Business intelligence tools provide valuable resources for decision-making and improving performance. You can choose between proprietary products and open-source software. The latter has a few more advantages besides being free.
The explosive data growth has been overwhelming for many businesses. Companies struggle with information overload, lack of data management expertise, and ever-growing pressure from competitors more adept at plowing through petabytes for market insights.
Yet, with the right approach, the challenges can be easily viewed as opportunities. The ability to harness large amounts of business data can improve a company’s operational efficiency and drive its growth.
What is business intelligence?
The practice of converting data into valuable, market-relevant insights is known as business intelligence (BI).
The term was coined in the nineteenth century, but it has gained a new meaning in the age of big data. Currently, the concept spans a wide range of solutions for sourcing, analyzing, and utilizing massive amounts of information for streamlining business.
In many organizations, BI is an integral part of the decision-making process. According to statistics, 52% of software companies and 50% of finance firms use BI tools for finding new revenue streams.
The global BI market is growing rapidly and is predicted to reach $43.03 billion by 2028 – almost double the value from 2021.
How does business intelligence work?
Business intelligence starts with extracting valuable data from relevant sources. Companies can obtain useful information from customer relationship management platforms (CRM), web analytics tools, supply chain systems, sales, and marketing performance software, call center applications, etc.
Raw data collected from various systems is sorted into data marts, subject-oriented databases making up a larger data warehouse. Then a variety of BI tools are deployed to analyze data, create reports, interactive dashboards, and data visualizations, and, eventually, produce conclusions about patterns, trends, and existing or prospective business opportunities.
An open-source BI tool vs. proprietary software. Which one to choose?
There is a wide gamut of services for BI applications combining both open-source and commercial solutions. The latter usually offer expanded functionality. Proprietary software dedicated to business users provides additional features compared to no-cost offers. It usually comes with a more user-friendly interface, enables easy integration with other applications, and doesn’t require programming skills for customization. Customer support is also a non-negligible asset.
On the other hand, open-source BI software can be a big money saver, allowing users to invest funds elsewhere. Moreover, choosing free solutions provides the opportunity to test different tools before deciding on the specific one. Such is also the case with using free trial periods offered by software vendors – albeit within a limited time.
Other typical key features of open-source tools include:
- flexibility with customizing source code to fit your needs,
- lack of licensing requirements which saves you legal liability nightmares
- self-sufficiency and independence from software industry vendors
- frequent updates, if the software is backed by a strong community.
If you’re new to the BI industry, commercial business intelligence software might not be the best choice for starters. We suggest you try open-source alternatives and carefully prioritize your needs before deciding on more advanced options.
Check out our selection of free business intelligence software!
BIRT is an acronym for Business Intelligence Reporting Tool. The platform, developed by the Eclipse Foundation and based on the Eclipse framework, is among the top recommended open-source business intelligence tools for small and medium enterprises with moderate BI requirements.
BIRT is a low-cost solution for extracting and processing data from various sources, such as files, databases, web services, etc. It provides a customizable visual report designer and enables embedding reports into thick clients or web applications, especially those based on Java or Jakarta EE.
BIRT addresses a common problem of implementing ad hoc reporting functions in applications resulting in excessive costs and limited reporting capabilities. With Eclipse-based open-source BI tools, developers can easily incorporate reporting and data visualization functions into their apps, saving time and money.
Metabase is a quick-to-set-up, user-friendly BI software. It contains a comprehensive toolkit that can help you derive valuable insights from multiple data sources. One of its key assets is simplicity. It doesn’t require advanced tech-savviness from users, as it enables queries without SQL statements (although SQL knowledge is necessary for handling more complex data sets).
With Metabase, you can manage databases, monitor key performance indicators, filter and summarize data to find exactly what you’re looking for, create models, add variables to queries for creating interactive visualizations, set up alerts for data changes, or embed interactive dashboards and charts in applications.
A robust data analytics and BI platform offering over 1,000 modules and a lengthy selection of features for data exploration and processing, many of them required for data mining and machine learning (ML) applications.
Within one platform, KNIME offers two complementary tools: KNIME Analytics Platform for creating data science and KNIME Server for team collaboration and deployment of data science workflows.
KNIME free BI tool allows for combining data from different sources, building ML-based models for various data operations, creating workflow prototypes and scaling workflow performance, as well as visualizing data.
The platform has origins in pharmaceutical research, but over the years, it has expanded to many other sectors, such as finance, life science, manufacturing, healthcare, retail, and energy.
Microsoft Power BI
A free business intelligence tool from Microsoft with a paid Pro version. It provides a suite of AI-powered desktop tools for transforming raw data into meaningful information to support decision-making.
With Power Bi, you can connect to various sources of information, model and visualize data, create interactive reports, and measure your KPIs. SQL skills are nice-to-have but not necessary, as the application “handles” conversational language. Power Bi is an excellent tool for team collaboration enabling easy sharing of insights from data analysis within the Microsoft environment, for example, via Teams or Excel.
The company recommends combining Power BI with Azure and Microsoft 365 to maximize value and enhance data analysis productivity.
Jaspersoft is a family of products currently owned by TIBCO, a Palo Alto-based business intelligence company. They include web and desktop applications with JasperReports Library at their core.
Jaspersoft products provide integrated reporting tools for business intelligence projects highly optimized for the end-user experience. The software allows to generate reports, create data visualizations in the form of neatly rendered charts, diagrams, and graphics, manage virtualized views, and – all in all – produce hard fact knowledge for accelerating business.
Jaspersoft community releases are freely available. However, TIBCO’s proprietary BI reporting tools, providing additional functionality, are distributed commercially with a 30-day free trial period.
Tableau is a visual analytics platform developed by Tableau Software. The company offers a free version of its software branded Tableau Public. It is a fantastic open-source BI tool for generating interactive charts and live dashboards. It enables users to create and publish interactive data visualizations, also by means of embedding them in websites.
Tableau Public provides an immense amount of data presentation options for different use cases. It is a handy tool for novice data scientists to hone their skills in an eye-pleasing environment, offering loads of sample data to create interactive dashboards.
Tableau Public is a convenient open-source BI solution for getting a better grasp of relevant data. However, it has one downside: any data processed by the program is public and cannot be kept private.
An open-source business intelligence software for tracking performance and marketing activities. Databox offers both free and paid plans. It enables creating custom dashboards at lightning speed, provides over 4.000 metrics and over 200 pre-built reports for quick setup, and supports over 70 integrations, including Google Analytics, HubSpot, Google Sheets, Excel, Facebook, and Google Ads.
Producing business insights via Databox takes just a few clicks. No coding skills are required to handle the data. For more advanced users, the platform allows connecting SQL databases and writing SQL statements directly inside the application to create metrics for visualization in the Databox Designer.