Do Self-Service and Open Source Co-Exist?

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The business intelligence landscape is changing to accommodate broader interactivity and ease of use. This is nothing new; one of the key trends is the increase in data discovery though self-service BI models.

This requires changing not only the way people interact with BI, but also how BI is designed and delivered. Consequently, organizations now expect to have the ability to quickly implement solutions that can be used in an interactive and flexible way. But is this really possible within open source environments where developers are required to create solutions for end users? How much self-service can really be achieved? Or does the definition of self-service change, due to the focus on developer tools and ease of solution development?

Organizations need to know how self-service concepts fit in accordance with what they hope to achieve, especially when implementing alternative delivery methods such as open source. After all, many BI projects are now driven by business decision-makers who demand quick time to delivery and high levels of interactivity. At the same time, lower price points and maintenance fees are becoming more attractive, despite potential trade-offs.

This makes the benefits and challenges of open source even more important to evaluate when looking at self-service BI models to ensure that organizations get what they expect and provide the best BI interactions for both business and technical users.

Business Intelligence Market

In reality, the BI market is quite diverse and open source options are no different. In many cases, companies looking at open source start with community versions that require high levels of developer involvement. In some cases, companies may transition to a commercial model to take advantage of additional features, functionality and/or support. In others, they maintain community versions and add to or expand solutions, as needed.

Both of these paths have unique implications when considering self-service and ease of use as organizations expand their BI deployments. For instance, if additional departments want access to BI and require new data source additions, the infrastructure probably already exists, enabling IT to manage the process without requiring commercial software. Other cases may call for revamping BI or analytics access.

Within open source, there are two considerations for self-service and increased ease of use.

  1. Developer interactivity, which is the ability to develop solutions in a simpler way, either through wizards or quicker development times.
  2. End-user interactivity and independent interaction.

When looking at open source, this is not as easy as it sounds. Although solutions can get up and running more quickly, it is not always apparent how to optimize these solutions and deliver them in a way that supports self-service interactivity.
Self-service for BI means providing BI access and interactivity that is directly targeted to the level of the user. Self-service needs will differ for super users/analysts versus line of business managers. While end users who understand the interaction of data and analytics might want to be able to develop their own queries and ask more detailed questions, LOB managers will want quick access to metrics, with the ability to analyze the cause and effect of situations without having to understand data complexities and access points.

Whether or not community open source models support this depends on the expertise and development efforts of internal IT developers, unless outside consulting and development expertise are used. Consequently, businesses need to understand the unique challenges and benefits involved when they select community open source and want to take advantage of key trends that involve high levels of interactivity and ease of use. 

What Organizations Should Know

In order to make sure that open source is a valid option for new trends adoption, decision-makers should identify the factors required, not only when making informed software selection decisions, but how these decisions relate to the convergence of open source and self-service specifically. Here are some considerations:

  1. In many cases, community and commercial open source offerings are different due to expanded feature and functionality sets. For organizations, this means classifying the importance level of self-service versus free software downloads. Community open source provides quick development times for initial solutions but still requires more time to get everything up and running properly. Commercial offerings, on the other hand, are generally ready out of the box and will be able to provide more self-service functionality. Businesses should weigh costs against development time and added functionality to determine which choice best meets their requirements.
  2. As mentioned, the definition of self-service will be different depending on who is using or interacting with the solution. It is important to make sure that, irrespective of open source selection, that the goal of self-service is achieved. This requires an understanding of who the solution is geared to and what levels of self-service are needed.
  3. IT infrastructure and data access will be required at varying levels and may be desired by super users who want to be able to develop their own queries and interact with data without involvemet of IT. For self-service to be successful, this type of independent access point is essential. How organizations handle this will differ depending on compliance, security, privacy, corporate culture, etc.
  4. Identifying current BI maturity and desired future uses can help ensure the development of a proper plan to enhance interactivity and self-service access to data and BI interfaces.

Overall, many considerations are required when looking at how to optimize self-service BI. The important thing to remember when looking to expand open source use is that it may not be as easy as it looks.
(Editor’s Note: Lyndsay Wise’s new book, “Using Open Source Platforms for Business Intelligence: Avoid Pitfalls and Maximize ROI,” will be available this fall.) 

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