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The Overlap Of Social Media And The World Of Open Source

by Lyndsay Wise, President, WiseAnalyticsThursday, August 20, 2009

A key complaint of business intelligence solutions in the past has been the lack of ease of use and the reliance on technical resources and strong information architecture to maintain solutions.  With technological advancements, an expanding emphasis on ease of use, and the demands of interactivity that come from the increasing relevance of social media tools, the focus of business intelligence applications is slowly shifting to take into account the requirements of business users and the demands of interactivity.  Two areas (out of many) that have enabled business intelligence applications to move in this direction are (1) the expansion of open source solutions into mainstream BI and (2) social media and the changes in how people interact with technology.

Both open source and social networking concepts are based on a similar premise: enabling end users to drive the experience either through software development and community-based exploration of continuous software improvement, or connecting through technology to produce projects, share ideas and create social environments online.  Either way, as these aspects of technology become more common place within organizations, end users start to demand more from their systems and overall IT environments.  This may be in the form of easier-to-understand user interfaces or better collaboration and data sharing.

When looking at BI specifically, open source solutions are no longer on the sidelines or considered by only a subset of companies.  As the ability to interact with larger communities and benchmark progress by working with outside resources (as in the case of developers) - and as business users see the value of a collaborative approach to getting the most out of their internal applications - the significance of using open source solutions becomes more obvious to companies.

Some benefits and challenges of open source interactivity

In order to understand the convergence of open source and social media and the effect on business intelligence, it becomes important to first evaluate open source independently and then look at how it overlaps with social networking concepts.  Open source solutions have the benefit of continual customer feedback and interaction to help design applications that meet the constant demands of customers and developers.  What this means is that developers with specific or unique support issues can collaborate with community members to customize their solutions.

In addition, open source software is free to use, reducing overall software costs.  However, to get the advantage of support and services, it becomes essential to buy commercial open source solutions.  The benefit of open source BI solutions is that they target mainstream BI usage making them more user friendly to deploy and use.  Consequently, business users can take more advantage of open source as part of their overall BI evaluations.

As with all positives, open source also has its challenges, as it requires developer intervention.  This means that organizations looking to have BI driven fully by the business community and managed outside of IT are not the audience to which open source is focused (unlike SaaS solutions or BI offerings targeted to SMBs).  For these organizations however, the advent of social networking and adopting a more collaborative approach to process management and project completion enables companies to use an open source collaborative model when interacting with other employees and customers.

The bridge between open source solutions and social media

So, what is the actual connection between open source and the increasing use of social media?  And, how has the overlap enabled BI to expand more broadly among organizations?  This overlap occurs in relation to the way technology is applied.  Social networking’s goal of a user-guided and managed experience through community creation is similar to the developer community and the interaction within open source environments.  This structure enables BI solutions to be developed based on end-user requirements (developers and IT resources who are hopefully collaborating with business units) and gives vendors an added advantage of being in touch with their customers more easily than those offering traditional BI solutions.

Because social networking sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. offer interaction and community-development capabilities where people can connect for business or share interests, the concept of increased collaboration and interactivity is starting to broaden and become applied within organizations as well.  Corporate intranets are moving beyond simple information sharing and towards increased collaboration.  This development is also moving towards all uses of technology.  Within business intelligence, collaboration tools and the ability to share information is becoming a must have and starting to drive expanded business intelligence initiatives within the organization. 

BI expansion through open source

The expansion of open source solutions becomes a natural expansion into organizations that embrace increased interactivity and collaboration.  For development teams that can offer quick turnaround times to desired changes and for support requirements (with the ability to interact with external teams to gain additional insights into their projects), participation within open source projects can be seen as a way to drive competitive advantage through the use of technology.  In addition, open source BI solutions are working towards becoming more user friendly to expand the benefits of a community-based approach to business users as well.  As the demand for more interactivity and better usability becomes the norm within organizations (due to the expectations because of social media frameworks), the use of open source will start to broaden within organizations' technology environments.  As open source BI solutions expand becoming more user friendly and business focused - more likely through commercial versions - the overlaps between social networking concepts and open source will become more visible to the business user.

About the Author

Lyndsay Wise is an industry analyst for business intelligence. For over seven years, she has assisted clients in business systems analysis, software selection and implementation of enterprise applications. Lyndsay is the channel expert for BI for the Mid-Market at B-eye-Network and conducts research of leading technologies, products and vendors in business intelligence, marketing performance management, master data management, and unstructured data. She can be reached at lwise@wiseanalytics.com. And please visit Lyndsay's blog at myblog.wiseanalytics.com.

(Copyright 2009 - Dashboard Insight - All rights reserved.)

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