What to remember when presenting OS BI

As I wrote about in my previous blog post I went to Danish IT the other day to talk about Open Source BI. I've spent a lot of time the last two days contemplating on the presentation and how the audience percievede OS BI as pretty immature and insecure... Somehow some of my points about how one could take advantage of Open Source instead of seeing it as a threat and a risk got lost in the mix. I will try and sum up some of the thoughts that I've had on what went wrong and how to present BI products for people who a unfamiliar with Open Source.

  • First of the presentation wasn't really a "sales meeting", so I took on the academic perspective and showed the audience a broad view of the OS BI arena, including two alternatives for each product group; databases, ETL, reporting and OLAP. This was a really bad idea: Presenting the alternatives within OS was simply too much; instead of being impressed that there was a volume for rivalry between and within the OS communities this was thought of as a bad thing - fragmentation, instability etc. So instead, just show the business people a single suite of products, a silver bullet, even though we all know that this does not exist (neither does it in the commercial world, which is a good thing).
  • Taking a too feature-driven product-focus was not the best idea. Sure you should point out all the good features of OS BI products but for my demonstrations I focused on the great computational power and advanced features instead of showing them some nice user interfaces. In selecting what to present I would definately recommend to use more user friendly products like eclipse BIRT, Talend, OpenLaszlo, etc. Instead I showed them the Pentaho suite which for a large part has a somewhat boring theme.
  • Remember to get them a list of companies that have already undergone OS BI initiatives. I forgot this completely and it was a big mistake. I hope for the attendees that they folllowed my advise to go check it out themselves at Pentaho's and JasperSoft's websites.
  • Stress that the participation thing is not something that nescesarily requires coding-skills. Show them how support forums work and that the communication part is just as important. Without useful information the developers are lost and will probably not focus on the exact same thing as the customers do.
  • Get more authority into the room. Hard to admit I have a hard time getting authority in a room of business people because I'm more of the academic type. So bring along colleagues and trustees to help convince the audience that your message is legitimate. Also this will help potential customers understand that you're not the only one in the business who cares about OS BI - it will tell them that there are others and certainly enough to get started with consulting, training and recruiting.
  • Show them the numbers of Open Source. David Wheelers article should give you some good starting points. Address the fact that there are plenty of developers and tell them what motivates them (these points only seemed to kick in when I told them about my own OS projects so I must have not made it clear from the beginning)... Learning, reputation, ideology and "real" work/sponsored developers.
On the positive note however (seeing that the points above may leave you with the impression that the meeting went all wrong, which is not the case) there was several positive experiences. It helped a lot to show the actual community webpages and show how the development process worked. I did this as my last topic and it should have been in there earlier to help the audience get a feeling of the underlying ideas. Also, supplementing with notes on related Open Source products helps people understand that this is not just a "crazy idea" that popped up for BI. Show them JBoss, Apache, Linux, OpenOffice, Eclipse, Mozilla etc. And then tell them about integration, SOA etc. which are architectual challenges that are very suitably overcome using Open Source based solutions.


Kasper Sørensen said...

A nice little key note to take into mind also, taken from Feller & Fitzgerald. Motives for going Open Source:

1. Technological; the need for robust code, faster development cycles, higher standards of quality, reliability and stability, and more open standards and platforms.

2. Economical; the corporate need for shared cost and shared risk.

3. Socio-political; scratching a developer’s “personal itch”, peer reputation, desire for “meaningful” work, and community oriented idealism.

Virgil said...

This is great stuff Kasper. As an evangelist for BIRT and Actuate through BIRT Exchange, I find myself talking alot about open source and I agree that showing the cool and fun features, like the drag-drop in the BIRT Designer, drill-down charts, or the AJAX interactive viewer, go over much better than walking over integration code for an hour... and your final point in your comment is often the most important. The developers want to know what is in it for them. If they can get all the kudos for learning your tool, or integrating your product into their app, then that is all the motivation they need.

Keep the tips coming.

Kasper Sørensen said...

Glad you liked it Virgil! I'm sure there's going to be more on this topic as I'm going to the Open Source Days conference in a couple of weeks to demonstrate DataCleaner. That will be my first conference appearance and I'm sure it will be a shocking experience ;-)