Business intelligence could be one of the most essential but little-known secrets that drives executive decisions in the marketplace.
The BI market is dominated by companies that sell their proprietary business analytics solutions. Few open source companies have countered with software to overtake the traditional vendor establishment.
However, open source does have its BI success stories. Jaspersoft, which markets an open source BI suite that has been deployed more than any other comparable set of software on the market, has a user community of more than 310,000 members, according to Jaspersoft CEO Brian Gentile.
Jaspersoft has succeeded in monetizing a commercial version marketed to enterprise customers. His foray into the BI market followed years of work at both Sun Microsystems and Apple, where he was Steve Jobs’ lead developer evangelist.
“Fortunately for us there is a growing and vital intersection of analytics and reporting, with the need to embed those capabilities into other software that is being built and developed,” Gentile told LinuxInsider. “Our open source model put us in a prime position to lead this market. It is an incredible BI market. Embedded BI is a submarket within BI, and is growing at a faster clip than the overall BI market.”
In this interview, LinuxInsider asks Gentile about the expanding role of embedded business intelligence in the enterprise, and the ability of open source products to outpace proprietary competitors.
LinuxInsider: What technology demands are required to play in this BI field?
Brian Gentile: It requires characteristics elements that are natural for modern architecture, Web-based design with everything presenting within a Web browser. It needs easy accessibility through comfortable APIs. Our open source roots provided the foundation for Jaspersoft to excel in this market.
LI: What specific problems or needs led you to develop the BI suite?
Gentile: The original problem was with the embedded BI problem. It was the result of a Java engineer in Bucharest, Romania who was building an application on contract. He needed to build from a porting into that application around 2001. He tried to use the old Crystal library toolset that was popular back then. He had some problem doing this.
The first problem was architectural. The old architecture of the Crystal toolset was built on some old languages. He was building a modern Java-based application, and he struggled with language compatibility. The second problem was price. It was far too costly to license that library.
LI: How did his solution lead to a business entity for Jaspersoft?
Gentile: So what he did instead was set out to build his own reporting library based on Java. He put that together and called it Jasper Reports, with the “J” standing for Java. He released that work as open source and allowed its use. It found a huge audience.
That was the origin of Jaspersoft. It came from this born-of-necessity embedded reporting. From that we have grown into a full-fledged embeddable BI reporting company, including a full suite of analytics.
LI: How competitive is this field for embedded BI reporting? Are their proprietary alternatives, for instance?
Gentile: You have to look at the three aspects of the marketplace. There is the open source market for BI. Then there is the embeddable BI market. The third is the overall BI market.
The smallest is the open source BI market because it only has a few players. There are only two or three companies that have a genuinely open source component. The embeddable BI market has more competitors. They include some companies who use open source and others who are strictly proprietary. But in total we are still talking about five or six worthwhile competitors in the embeddable BI space.
Of course, the overall BI space is big and loaded with competition. According to Gartner, this year it should be about a US$15 billion industry.
LI: In light of that, what makes open source so monetarily viable for Jaspersoft?
Gentile: The majority of the market is still held by aged proprietary vendors who still charge a lot for their software. The complexity level of that software is still very high. Therefore, the penetration rate is low. The companies that can afford both the cost and the complexity have used BI in some form. That is just not good enough. The entire BI market requires a disruptive force. And Jaspersoft has chosen to disrupt.
LI: Short of giving your product away for free, what short of disruption did you bring to the competition?
Gentile: We did this first in the form of open source technology successfully now for about eight years. Next is going to be through the cloud and partially with Big Data.
The real disruptive agent is the cloud. So the combination of our history with Jaspersoft’s open source heritage and our cloud prowess, we think, puts us in a remarkably powerful position for the next five years.
In the upcoming years, the aged proprietary vendors and the problems they solved become less and less common. The new problems can be solved with lighter weight, less expensive and much simpler BI tools that are either on-premises or in the cloud. That will become more and more prominent. So we like where we are as a disruptive force with cloud capability.
LI: In terms of analytics, how does embedded BI differ from standard BI practices?
Gentile: Embedded BI is a sub-category for sure. To have a great embedded BI tool, you have to be able to have functionality similar to traditional offerings. That is, robust reporting, self-service capabilities, great visualization, the ability to provide ad hoc tools and multidimensional analytic tools. You have all of these foundational BI features that you need.
Then you also have to have a host of developer-oriented features and capabilities that are very uncommon. These would be things like accessible APIs that are well structured and well documented that are available through different programmatic techniques. The rest is architectural. Developers care a lot about architecture.
LI: How did you achieve that level of specialization and still make it customizable — and still turn a profit?
Gentile: We’ve taken a lot of care as we built our modern BI platform. We separated layers in our architecture that are simple and built on open standards. Developers can more commonly interact with those and modify them. If you are going to be building our BI tool into your software, you are going to want to modify and customize it. So we stratified the architecture into several layers.
LI: How did that development strategy innovate to your customers’ advantage?
LI: What kind of specific business intelligence do vendors get from using embedded BI tools? Where do you draw the line between useful marketing with user information and overstepping tracking?
Gentile: The quick response is information is power. Today we are awash in data. But just having that data does not make it usable. So with BI the right reporting and analytics tool can create structure from data.
There is a key person in this formula that we refer to as the BI Builder. This person understands the business as well as the technology, and can help structure the information into analytic view and reports. These are things that are actionable for a business user to interact with and be able to make better decisions.
LI: What if the ability to make better decisions for the vendor comes from taking advantage of the consumer or user of the software hosting the embedded BI product?
Gentile: In a sense BI is all about turning information into a powerful insight. Truthfully, that could be used for good or bad. That is not up to us to decide. Generally, it should lead to democratization of data — information — so that any one in the organization should have access to the data, and be able to self serve, and get the views of the information in a way that enables them to make proper decisions.
The cost and complexity problem with the old BI tools is that it prevented everyone from getting the information. That is a big problem we have been working to overcome by using our open source heritage and low cost model.
LI: Given your experience with Sun and Apple, how do those companies view or approach open source software?
Gentile: Those two companies handled open source very differently. Sun has been a consumer of open source and a great creator of it over the years. Prior to Sun’s acquisition by Oracle, Sun was one of the most outspoken advocates and users of open source across the board. Sun was very much a part of the open source community in a big big way.
Apple, on the other hand, is a big consumer of open source. Apple uses it heavily just like Google does. But Apple does not participate or actively give back to the community. If you think about it, that is really pretty consistent with their personality. That is just the way they are as a company. One model is not better than the other, by the way. The whole world is driven by open source software now.
LI: What, if anything, needs to be done to improve or advance the open source model?
Gentile: There are far too many open source license types today. Those are far too confusing. We need to take away some of the mystique and the mystery surrounding open source licensing. That would be number one.
Number two would be more agreement on standards of technology. We need to standardize on more things. That is a good thing that would help to advance the software.
The third improvement is to give customers a better understanding of that license spectrum. That would directly benefit the consumer regarding the use of free software vs. open source software vs. commercial open source software.