BIRT Makes Open Source Waves in BI World
March 2, 2011 Alex Woodie
The open source Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools (BIRT) project is starting to draw attention from big-name companies and the vendors that serve their IT needs. Actuate, the publicly traded company that founded the BIRT project and still leads its development, is riding that wave with successful sales of its commercial products. Now, with new offerings in the software as a service (SaaS) and mobile arenas, Actuate is poised to grab more share.
Actuate started BIRT in 2004 as an Eclipse project with the goal of creating a Web-based reporting product. While the San Mateo, California, company has been involved with BIRT for just seven years, it traces its own BI and reporting roots to the early 1990s, and still has customers using its legacy reporting tools. However, Actuate’s focus today is unequivocally BIRT.
The BIRT Designer is an Eclipse plug-in that allows developers to create reports in a drag and drop environment, with an emphasis on wizards, templates, and re-use. The BIRT viewer provides basic Web-based consumption of HTML and PDF reports. The BIRT Engine is used to format and distribute reports. BIRT is currently at version 2.6, with the last major release coming last year.
For each of these open source components, Actuate offers its own commercial version (sold under the ActuateOne brand) that offers additional functionality as well as technical support. The BIRT Designer Pro builds on the open source designer’s mostly static report output, and delivers reports with more user interactivity via Flash and Web 2.0 technologies.
The latest release of the ActuateOne User Experience builds on the open source BIRT Viewer with additional capabilities, such as in-memory analytics, support for pivot tables, a Web-based dashboard interface that integrates with Google Gadgets, and more ad hoc reporting capability. Finally, the BIRT iServer adds things like document management, logging, security, tuning, clustering, and multi-tenancy capabilities to the open source BIRT Engine.
Last fall, Actuate moved into the SaaS and mobile arenas with the releases of BIRT OnDemand. This offering is not free or open source, but it does provide a relatively easy way for users of the open source BIRT products to get a more advanced interface and support for mobile devices. BIRT OnDemand is hosted by Amazon, and enables BIRT customers to incrementally add features, such as Web-based dashboards or in-memory analytics, to their BIRT environments.
Actuate has all the components ready now to make a major push for market share and participate in the democratization of BI. “Open source, SaaS, and mobile are going to be key for getting to pervasive BI,” says Nobby Akiha, senior vice president of marketing for Actuate, noting that BI is typically used by less than 20 percent of people in an organization. “We want to allow the adoption of technology to be much wider.”
So, what differentiates BIRT and Actuate from the usual gang of big-name BI vendors? According to Akiha, it’s the focus on developers. “IT organizations use BIRT to build applications that are fairly specific and solve a particular problem,” he says. For example, Actuate’s partner IBM has embedded BIRT reporting into its Tivoli and Maximo product suites.
As an Eclipse plug-in, BIRT is easily accessible to any developer working within an Eclipse-based IDE, including Rational Developer for Power Systems (RDP), the primary IDE for IBM i shops. BIRT’s partnership with IBM enables it to access DB2/400 data sources. A recent partnership formed with Talend, which develops open source extract, transform, and load (ETL) tools, can provide IBM i shops another way to access DB2/400 sources in the BIRT or ActuateOne tool.
While BIRT is positioned to catch the eyes of developers, that doesn’t mean you need to be a Java junkie to use or appreciate the software, although big-time Java skills may be useful for some of the more advanced capabilities. Like other BI vendors, Actuate is looking to empower regular users, and not just the analysts, with the capability to play with their organizations’ data to discover something new and worthwhile.
Momentum around the BIRT project appears to be gaining steam. Actuate claims more than 10 million downloads for the core BIRT product, which is a top level Eclipse project. More than 1 million developers around the world are using the BIRT products, or commercial versions of those products, according to Akiha.
Actuate recently announced that it generated more than $21 million in BIRT-related business in 2010, including $7.3 million in license fees in the fourth quarter. The company, which does more than 90 percent of the work for the open source BIRT project, has about 600 paying customers for its ActuateOne line. “We’ve had very good uptake since 2004 and we’re starting to build a very healthy business around that with our commercial offerings,” Akiha says.
In the future, BIRT hopes to leverage its BIRT Exchange Marketplace, where third-party developers can market and sell their BIRT-related applications. The BIRT app store now houses 83 applications, most of which are from third parties.
With open source becoming more mainstream every year, and business intelligence becoming more central to organizations, the future appears bright for companies like Actuate.
This article has been corrected. Actuate reported $7.3 million in license fees for the fourth quarter, not for all of fiscal year 2010. IT Jungle regrets the error.