Six reasons why you may end up paying dearly for ‘free’ BI software

Here are six points to help you decide whether you should be choosing a custom dashboard BI system in favour of an open source solution.

When the need for new Business Intelligence (BI) software arises, small companies are often tempted to opt for ‘free’ or open source solutions. The decision for many will be based on cost, or rather lack thereof, when comparing other custom options. However, this can often be a false economy as most of the open source BI software available, fails to meet expectations.

To help you decide whether you should be choosing a custom dashboard BI system in favour of an open source solution, consider the following six points:

1. It’s not as user-friendly – which could affect adoption

User adoption is one of the biggest challenges facing BI. To be properly effective requires a level of commitment from the very top. If intelligence results are hard to access and reports difficult to interpret, users won’t make effective use of the system and its value for the business will be reduced. Many open source software applications depend on the whims of the developers and they are not developed with the end user in mind. As user expectations regarding usability, more self-service and greater data discovery increase, layering an application with extra tool kits and libraries adds complexity and cost.

For people to effectively use dashboards, they need to be visually appealing. Free BI software is unlikely to allow you to customise your dashboard in a way that makes sense for you. As a result, open source BI systems can sometimes be overwhelming and complicated for end users, meaning that there is a high likelihood that the platform won’t get used.

2. It’s unlikely to meet – and continue to meet – your requirements

BI turns raw data into useful information, aiding the decision-making process. Therefore, the underpinning technology needs to be able to handle large volumes of structured and unstructured data, turning it into reports which are easily understood, and deliver insights that provide the businesses with a competitive advantage and help their long-term stability. BI needs to be a collaborative project between IT and the rest of the organisation to find out what metrics are important; leaning towards a custom solution that has scope for further development as business demands change.

3. You’ll sacrifice functionality

Today’s users have high expectations of products they use. They expect to be able to access BI via a mobile device, customise the interface and information to their specific needs and swiftly target relevant data. However, whilst custom BI dashboard software can mean it’s easily accessible via desktop, laptop, mobile or tablet, enabling you to view your organisation whenever and wherever you choose; free dashboard software may not integrate with all your databases or data sources.

Many companies think free BI software is a good way to see if it will be useful to your business before making a big investment, you’re not comparing like for like. Free options do not have as many features, often with limits imposed on the types of reports you can run and how often you can refresh the data. There are usually other implications when selecting open source BI software, such as a limit on the number of users, how many people can view a dashboard simultaneously, and a cost to add more users which will affect deployment and maintenance costs.

Additionally, custom BI dashboards generally enable users to learn more about any element of the dashboard by drilling down to a more detailed view of data, some open source software limit the number of drill downs you can perform.

4. It could leave you in a vulnerable position

Tools that were developed independently and that may not have been designed to integrate can expose an organisation to security and compliance issues. Self-service functionality provides additional challenges as the management of roles and access rights across multiple tools can be complex. There is also the risk that developers and end users who are unfamiliar with how to meet regulatory requirements on handling data may raise non-compliance issues.

Additionally, once a decision to use open source software has been made, you are on your own. Organisations will need to independently figure out how to install and use applications without sabotaging your data and hardware, which potentially has implications on regulatory, compliance and risk evaluations

5. You’re putting your business at a disadvantage

Open source business intelligence tools aren’t regularly updated, whereas specialist BI software companies are in the business of not only developing their software, but also staying on top of new trends and advances that can benefit their customers. Dynistics works with many organisations across a number of different market sectors which means we have the necessary experience to help you discover the insights you need.

6. It could cost you far more than you think

‘Free’ BI software can actually work out to be pretty costly when you add up the downtime in user departments while they are getting to grips with it, in addition to the cost of opportunity lost due to lack of functionality. Elements to consider in any decision regarding Open Source, is the practical maintenance of custom applications which can be resource and time-intensive. A further problem is that most of the open source applications are incompatible with many operating systems or may get outdated as other systems get upgraded.

The bottom line? While an open source BI system may seem to meet your requirements for now, ask yourself at what cost. The chances are that without custom business intelligence dashboard software you are missing out on the advanced functionality that could greatly improve your business operations, employee productivity and profitability. With that in mind, can you really afford not to choose a customised approach?

This article was supplied by Dynistics

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Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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