3 questions that every CFO wants to know about Pentaho (and how to answer them)

January 25, 2011

1. Will it do what I need?

2. Will it get done on time?

3. Will it fit my budget?

These are pretty much the 3 questions that any IT Manager will ask him/herself when it comes to evaluating and investing in any type of software. Open Source BI is no different. Call it an over-simplified RFI (Request for Information) or “make my CFO approve my gut feeling” checklist, these questions are essentially what you need to know to go forward with a purchasing decision.

The snippets below show how 4 Pentaho customers have answered these questions.

ZipRealty, a well known real estate firm, wanted to increase the quality and quantity of their reports to their users. Their previous BI solution was cost-prohibitive when it came to rolling out these reports to “all” their agents and district managers. ZipRealty’s Director of Business Intelligence, Salvatore Scalisi quotes: “It wasn’t economical to add the number of users we wanted. The licensing fees became substantial.”

With Pentaho, ZipRealty was able to help its agents and managers track inventory and conversion rates. They also enhanced their client services and satisfaction by rolling out analysis to their client base, allowing them see real estate listings along with embedded analysis and map-based mash ups directly from the ZipRealty’s website.

Estalea L.P., a technology incubator with strong Java programming expertise wanted to find a similar technology-base solution to prepare “data services” for its clients’ independent BI applications. In looking for a solution that was Java base, and did not require very deep technical skills, stating, “Pentaho was the only viable open source product, particularly in the ETL area.” Given that other Java ETL solutions are on a per user licensing model, Pentaho’s unlimited user license was a better option to them.

The simplicity and ease of use of Pentaho Data Integration, further enabled Estalea to save on costs by not hiring more expensive programmer staff. Jon Cotter, Director of Product Design and Technology at Estalea explains, “This way I can take on projects with people with less experience and move my senior people to other projects.”

For Loma Linda University Health Care, the value was mainly around user adoption. Loma Linda’s physicians, a non-technical group in the field of Business Intelligence and ETL, are now very interested to use Pentaho for their analysis. Historically, physicians are primarily Excel users. Their positive experience on the ease of use of Pentaho BI Suite Enterprise Edition is absolutely clear in in the quote by Darrin Blocker, Decision Support Analyst at Loma Linda, “Just the idea of being able to select attributes and pivot that data and get a response in seconds, versus having to send in a report request and waiting for a week was a big selling point”.

Power Costs, Inc.’s goal was to offer an analytical application to its utility customers that can help them with energy bidding process. Monthly gigabytes of data and a seven-year history of data from its customers, combined with Power Costs’ own market data was processed to build these sophisticated analysis. Pentaho Analysis fit the bill.

For the volumes of data that Power Costs needed to analyze, Pentaho Data Integration was well-integrated into BI stack. According to David Nilsson, Power Costs Vice President of Product Strategy, his analysis of Pentaho’s ETL tool was “ One of the better ones that we had seen….Most vendors’ products don’t integrate as well.” The pricing model and easy integration helped Power Costs achieve ROI in less than four months.

4 customers, 4 different business use cases. They all needed Pentaho to not only deliver the functionality they needed, but also to provide them with tools that can easily be implemented and deliver results fast. Needless to say these customers had budget constraint that could not bless them to a ½ million dollar solution! To summarize their results in a few bullets, what they got out of Pentaho was:

  • Ease of use in implementation for the ETL and BI developer
  • Full integration of ETL and BI to speed project cycles
  • Letting business users make changes and see results fast, without having to wait for IT
  • Scalability of the solution for large volumes of data
  • Low cost in rolling out BI to the masses

For more information on these customers, download the white paper “Realizing the Pentaho Agile BI Opportunity: BI for the Masses and Customer Success” by Joshua Greenbaum, Principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting.

Farnaz Erfan
Product Marketing Manager
Pentaho Corporation

To read more examples of customers like Loma Linda University and Estalea experiencing success with Pentaho visit the Pentaho Customer Success webpage.


Reflections on the Wisdom of the Crowds BI Market Study

January 10, 2011

I recently came across a very interesting study that has been published by Dresner Advisory Services. The Business Intelligent market study titled, “The Wisdom of Crowds,” is written by Howard Dresner, one of the foremost thought leaders in the BI market. This in-depth market research has used a survey tactic to gather the wisdom of 457 BI users (quite a crowd!) on 32 essential metrics for choosing a BI technology. The results are astonishing.

Among the many trends two were the most interesting to me:

  1. Today, smaller BI deployments dominate across all geographies and all industries.
  2. Smaller BI deployments have started to take off in the last 2 years or so and are growing in the expense of large deployments that were once popular 5 to 15 years ago.

This is a huge market shift. 1,000+ user base deployments are no longer ideal or even desired. They have been replaced by smaller deployments for individual organizations, departments, and line of businesses.

While this is no surprise due to the economic conditions that has forced companies to cut back in their capital expenditure, including huge licensing costs just to entitle “every” user to the software and tools in hand, plus money spent on training and hiring skilled users, what has truly made this “shift” possible is the opportunity that open source BI has presented to these clients.

In my opinion, Open Source BI provides this opportunity in two ways:

1. Lower cost and easier to deploy BI software is now available. Notice that I am not just talking about the low cost here. Yes, Open Source BI has been a disruptive technology in the past couple of decades. Newer to the BI world, Open Source bears no acquisition cost for the software. Instead it offers a subscription model for support, which has made it the most attractive alternative for most clients. All the required functionality with only 10% of the cost! What else is new?!

Here, however, my emphasis is on the “easier to deploy” factor. What in the past took a symphony of data modelers, BI developers, ETL developers, data analysts, data architects, data warehouse managers, and DBAs, and a 12 month implementation cycle, is now done “only by a few and only in a few weeks”.

What does this mean for smaller organizations or even departments within larger organizations? It means that now they are able to invest in BI. Something that was not viable a few years ago. They not only don’t have to pay high dollars for BI tools, but also don’t need an exhaustive list of skills, consulting, and expertise to get going.

Dresner’s report shows exactly this. More and more smaller deployments are becoming popular in the last couple of years and are replacing the large ones that were on most corporate priority lists 5-10 years ago.

2. The second reason for this market shift is due to the connection that emerging technologies (such as open source) have made to the line of business owners. Business users have found a way to “free” themselves from IT latency. There is no question that you need your technical staff to initially set up the BI infrastructure and build the first round of reports and analysis, but that shouldn’t mean that every time you want add a dimension to your calculations, or measure something slightly different, you would have to go in a waiting list queue behind several other requests and get an answer 3-4 weeks later. Business users now realize that they can take control, and find the answers for themselves — at least in most cases.

Open Source BI has emerged to enable these folks with tools that let them manage changes in their business processes a lot faster. Dresner’s report is an evident to this fact. The study shows that business users are the most likely to chose emerging technologies over BI tools from the Titans (IBM, SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft) and the BI Pure Plays (Actuate, MicroStrategy).

I would encourage you to download and study this report further. You will be intrigued!

To conclude my points, I’d like to point out a chart from the 2010 Wisdom of Crowds Market Study (The 2011 study is underway). It shows the life cycle of all BI vendors. Several vendors matured 2 to 5 years ago. They saw the most deployments and new customer acquisitions in that time frame. But since then, their deployments have declined. Among these vendors are SAP Business Objects, Oracle, MicroSoft, IBM Cognos, and Actuate. With cobbled together tools from different acquisitions that are not integrated and require deep technical skills and long deployment cycles, not to mention the huge software acquisition costs for clients, there is no wonder to this trend. These tools are anything but suitable for small, agile, and high-value projects.

Farnaz Erfan
Product Marketing Manager
Pentaho Corporation

This blog was originally posted on  Open Source Business Intelligence


13 highlights Pentaho BI Suite Bootcamp

December 15, 2010

As the new product marketing manager at Pentaho, I wanted to write my first blog on my experience attending the four-day Pentaho BI Suite Bootcamp. This class is key to better understand the architecture of the Pentaho BI Suite and get hands on experience with the Pentaho BI Suite, ETL/Data Integration, Analysis and Reporting.

I have to say that coming from an enterprise data integration vendor such as IBM, I was a bit skeptical of any open source solution. What I expected was the bare bones: limited data type coverage, no metadata, basic data modeling and simple BI reporting. What I discovered was to the other extreme. I was taken by surprise on both the breath and the depth of the solution.

Here is my list of lucky 13 highlights from the class:

1.     Coverage of all types of data from what you expect (DB2, Oracle, & SQL Server) to Hadoop, Netezza, Teradata, SAP ERP systems, and of course MySQL and PostgreSQL.

2.     Parallel processing of data transformations – with an ‘intuitive’ UI that eliminates the need for coding. Unlike other tools in the market from both Open Source as well as major proprietary ETL vendors that are code generators, Pentaho Data Integration eliminates the need for coding. Talk about a low TCO!

3.     A shared repository gives a great opportunity for team work and collaboration in the process.

4.     Can handle very sophisticated dimensional modeling concepts – combination, degenerate, and conformed, and slowing changing dimensions, star and snow flake schemas.

5.     Power of OLAP for dynamic aggregation, so developers don’t have to figure out the reporting requirements ahead of time with SQL. This is an extraordinary piece of the puzzle.

6.     Caching and aggregate-aware constructs, so look ups don’t need to hit the database for every row. The wait times will be a lot less and latency is reduced.

7.     Removing the SQL layer for BI developers and data analysts. This has two benefits:  1. Reduces the complexity. 2. Protects databases from novice SQL users that can harm the system. Instead, a set of “business objects” (customer, product, etc) are presented for building reports and dashboards.

8.     Covers all types of reporting needs: Production reporting (for managed and high volume pixel perfect distribution), ad hoc analysis (for interactive analysis to measure business performance against time, location, product lines), operational reporting (for detailed reporting on the current state of data supporting ERP and CRM applications), and data mining (for predictive analysis to detect fraud / next best offers).

9.     Full drill in and out capabilities on reports. Can drill in from summary information to details. Can also drill from report to report with hyperlinks.

10.  Parametrized reports for the interactivity factor needed for analysis. Examples: What if I change the time dimension, or region? What changes I will see and how I need to adjust my operations accordingly?

11.  Dashboards, scorecards, and metrics that allow business users assemble previously built reports, queries, and analysis, needing “zero-training”.

12.  A quick installation got me up and ready in a few minutes. Quote from a customer in the class: “was able to kick this off in 10 minutes”. This customer has evaluated Pentaho’s other Open Source rivals and had found Pentaho to be superior.

13.  And now, for the cream of the crop…Something that the Big guys of ETL are light years behind: Pentaho’s integrated ETL, Visualization, and Modeling environment. It was really cool to be able to create a live connection to an transactional systems (OLTP), select some tables, and from there click right into the modeling and data visualization environments, analyze the content of those tables, do some profiling and decide the best ETL paths as well as best data structures for our new target schema. This was really exciting for me to see, as I have seen struggles around it before. Pentaho not only has all the pieces of the puzzle (ETL, Analysis, Modeling, OLAP, Predictive), which a lot of other vendors don’t even have, but it also has ‘integrated’ them into one development suite that helps the user walk through the process of building a BI solution one step at the time and on a consistent path to completion.

Seeing this set of “sophisticated” ETL, Data Modeling, OLAP, Visualization, and BI tools just left me with one puzzling question at the end. This is what I wrote in my notes at the end of the class:I can’t believe this is all so cheap! Where I was we used to charge hundreds if not millions of dollars for this!”

Farnaz Erfan
Product Marketing Manager
Pentaho Corporation


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