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.