Business Intelligence and Beyond: Open Source Software For Intelligence Services

Business Intelligence and Beyond: Open Source Software For Intelligence Services
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Defining Intelligent Services

Intelligent services, from businesses to governments, all need software in order to analyze the intelligence they gather. Intelligence software is, thus, the software that they use. Such software is essential to develop any sort of sense of what is going on in today’s chaotic world and to wade through the onslaught of digitized data and come to usable conclusions. Historically, intelligence software has been dominated by proprietary software suites. However, this has begun to change as more and more intelligent services switch to using open source products.

Be careful not to confuse this with similar terms. Open source intelligence may also refer to the information that can be gathered from publicly available locations, for instance newspapers or books. This is a very traditional form of intelligence gathering used by governments and businesses alike, a method that can be compared to more covert acts of espionage and the like. In this usage, it is referred to by the acronym OSINT, as defined by the US Office of Management and Budget. 

Some people also use the term to refer to projects that attempt to gather knowledge in the public domain for public use, Wikipedia being a good example of this. However, this use is somewhat less common.

Obviously open source intelligence software may take advantage of open source intelligence methods, but it’s important to remember the distinction and to clarify where necessary.

Government Intelligence Services

This article will primarily focus on open source business intelligence, that is, commercial intelligence services and software that are available for primarily business purposes. However, one should be aware of the fact that government intelligence services also use open source intelligence software as well. The US Department of Defense has historically used more open source than other sectors of the US government, including in the realm of intelligence software. Many other world governments, including their intelligence services, are picking up on their usage of open source software generally. Indeed, many open source business intelligence companies are attempting to market to governments, such as JasperSoft.

However, there is some resistance to open source of any sort both within and outside of the government. Some countries are actually moving towards considering it an act of piracy.

Business Intelligence Market and the Recession

The recession had a big effect on the software world. Many companies, scrambling to reduce costs without reducing quality or output, turned to open source software for a huge variety of applications. Business intelligence was no exception to this. While many place 2005 as the real beginning of open source business intelligence software, the recession certainly saw its blossoming. As one author put it, “If you are unaccustomed to using business intelligence and open source software in the same sentence, you’re excused if you’ve been on a desert island for a couple of years.”

While the market is still dominated by large proprietary players such as Microsoft, niche companies like these open source ones have been credited with driving much of the innovation in BI software, as well as driving the prices down and making it more generally accessible. As a result, open source solutions are becoming less of a fringe and more of a mainstream concept in BI.

Open Source BI Projects

JasperSoft Logo

Pentaho Logo


There are already several companies out there releasing suites of open source intelligence software geared towards businesses. For example, JasperSoft and Pentaho released opposing business intelligence tool set within a week of each other as far back as 2006. With this competition comes great maturation. Many analysts have noted the increased usability (read: nontechnical nature) of open source business intelligence tools. This is in addition to a proliferation of different projects, each with their own slightly different angles, from OpenI onwards, summing to what one count put at a total of 25 open source business intelligence projects.

Some companies, such as Pentaho as of 2009, are embracing hybrid open source-proprietary business models, such as having an “open core” but proprietary components. Others, such as the BIRT Project, are more collaborative and less overtly commercial in nature and fit in much more with the ideals of the Free and Open Software Movement.

That’s not to say that open source BI software is leaving proprietary in the dust. Proprietary vendors still fairly securely have the claim of better functionality, even if it does come at a markedly greater cost. Open source, however, is catching up, with more and more companies using it for the intelligence needs.