Saturday, November 8, 2008

Tremendous Commerical Open Source BI Advantages

From time to time, I'll get the following question from individuals whom are not quite familiar with Open Source BI Software or the Commercial Open Source business model. Sometimes they can be resistant or unaware of its many advantages and benefits such as:

* No Software Licensing Fees
* Lower TCO
* Higher ROI
* A better cost structure investment of its revenue
* A less risky alternative
* The same functionality when compared to most proprietray offerings
* Community contributions (reviewed, certified and controlled of course)
* Real world tested, instead of Black Box tested
* Rapid fix delivery
* Released early and often
* Excellent customer support from those who know it best which includes the engineers who designed it

Overcoming someone’s resistance to open source in your organization means that you probably need to educate them, given that they use open source every day without thinking about it. It’s in everything from cars to cell phones, as well as almost all the commercial BI tools shipping today. More likely, they are resistant because they (a) are threatened in some way by the change you propose, (b) face organizational obstacles like educating the legal department about licenses or (c) face political consequences you aren’t aware of. It’s often their personal situation that is the biggest factor, given that most objections are easily refuted as myths. Check this link out for more information about demystifying Open Source BI.


What are some other advantages of an Commercial Open Source BI solution over a proprietary one?

As I usually do, I will explain it from my company's perspective. This response is aside from the fact that Commercial Open Source BI solutions, such as Pentaho Open Source Business Intelligence, can provide a very compelling BI solution matching the likes of proprietary BI without having to pay expensive software license fees. Commercial Open Source companies such as Pentaho provide the expert services to help you meet your objectives.

Legacy System Integration

Almost every BI solution requires some kind of interfacing with legacy systems. Pentaho has specifically designed its BI Platform to be integrated into existing environments. It makes no difference if we are interfacing with 20 year old ERP systems or 10 year old BI applications. Obviously, it is not possible to account for every situation in advance and that is where having access to the source code is a tremendous advantage. In most cases, the integration can be done by writing a plug-in using a few dozen lines of code. Many engagements in the proprietary world have some sort of implementation where you have to create a batch process or have someone manually run a report from a legacy system, save it to a file system, parse it and load it into the BI tool because there is some incompatibility that needed to be overcome externally to the software.

User Feedback

Another tremendous advantage with Open Source BI in general is the speed at which we get user feedback. By allowing users to participate in the development process, and releasing "early and often" we get critical feedback very early in the process. With a proprietary model, there is a deliberate structure to isolate developers from end users. Product Management talks to the users about requirements, support talks to users about problems, this information filters down to the developers in the form of bug reports and requirements. Changes get scheduled for a release, code gets written over a period of time until all the changes are in, the release is made, maybe a beta program happens but by the time an end user gets to try it out, it may be 6 months or more down the road. If there are design defects with a feature, they may not get addressed until the next release. With commercial open source, as changes go in, interested users have the option to try it out in the latest nightly build and provide instant feedback in a forum that the developer has direct access.

Just a couple more of those "little" Commercial Open Source BI advantages.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Business Intelligence - A Bigger Picture

Recently, some "anonymous" poster left an angry toned comment on one of my blog entries. The entry I am speaking of was about how Business Intelligence is actually in the heads of people and not the software. It also discussed a topic around standard and non-standard software skill sets that can be involved as part of a Business Intelligence implementation. You can read the entry here and see the comment and my response if you are interested.

My curiosity got the best of me. By looking at my blog stats, I noticed that the date of the comment and the specific hit on my blog came from the Ottawa Canada area. I also noticed that the same stat showed a specific search on my name which provided a hit to that entry. I could only assume that the comment was from an employee who worked at Cognos. You can make of it what you wish. Everyone is entitled to their opinions. However, if you are going to make a negative statement or opinion, please think twice before trying to discredit someone. It will only make you look ignorant. I guess that is why it was an anonymous post, huh? Open Source companies including Pentaho, are really making themselves known and disrupting proprietary markets as you know them today. I can understand that other proprietary software employees, who have not thought things through, could be agitated and ready to post negative comments.

One of the things that caught my attention in the comment was that he/she stated a particular software package, Axiant, that I mentioned "was not part of the IBM / Cognos BI Platform". (Keep in mind that I never said it was, nor implied that specifically) He/she continued that it was outdated and not actively sold. I found that humorous because that comment only further supported my argument instead of discrediting me, which seem to be the motive of the comment.

This blog entry is not about Axiant or what is or isn't part of a BI Platform; it is about how Business Intelligence is part of a bigger picture and not just a particular software package. BI in general involves many different factors in order to be successful no matter what software or skill set is being used. It requires the knowledge and expertise of the individuals who know it best. This includes the customer knowing what problems they have or want to prevent, as well as the software vendor and/or consultants who know how to provide solutions for those problems.

Analogy 1: Imagine you want to hang a picture. You have some screws but no tools. You go to the hardware store and say, "I need a hammer", because you think that is the proper tool to get the job done. The proper response would be for the salesperson to ask you, "What do you need the hammer for?" or "What project will the hammer help you with?". When he finds out that you want to hang a picture and all you have are screws, the salesperson may suggest a screwdriver instead of the hammer or perhaps give you nails and a hammer. Even better yet, he may offer something that is even easier to use or costs less like those new gravity hooks. You see, the salesperson needs to ask the proper questions to help the customer with the proper solutions. He may even offer a better solution to which the customer had no idea about. The salesperson was the expert who provided the knowledge for the proper solution or alternative.

BI not only involves helping the customer with existing problems but also involves helping them to see problems that they many not know exist.

Analogy 2: Imagine having a piece of food on your lip and not knowing it. Your friend says, "Hey, you got something on your lip!", and points it out to you. You then take the appropriate action to resolve that problem by wiping it away with a napkin. The napkin was the tool, you wiping it away was the action you took from the knowledge and direction provided by your friend. Your friend helped you discover a problem you didn't know was there.

It is clear and easy to see that these two analogies provide support that Business Intelligence is about collaboration, communication, discovery, knowledge, insight, direction and action to just name a few. These factors along with the proper software and services can provide an organization with a successful BI implementation. The software can be part of a specific BI Platform or simply an application development environment used to create any sort of business applications that can provide knowledge on data. Business Intelligence is not just about collecting data and reporting, it is a methodology in which experts can provide assistance. If you would like your organization to succeed, it is extremely important to understand the factors of BI and learn how to analyze and use the data created by this methodology.

Thank you for your comment "anonymous" poster, you helped me anchor how BI is part of a bigger picture, in the heads of people and not just in a software stack.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Pre-Sales What I've Learned - P-prepare, R-Respond, E-execute - Revisited

The Pre-Sales Engineer

The Pre-Sales Engineer, A.K.A Systems Engineer or Sales Consultant, is the stage performer of the IT world: immensely capable, confident, an excellent communicator who is equally comfortable in front of large crowds as well as small groups. They are Sales Reps in sheep's clothing. Able to build and nurture relationships throughout the sales process, while maintaining an already established level of trust. Pre-Sales Engineers not only demonstrate the breadth and depth of their company's products, but they also work closely with sales Account Managers to aid in the sales process and help close business. From 1st calls to technical support to demonstrations; the Pre-Sales engineer is there to make the prospect feel at ease, to paint a vision on how the products will meet a specific need. Their knowledge of the products and services being positioned to solve the business problem are invaluable. It is exactly this knowledge and skill that should be valued by the sales organization and it's management team. SE's should never be treated like tools or just "technical resources" . Anyone who believes otherwise has a huge character flaw, judges people immediately and demoralizes those whom they manage or work with. I am truly happy to express that my Sales Director and EVP of Sales view the Pre-Sales engineering department, which I manage, as a valuable component to the sales process and the sales team. Pentaho has a very talented SE staff and I am very proud they are on my team. After being in a prior organization where SEs were treated like "tools" and expected to answer either "yes" or "no" on a sales call, I can truly speak with conviction, that was the wrong way to treat the people that helped close business for the company.

Sharing a recent quote from one of network partners in the midwest:

"The Pentaho SEs are the smartest(breadth of experience and depth of expertise) we have met in several years of doing BI consulting sales. Their ability to quickly understand the client problem and devise several innovative approaches (incl thinking well outside the box) makes them fun to work with on accounts. We feel like our clients get the best possible solution – one that fits them and not one that fits the vendor product functionality. One recent experience involved spending several hours with various vendors (incl. Cognos, Oracle etc) explaining a complex client problem and investigating the different solution approaches. The end of those discussions resulted in no clear solution path. The Pentaho SEs were a pleasant surprise - they understood the problem within a few minutes and developed 3 different methods that could be used to tackle the problem – all in an hour phone conversation!”.

The Prospect's Expectations

Depending on the selling company's business model, Pre-Sales activity can take many different forms. Whatever that activity may be, it is important to keep the prospect's expectations into consideration. During the discovery phase of the sales cycle, a Pre-Sales engineer listens and identifies a fit for its company's offered solutions. He also sets expectations for the prospect on how the solutions will work for them. With knowledge of failed promises from many software/service companies or poor interactions with sales people, prospects are becoming more guarded and demanding when they engage with sales professionals. Specific "needs" to be addressed, justification of the value of any purchase, reviewing several alternatives before making any decisions to ensure the correct fit. In order to set the correct expectations surrounding those items, the sales/pre-sales process must fully uncover the business issues described along with there causes and effects. The process to identify a fit and understand a customer's expectations should be no different whether you are positioning a physical product or a software solution. The key is to listen and understand what is being said, as well as identify what is "not" being said. For example, I recently was on a call with a major retailer where they were initially kicking tires and stated that they did not have any "specific" business problems. Further discussion revealed key targeted pain points that Pentaho Open Source Business Intelligence Suite could remedy with its software and services. One won't be able to show a solution to someone who doesn’t perceive they have a problem. The first step when presenting is to help them understand that they have a problem – and that the problem is both important and can be solved. Also, the sales professionals should speak to the prospect as if "they" were the prospect. "That way the prospect is "not" forced to go through a constant mental exercise of morphing what the sales rep is saying into something that's meaningful to them. On top of all this, most importantly, keep it conversational.

On sites, events, giveaways are they providing any real value?

As stated earlier, the pre-sales process takes different forms depending on the business model of the selling company. For example, many of the recently consolidated proprietary BI vendors (Oracle, Business Objects, Cognos, SAP) and even some of the independents, (MicroStrategy, Actuate and Information Builders) have no problem wining and dining their prospects in the form of expensive lunch and learns, golf outings or even iPod giveaway promos because they know they will recover those costs from the software licensing fees they charge their customers. Speaking from experience, even sending pre-sales engineers all over the United States (or world for that matter) for simple discovery calls, white boarding sessions and demos can add up to $2500/month per engineer (depending on location and means of travel). I remember numerous times eating out in the finest restaurants and staying in 5 star hotels just to do a demo the next morning that could have easily been done over the web. Please note that I understand the importance of human interaction so don't get me wrong, there is a time and place to shake a hand, but it has to be managed carefully or you will just continue to waste money and downsize your company, similar to what is happening at my former company. I just heard of more layoffs and more seasoned SE's leaving to find more fruitful and fulfilling jobs.

With the Open Source Business Model the pre-sales process is very similar in regards to any sales process but not so extravagant when it comes to the travel or promotions. There are more web meetings and conference calls with an even higher quality pre-sales engineer(s) who has the experience to back up their company's claims. This can result in a solution that compares to the proprietary guys but with a lower TCO and a higher ROI.

Opposition, is it Pre-vent Sales?

There is a little joke in the pre-sales circle that the "pre" in pre-sales stands for "prevent". This can commonly be heard from the account managers in sales organizations due to the level of push back they may receive by the Pre-Sales department. First off the interpretation is silly because the company's success rides on qualified engagements. Why would anyone want to hinder their company's performance for little or no reason. However, there are plenty of reasons for pre-sales to push back. One of them may be, not following the defined pre-sales process. A sales person's job is not only to represent his company but to "get" as much information as possible so he can accurately position the products and services. It is our recommendation that this "discovery" should be done with the pre-sales engineer in order to achieve the most accuracy and again, set the proper expectations. If this information is not received by pre-sales, pre-sales can't accurately paint a vision or present a solution if they don't even know "why" they are being engaged. A requirement such as, "I want to see dashboards and reporting and analysis", is not really too descriptive of what the "drivers" are for "wanting" to see these things. Doing a demonstration without knowing anything is a "Show Up and Throw Up" with HOPEs that the propsect will find something of interest. I don't see "Hope" as a phase in the sales cycle. Please refer to this link to get a more in depth view of what I mean. Pete Cohan's Stunningly Awful Demos has been a great resource. Other oppositions one may encounter are related to the personal styles of the individuals one may be working with. Some may be used to the way things were done previously in another company, where there possibly wasn't a process or the business model was different. Some may be reactive and used to saying yes without drilling in further. Some may not want to bother with the pre-sales process and think they can do it all on their own. Whatever the reason may be pre-sales needs to identify the styles of these individuals and learn how to work with each and every one so it is productive for the prospect and the selling company. I prefer to think of the "pre" in pre-sales to stand for: P-prepare, R-respond, E-execute. Those actions will make for shorter sales cycles, proper customer expectations and improved sales. Happy selling.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Relax, It's Just Another Chicken Sandwich - Pentaho Open Source BI

Did I get your attention? Hopefully because you were intrigued enough to see what this post was about and not because you were hungry. Unless you are hungry for Pentaho Open Source Business Intelligence that is! OK, that was lame.

It's obvious that I like to relate some of what I see around me in everyday life to Pentaho, the people I speak with and their issues and concerns. This blog entry came to me last night when watching the Olympics (Go USA!) and a commercial came on that was advertising the Kentucky Fried Chicken Cravin' Fillet sandwich. It showed a piece of chicken on a bun with 2 pickles. This seemed rather familiar to me because only a month or two ago McDonald's new Southern Chicken Sandwich debuted; "a breaded chicken breast garnished with 2 pickles." (pictured on left). Another day I saw a Wendy's commercial talking about its version of a, yep you guessed it, home-style chicken sandwich, again with those 2 darn pickles. So, what am I getting at here folks? It's the same damn thing only from a different vendor. It may have a slightly different look, it may taste a bit different, costs a bit more or less or even come with a side. Whatever the differences may be, it still solves the same problem, satisfying your hunger! Oh and not to mention that it's nothing new either, it has been around since 1967 as a Chik-Fil-A signature. So now that you are locked in to reading this, you are probably wondering, "So Mike, how does this relate to the Open Source Business Model or better yet, Pentaho Open Source Business Intelligence?" Well I am glad you asked that, you see when it comes down to it, Pentaho is just another chicken sandwich in this competitive BI landscape. Pentaho is the "all white meat chicken breast" while the other consolidate proprietary BI vendors are a mix of parts (literally), by-products, fillers and additives. Pentaho's software and services are on the value menu while the other guys are just super sized.

The Game Theory

One of my colleagues and closest friends Wayne Johnson enlightened me about the "game theory". The blog entry he mentions it in can be found here. The game theory basically states that as long as you mimic what your competitors are doing you will remain in the same spot, so if you are ahead and always mimic them strategically, you will always stay ahead, so on and so forth. Take this game theory and apply it to Pentaho Open Source BI. Pentaho can deliver what you would expect from a proprietary BI vendor. Pentaho can deliver a complete end to end BI solution at a lower (TCO) total cost of ownership with a higher (ROI) return on investment. These two facts in relation to the game theory put Pentaho ahead of the curve. I think the real challenge is to demystify the Open Source Business model. Once a company gets the information they need about Pentaho Open Source BI and they are comfortable with what it has to offer, they should begin evaluating and take into consideration the many benefits that go along with the Open Source Business model. ( see this, you might have to fill out a form)

Whether you are evaluating proprietary BI or Pentaho Open source BI, you will find that we are all very similar. I don't care if you are Oracle, Business Objects, Cognos, Information Builders, MicroStrategy etc. We all have our repositories, we all have our metadata, we all have our dashboards, analysis, data mining, data integration and ad hoc query. However, the popular open standard architecture, the growing and active community and the open source business model that provides more value for the buck are the huge differentiators. (The white meat)

So please relax, enjoy and take a bite; Pentaho may be another chicken sandwich on your menu of BI evaluations. However, this chicken sandwich will not only satisfy your hunger pains but it will save you money too!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Pentaho Open BI Suite Recognized as the Best

The Pentaho Open Business Intelligence Suite received recognition from the InfoWorld BOSSIE awards for having the Best Open Source Business Intelligence Suite under the "Best of open source enterprise applications" category. InfoWorld's annual BOSSIES recognize the best free and open source software the world has to offer to businesses, IT professionals, and productive individuals who rely on computers to get work done. The 2008 BOSSIE winners include 60 products in eight categories covering business and productivity applications, development tools, middleware, networking, security, and storage.

You can read more about it here:

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Business Intelligence, in the heads of people, not the software

Many times I've been asked, whether it be at an event or on a call, "What skill sets are needed to use your tool?". These questions usually come from the IT departments of businesses as well as prospective partners. All within their rights, its understandable that they want to have a general idea of what talent they may need to hire or have to learn in order to deliver a successful BI implementation. (The following information, in general, can be used for most BI related topics but it will be positioned from the Pentaho Open Source BI angle.) The information within really does relate to the fact that Business Intelligence is in the heads of people, not the software. The software itself is a commodity, a bunch of 1's and 0's. However, without the proper skills or expertise a BI implementation is bound to fail no matter what software you use.

Usually in response before answering the question directly, I would delve in deeper to understand who asked it and why it was asked. It's important to understand the roles of the individuals. One person/department might be responsible for creating a data warehouse or using data integration/ETL tools; another may be responsible for creating reports, templates and dashboards; and another might be a casual user or a business analyst who will be the consumer of what is developed and offered. These are all very important roles in a BI implementation. Depending on the role, my initial response would be to ask what skill sets are currently available as well as what technologies are already being used and are familiar to the business.

Based off that response I am better prepared to position the software and services accordingly. For both development types and user types, the Pentaho Open BI suite has flexible development and deployment options that offer simple tools and interfaces that can accommodate the novice to the most advanced skill sets. Of course, it would be assumed that a general BI skill set is available. One that understands the terminology of metrics, measures, dimensions, reporting, ETL, etc. One that understands the concepts of BI and why it is important for a business.

At a minimum, for all user types, I would recommend taking the appropriate Pentaho on-site or web-based training. It is a great way to get familiar with the technology and understand the tools.

What is very compelling about the Pentaho Open Source BI suite and its modern architecture is that it is built with open standards such as Java, XML, AJAX, SQL, XHTML, CSS, JavaScript, etc . It incorporates all the data integration and content delivery elements that you would see in a proprietary BI tool, without the monolithic stack of mess acquired from BI vendor consolidation. This allows even those with little or no web authoring skills to create flexible and extensible types of BI applications quickly and easily without any migration issues, from one software stack.
For those with more advanced skill sets, all or just pieces of the software can be embedded into your own web, desktop and even mobile based applications. The application programming interfaces (APIs) available are those that are familiar to developers already. There isn't any proprietary no-standard 4GL to learn and struggle with. (I speak from experience) Depending on the business application need, no matter what software you use, one way or another you will hit a wall with the provided GUI and will have to drop into the code. Cognos scripting language or even the older Powerhouse (Quasar Corporation) Axiant 4GL (IDE that helps "minimize" 4GL coding)- , SAP's ABAP, Oracle and PL/SQL, IBM and the Informix 4GL, SAS and Base SAS, SQR, and Information Builders FOCUS, all are some sort of 4GL to perform tasks that a GUI/IDE cannot do alone. So depending on the need of the BI initiative, would you rather learn another language, in addition to what you already know? Why not use a skill set that is based on an open standard and is widely available in the job market as opposed to some that may have experts (that are few and far between) that are approaching retiring age?

I think the bigger question here is not "what skill set is needed" but rather "what skill sets are 'in demand' in today's market, as well as, which are the skills to have for tomorrow"?

Let's not forget to point out that being there isn't any proprietary BI vendor software license and rising maintenance fees with Open Source software, more of your dollars can go towards the expertise and proper skill sets in the form of services, to ensure the success of your BI implementation.

As you can see, Business Intelligence will always be in the heads of people, not the software.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Pentaho goes Mobile with the iPhone

The engineering talent that exists at Pentaho is truly amazing, not even at my veteran former employer, have I seen such passion, desire, commitment and rapid development of features and functionality. Just to give you a brief example, below you can review the Pentaho iPhone extension which enables access to Pentaho Open BI Server solutions via the iPhone. The best part about this is that it is available for free and can be setup in minutes. The Pentaho engineers are definitely builders of information access.

Check it out.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Proprietary BI - Is it really worth it?

A business looking for BI should always consider the alternatives when evaluating a Business Intelligence solution. From my experience, I have found that Open Source BI, including Pentaho Open Source Business Intelligence, offers what you would expect from a proprietary BI vendor. I can say this with much conviction and confidence because I worked for a proprietary BI vendor for 9 years, Information Builders.

In comparison to proprietary BI vendors, there are significant differences in the software tools, architecture and licensing but the resulting solutions are always very similar. We all have our dashboards, repositories, metadata, reporting and etc.

The sales process is very similar as well, except that Open Source software is free and is based on standard Open Source licensing. There aren't any Jedi Mind Tricks in the negotiation process. There usually aren't any excessive pre-sales costs in terms of customer schmoozing (golf outings & fancy dining) and travel expenses. The same prospect that is looking for a true BI solution and wants to provide value to their organization, carefully considers all the options and does not fall victim to all the marketing hub-bub. In fact he may know that in reality he or his company will be paying for that golf outing one way or another.

Just to give you a brief example of the difference between an Open Source BI solution and other proprietary BI vendors tools, I have compiled an estimate of what I have seen so far in this competitive landscape.

This is an estimate of what a small implementation of a proprietary BI Vendor's tools can cost. Notice that I used the word "tools", because that's just what you'll be getting for the absurd amount of software licensing fees you'll be charged. Business Intelligence is being sold as a commodity when it shouldn't be. Business Intelligence is in the heads of people and not the software. It takes expertise to meet the specific objectives to solve the business problem. It is this expertise that Open Source companies offer as a service to help meet those objectives.

Keep this in mind when comparing proprietary BI with Open Source BI.

The Estimated Summary:

A proprietary BI vendor’s data integration and reporting tools can cost approx $220,000(+ -) based on the below scenario. Keeping in mind that this cost is paid without an actual BI solution in place. This is just for the software licensing, that says "you" can use the software as well as 20% maintenance. (Keep in mind that this maintenance cost is rising due to many conditions, including the current enconomy.) On top of this costs which may or may not include education, you may need to tack on additional consulting or services fees. Check out this link to support my claim.

Broken Down:

For a basic 2 CPU windows machine (some vendors consider this a 1 dual core CPU)

-Data adapters -- to access data
-Reporting and Analysis Engine - to execute requests
-Certain # of users for a web based ad hoc reporting
-ETL (additional copies extra)
-Developer tools (additional copies extra)

The Myth:

We have seen that Open Source BI is becoming a name in the competitive landscape. However there are many misconceptions of Open Source software. I have actually had someone tell me, "People think that because its Open Source, its crap and Open Source will not win". This is coming from a number of uneducated individuals I would imagine. Hmm, let me see, MySQL, Linux, Apache, Tomcat, SugarCRM, Liferay, Alfresco, Openbravo to just name a few. I guess these are all crap huh?

The funny thing is, that individual failed to realize that many proprietary BI vendors include Open Source technologies in its own suite:

-Apache Tomcat Application Server
-Apache Lucene Search Engine
-Eclipse Framework

There have also been a number of announcements found on the web:

-"Proprietary BI Vendor" Elbows In With Predictive Analytics using Open Source project
-"Proprietary BI Vendor" Joins Eclipse Open Source Community
-"Proprietary BI Vendor" Data Integration leverages Open Source Eclipse Framework

To further support this, a proprietary BI vendor rep said that integrating open source search technology from the Apache Lucene project, will open up more development opportunities. "Tying into the Google Search Appliance has allowed us to deliver complete package without third-party issues," he said. "But it can get complex and expensive when searching across millions or transactions. Lucene engine's gives us more search programmability."

So how is Open Source crap, come again?

Please keep all this in mind, including the recent BI vendor consolidation. Here is where expensive software is just getting more expensive.

Along with the state of the current economy, Open Source alternatives are looking a lot more attractive. The bottom line is that they provide core and similar BI features and functionality with a higher ROI and lower TCO.

So with this knowledge in hand, you tell me, is proprietary BI really worth it? Don't get me wrong, proprietary BI may have its place. Just keep in mind that every business must take careful consideration to identify if they are that place.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Budget cuts? Do more and go farther with less money.

At this time where we are on the verge of a recession, it only seems common to cut costs in order to save more of your hard earned income. Heck, my family and I have even made some changes in our lifestyle in order to offset the rising costs of, ...well everything. The current economy has caused me to evaluate other "options" where I can save money and stretch my dollar further. Maybe I'll shop at Walmart or buy paper goods in bulk at Sam's Club. An opportunity to get the same and if not more, for less. You can easily compare our actions to the way an organization would have to evaluate their budgets in order to reduce costs and increase profits.

What is very promising though, is that there still seems to be a need for Business Intelligence. Companies not only want to know about what and how their employees/customers are doing but also why. BI can help empower them to understand why they need to reduce costs, or why they need to make certain decisions in order to remain cash flow positive. BI can help them predict the outcomes of specific scenarios. OEMs and ISVs, want to provide BI capabilities in the software and services that they provide. They want to do all of this smarter and not harder and save money at the same time. Their goals are to lower the TCO and receive a higher ROI on the BI solution they choose.

There is an alternative to "proprietary" BI, its Pentaho Open Source Business Intelligence.

The Pentaho Open BI Suite, is a analyst recognized, comprehensive BI platform that offers what you would expect from a "proprietary" BI vendor. It offers the best value, less risk Business Intelligence solution with no vendor lock-in and a transparent road map. It provides highly scalable, extensible and flexible functionality to the widest spectrum of organizations with proven results. The Pentaho Corporation provides the value added services to help make the organization successful by meeting its BI objectives.

Now that you know there is an alternative to help solve your BI needs, start evaluating. Hope to meet you on the next discovery call.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Truth Happens: Open Source BI

Open Source software is software where the source code, the language programmers use to make computers do their jobs, is available to everyone. Anyone can see how the code works and can change it if they want to make it work differently. This is usually regulated under some sort of Open Source licensing, but that is beyond the scope of this blog entry. To anchor what I am talking about, below is a awesome 3 minute promotional video clip for redhat , the world's most trusted provider of Linux and Open Source technology. (Versions of the Linux operating system compete with the popular Microsoft Windows operating system) Throughout history, new technology has been resisted by those who said it couldn't be done. Yet despite opposition, time and again the impossible is made possible by those with determination and vision. redhat and Pentaho believes open source is a better way. A better way of developing technology and a better way of making it accessible. And while there are those who have ignored open source or claimed it wouldn't work or wouldn't last, redhat and Pentaho believe that truth happens.

Despite Opposition - Truth Happens

Pentaho can be compared to redhat in many ways. Pentaho is a services company pioneered by BI veterans from many proprietary BI companies. We have created and acquired Open Source Business Intelligence software and make it available to use without any obligations or licensing fees. However if you require support or consulting, for a fee we will provide the value added services to make businesses successful when deploying a Pentaho BI Solution. We call this value added service a Subscription. The Open Source Business model has been around for sometime and is very similar to the way redhat operates with it's Linux operating system and how MySQL operates with its database offering. (MySQL and Open Source database vendor, was recently purchased by Sun Microsystems for $1B.) Pentaho creates the primary source code that goes into the Open Source and Subscription BI products. Pentaho does accept contributions from community members, but strict guidelines and certification processes are followed before the contribution is ever implemented into our software.
Now, the opposite of open source is closed source or what is also known as proprietary code, where the source code is not available to everyone. BI vendors like Information Builders, Oracle, Business Objects, Cognos and Microstrategy provide similar BI software tools under a closed source proprietary model. Pentaho provides it's software free under an open source business model and standard Open Source licenses. What this means is that someone can download and use Pentaho BI software without having to pay any licensing, maintenance costs, or have any obligation to Pentaho. In order to use a proprietary vendor's software I would have to pay ridiculous licensing and maintenance fees to achieve similar results. In this age of consolidation of expensive BI vendors such as, (SAP/BO) (IBM/Cognos), (Oracle/Hyperion), (Informatica / ?) company budget cuts and a need for BI, Pentaho Open Source Business Intelligence is becoming more and more favorable in many organizations looking for robust BI capabilities with a lower total cost of ownership.

What is Business Intelligence

Business Intelligence, commonly referred to as BI, provides historical, current, and predictive views of business operations, most often using data that has been gathered into a data warehouse or a data mart as well as operational data. The software elements of BI support reporting, interactive "slice-and-dice" pivot-table analyses, visualization, and statistical data mining. It is these capabilities that the Pentaho software provides on a freely distributable basis based on standard Open Source Licenses without the absurd cost of licensing fees. Software license costs are very common with many BI vendors, a.k.a. our competition. ( more on this later )
Pentaho Reports and Analysis in a portalEvery time you interact with an organization, data is being captured. Sales transactions, bank deposits, stock trades, doctor visits, blood tests, educational test scores, sports stats and more are all collected in some sort of fashion. These transactions, or data, are entered into a transactional computer system of databases. In order to view this data so that it provides useful information for decision making, a number of processes and methodologies can be followed. Usually the information is extracted into another database form, such as a data warehouse, that is fit for reporting. Reports are then created to fill a need to know something more about this data that was entered. For example, if I wanted to know what were the total sales, profits and costs of a particular item I was selling in my business, I would use BI software to figure that out. I could then analyses this report to make a decisions on what to sell or not to sell in the future.

Pentaho Reports and Analysis in a portalYou might be using some sort of BI today in your very own homes. If you are using Microsoft Money or Quicken, for example, you are storing transactional data about your banking, credit cards and spending habits. You then can review a chart or report on which items you have spent the most on in the past month. (If it's anything like ours its usually the mortgage and then groceries.) Simply by looking at the report, I know that there isn't much I can do about my mortgage except maybe refinance. As far as my grocery spending, I could cut coupons or shop at Sam's Club to try and lower my grocery bills. I wouldn't know to take these actions without looking at these reports. So therefore I took the raw data, my spending transactions, and created a report which told me where my spending was the highest. This in turn made me take action to adjust my spending by finding another location to shop that might be cheaper or to start cutting coupons. BI transforms data into information and that information into action. This happens everyday and in many industries. One of the problems facing these industries is that they don't have sufficient BI today. An additional problem is that most proprietary BI vendors are being bought out by larger companies such as IBM, Oracle and SAP. What does that means for businesses who need BI software? Expense software just got more expensive. That is were Open Source software and the Open Source Business model comes in.

The Grass "is" Greener

New CompanyAhhh..that familiar adage, "The grass isn't always greener." This proverb is most commonly heard when someone wants to put FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) in your mind. You may have decided on something that you feel is right. However someone else may think it's not. It is possible he/she truly wants to protect you and ensure you thought things through. Most of the time though, its said for selfish reasons. For example, there may be a desire for you to fail, or maybe your decision affects them or their plan in some way. Whatever the reason may be, you will never know if the grass "is" greener unless you carefully consider your options.

18 months ago I made the decision to leave a long time senior position for a similar position with another company. That is when I was told, "You know Mike, the grass isn't always greener". This being said from the same individual who was working for a company that was full of weeds. When contemplating my decision, I wanted to give my current company a chance, because I enjoyed working for it and was 'comfortable'. That is when I remembered Dr. Farrah Grey. I saw an interview with him on 20/20 and was influenced by his achievements and one of his quotes, "Comfort is the enemy of achievement". This helped me decide to move on to a company that had tremendous potential as well as a positive career path for myself. I knew there would be fear and challenges ahead of me, but these would only help me grow and become the best I can be. The move has proven to be excellent for my family and I. With the vision of my current company, I know we'll be fine for time to come. Always remember to evaluate your current situation. "Smell The Cheese Often So You Know When It Is Getting Old". Sometimes, decisions can become clear when the current grass is filled with weeds. One thing for sure, the grass is always greener when it comes up from concrete.