Dashboard Insight recently spoke with Italy's Stefano Scamuzzo about open source BI initiatives, project-centric models, and why he doesn't like to compare open source solutions with proprietary ones by using standard criteria.
Dashboard Insight: Tell us about the history of SpagoBI.
Stefano Scamuzzo: We started developing our open source strategy in 2003, in the Research and Innovation Division of our company, Engineering Ingegneria Informatica. The first solution was Spago, a J2EE framework which named the brand that now encompasses four projects under the SpagoWorld initiative.
It was quickly discovered that business intelligence was a promising domain where the open source alternative could bring added value to companies and organisations looking for flexible and customised BI solutions at reasonable costs. We had people in our division working on proprietary business intelligence platforms who started paying attention to emerging open source alternatives in individual areas such as reporting, multidimensional analysis, data mining and dashboard production. The challenge was to introduce these emerging technologies to the market through a unifying platform that could glue together security, scalability and new functionality that was otherwise non-existent or incomplete.
So starting from a preliminary set of basic solutions, the platform rapidly grew thanks to the internal development of specific and innovative engines including the GEO module for location intelligence, the query by example for free inquiry, and the KPI engine to model and measure indicators. The result was SpagoBI version 2.2, which offers a platform based on a consolidated kernel managing security, user profiling, scalability and high availability - covering 12 analytical areas with 16 different engines - mostly developed by the SpagoBI team itself.
DI: Where does SpagoBI sit on the BI stack?
SS: SpagoBI covers the whole BI stack, providing the most original added value in the analytical and delivery layer. The SpagoBI engines allows the final users to navigate the business information in order to make decisions according to their roles. Thanks to its large set of analytical engines and collaborative features, the end user can freely navigate through data and tools - for example, he or she starts from synthetic KPIs and navigates towards a map for a geographical presentation of the cases, adding notes and looking at detailed data thanks to a report or drill-down via OLAP technology. In addition, SpagoBI is an open integration platform allowing users to add new tools and engines both in the analytical and delivery layer, as well as other BI layers.
DI: Can you tell us about SpagoBI “project-centric” business model?
SS: The most common business model in the OS domain was called "dual-licence," which has recently become "open core." It’s based on a double version of the product, one for the community and one for commercial purposes. This model reflects an approach and a business based on the product and it is the one adopted by all the BI platforms, except for SpagoBI.
SpagoBI doesn’t have a license-selling approach and it’s not a market product with a lower price. Instead of a "product-centric" model, SpagoBI adopts a "project-centric" model that drives the architectural choices, the functional evolution, the business strategies, and its own approach to BI development projects.
The goal isn’t to make money by selling a product but to provide a new opportunity for creating a BI platform that meets the end-users’ real needs and their available budget in a development project - leveraging the platform growth via the project’s development and sales of support services. For this reason, SpagoBI adopts a pure open source approach: a single version of the product, entirely open source - that is, distributed under an OSS license, adding no “professional” or “enterprise” version upon payment - that grows thanks to contributions from different BI projects in terms of requirements, code and test. The SpagoBI core team works both on platform development and BI projects in order to collect requirements both on technical side and end users’ side to transform them into a shared roadmap.
At the same time, SpagoBI is also a professional open source product: users are supported - on request - with a complete set of commercial services including training, consultancy, on-site and in-house development and subscription.
DI: You have talked about the architectural changes in your 2.0 release which have deeply affected the design of the SpagoBI platform. Tell us about these changes.
SS: First of all, the architecture has been completely reviewed for robustness, security and scalability. SpagoBI 2.0 contains a single sign-on solution, it supports HTTPS and SSL protocols and we've thoroughly improved the source code security in order to comply to the OWASP top 10 guidelines, as explicitly asked by some customers. SpagoBI 2.0's new architecture fully leverages the SOA paradigm; the core of the architecture is represented by the SpagoBI Server, around which a series of main modules have been developed according to service orientation. These include SpagoBI Studio, the integrated development environment, SpagoBI Meta for technical and business metadata, SpagoBI SDK, a set of APIs for SpagoBI use from an external application, and SpagoBI applications, a set of vertical models focused on particular domains. Another important architectural improvement is the choice of delivering SpagoBI functionality both as portlets, as it was already available in previous versions, and as and independent web applications.