Open source BI takes aim at integration woes

Following the release of the open source Eclipse-based Business Intelligence Reporting Tool (BIRT) last month, in-house projects may benefit from a more standardized way of integrating company information.

Initiated by BI vendor Actuate, BIRT is aimed at developers looking to reduce Java coding time and a faster way to modify end user report requirements. Actuate's vice president of product marketing Michael Thoma, who is leading the company's open source strategy, said not having to build a BI application from scratch will free up a lot of "calories" which can be used for innovation.

"That's the fun part," Thoma said. "As with Eclipse, BIRT supporters will cooperate in the common environment and compete in the commercial space." Thoma said Actuate is now on the Eclipse board and, although it is a 100 percent for-profit business, it has invested "a huge amount of calories in engineering to develop BIRT."

"The Eclipse IDE is already at 65 percent penetration in the Java development space [and] the amount of commercial activity is how the Eclipse Foundation measures success," he said.

Examples of local Eclipse users include Centrelink, Auspost, and nuclear science group Ansto.

BIRT has a modular architecture consisting of the designer, an XML reports definition engine, and the BIRT engine which produces the reports and charts for either the Web or print.

"Actuate's first strategy with BIRT is to get developers using it," Thoma said, adding there are already 7500 downloads per month. "Our target audience is developers who are customizing existing BI applications or developing new reports from exposed data."

Thoma said leveraging the common Eclipse application framework helps integration.

"For example, data used for SAP reports could be used for other applications," he said. "We have extended the metadata layer for Eclipse, [and] having an open source base leads to faster development times."

Applications that can be built with BIRT include personal banking, health care, and analytics for financial services industries. "Developers can create interactive reports that are like a dashboard which reveals more detailed information," Thoma said. "BIRT is the only top-level Eclipse product focused on business intelligence. It's open source and built on an open architecture."

Actuate now offers three levels of commercial support for BIRT, from indemnification to bug fixes and phone support. Pricing starts at $US995 for a server with up to four processors.

Locally, Actuate's Australia and New Zealand sales director Raj Dindayal said existing Eclipse users have already expressed an interest in BIRT and support contracts are being negotiated.

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