orchestrating the ETL workflow;
- Python — as a core data processing technology for an ETL pipeline;
- Redash — as the main data analysis and visualization tool for in-house data scientists;
- A custom-made application that generates reports for other user groups.
The open-source component in this custom BI setup helps our client to manage and maintain the solution with no additional effort. It also means that our client can easily find a team of engineers to support the infrastructure.
Who benefits from open-source BI the most?
Although open data intelligence solutions seem like a go-to option for all verticals, some industries and user groups will reap more benefits from integrating them into their ecosystem.
SME and start-ups
Virtually any small business is looking to avoid financial drains to optimize its sales revenue. Public BI software helps SMEs and startups get value for money and is easy on their budgets. As small businesses usually have limited in-house tech support, community support of OSBI is also the wisest approach to troubleshooting.
Software consulting companies are among the regular users of BI open source. The latter allows companies to speed up development for their clients. As consulting agencies also have experienced developers on-site, they can easily adapt the solution to individual requirements.
Companies operating on legacy software
For some organizations, the hassle of software migration isn’t worth the trouble as they are more focused on their business than on the tech components. Typically, it’s the government or finance verticals that rely on a tried-and-true infrastructure. Thus, no matter how edgy the solution is, it won’t bring them any ROI or business value.
Open-source analytics tools, on the contrary, will still help them adapt to the new reality with no switchover or much budget allocation.
Organizations that seek automation and connectivity
Companies that may benefit the most include those using Internet-of-Things-connected devices, autonomous vehicles, and consumer products as well as retail, manufacturing, and industrial applications. Overall, any industry that needs a consistent and 360° data view can easily integrate the OSBI into the existing infrastructure.
Summing up, public BI can benefit anyone who has specific data needs but lacks either time or money to build a full-fledged platform.
Your shortcut to data supremacy
Staying on top of your data is a mandate in 2022 to make informed business decisions. But despite a widespread opinion, business intelligence doesn’t have to be a pricey undertaking. Public BI platforms enable companies to drive data efficiency without large investments or huge technical dedication.
Being a go-to option for SMEs and startups, open-source BI solutions can both invite data consciousness at the early stages of a BI journey or become a highly customizable business asset for existing infrastructure.
Originally published on instinctools.com