5 Free Business Intelligence Crunchers for Your 2010 Arsenal

Business Intelligence (BI) applications — which provide views ranging from spreadsheet-like collections of data to useful graphics of historical, current and future aspects of business operations — have been growing in sophistication for years. And while historically many of the best ones were expensive, tough-to-use tools, there are now numerous easy, free and open-source alternatives.

These applications usually mine database- and spreadsheet-centric data for the analytics that they provide, and are compatible with applications such as Microsoft Excel and most popular databases. Even better is that most of the open-source offerings are now just as powerful as the proprietary applications. While they’re often complemented by paid versions that offer more features, and support, you can easily get started with useful applications for no money down. Here are five that can go a long way toward helping you better understand your business:

A Jaspersoft Flash chart

Jaspersoft. Jaspersoft’s suite of open-source BI applications include  JasperAnalysis for analyzing data and JasperReports for creating detailed, graphical reports. Jaspersoft offers both a free Community Edition and a Professional Edition that includes support and services.  Jaspersoft also offers live training online.

A sample Pentaho chart showing technology downtime

Pentaho. Like Jaspersoft, Pentaho’s BI Suite is also available in a free Community Edition or an Enterprise Edition that includes support and services. You can look at what some businesses are doing with Pentaho here. Pentaho’s suite is modular, and you can either deploy the whole thing, or pick components, such as Pentaho Analysis and Pentaho Reporting.

Palo BI Suite. This BI offering is especially targeted at people used to doing business analytics in Microsoft Excel. It manages all data centrally and allows you to use Excel as your front-end for viewing data, graphics and reports.  You can see demos of it here. Below is a sample spreadsheet view of how Palo BI can be used to monitor accounting.

Example of how you can use graphics/graphical tools with SpagoBI

SpagoBI. SpagoBI is an integration platform for Business Intelligence available in a server version that you can download here. It’s not a standalone set of predefined applications, but rather a group of tools that can be modularly customized for unique applications. You can find out more on how it works here.

Actuate. Actuate’s open-source Business Intelligence applications are focused on allowing developers to build Rich Internet Applicaitions (RIA) that can do things like deliver business analytics and data directly to web sites. The company offers a full suite of tools, focused on everything from spreadsheets to reports, and you can find demos here.  Actuate’s applications let you concentrate on spreadsheet-like analyses like the one below, or graphical ones.

Thumbnail image courtesy of Jaspersoft.

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