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.