UPDATE 09/26/2017: This article has been updated to include three new options for a total of 17 business intelligence software systems, and provides updated information for the existing options.
Nearly all companies can benefit from business intelligence software, but not all companies have the budget for it. If you’re an SMB and things are tight, or you’re not totally sure you’re ready to take the plunge into spending on BI software, free and open source business intelligence software might be a good option for you.
A quick search reveals an overabundance of free BI software… so much so that you might (rightfully) question the quality of available tools. Which ones are best for your business?
No worries: I’ve done the research for you.
I’ve evaluated the options based on functionality, popularity, and, in the case of open source, the size of development opportunities. They are arranged alphabetically.
Open Source Business Intelligence Software
BIRT is an open source BI program that is “often seen as the industry standard.” This perception has a lot of truth to it, as BIRT boasts “over 12 million downloads and over 2.5M developers across 157 countries.” Their users include heavyweights such as Cisco, S1, and IBM (which is also a BIRT sponsor). They also have maturity going for them, as they’ve been around since the (second) Bush administration.
BIRT can create a range of reports, from textual documents to crosstabs to standard pie and bar graphs. Along with these BI basics, BIRT can also tackle slightly more advanced tasks, “such as grouping on sums, percentages of overall totals and more.” BIRT can also be embedded in a range of other applications, so it may integrate with business software you already use. BIRT is also great if you run an application that uses Java, as components such as BIRT’s report engine and charting engine integrate easily with applications and programs that use Java.
Be aware, however, that you’ll need someone who knows code to be able to really work the program. If you’re left scratching your head at terms like “conditional formatting” or “scripted data sets,” you may be in over your head.
You’ll run into Jaspersoft pretty quickly if you search for open source BI tools, but it may be awhile before you encounter this fact: Jaspersoft was bought up by Tibco in April of 2014. How good is Jaspersoft? Good enough that Tibco spent $185 million to acquire them.
Jaspersoft Community is the company’s free offering. Jaspersoft offers five of their programs in Community editions:
- JasperReports Server: A program for designing reports that can be embedded, or used on its own
- JasperReports Library: A Java library that allows you to use data from any source, and export reports in HTML, PDF, Excel, and other formats
- Jaspersoft ETL: a data integration engine that transforms your business data into information that can be used in a report
- Jaspersoft Studio: A program that lets you design and customize the reports you’ll embed in JasperReports Server
Jaspersoft’s website states that 94% of customers recommend their product, and 90% recommend their support. Though that fact’s from their website, you can’t argue with their impressive list of customers: everyone from Groupon to Time Warner Cable to the government of British Columbia and Vanderbilt University.
Like a lot of open source programs, Jaspersoft has a developer community, an online forum for people who use and, well, develop that open source code into a fuller program.
The upside to developer communities for any open source program is that you’ve got a potential support network, or at least people with similar concerns. The downside is that, since developer communities are populated by users, rather than paid customer service advisors, you take your chances when you look for help.
For example, on the Jaspersoft Community Answers page, you can post questions to the community of developers, at large, on an online forum. Whether you get an answer depends on whether another developer has the time, or interest, to offer a solution. As this article’s writing, the odds weren’t bad: 11 of the 20 questions on the first page had answers.
Knime is definitely not for beginners. This is a program for data scientists looking to work with languages such as R or Python, or use predictive and machine learning algorithms. Are you familiar with multivariate statistics and data mining? If so, great! If those terms make your eyes glaze over (*raises hand sheepishly*), try something different.
Knime’s one of the bigger established players among open source data analytics programs, with users in more than 60 countries worldwide. They get an 8.9/10 rating from “Predictive Analytics Today,” and can be used for purposes as diverse as data visualization and Internet of Things projects.
Metabase is an open source business intelligence tool that enables you to poke around in your data and prod it until answers come out. At least one reviewer I found praised how easy the installation is, calling it “the first time I have started something open source without a failure on the first attempt.”
That said, Metabase may not be the choice for you if you’re confused by the phrase “Java Jar,” or something like this:
Metabase offers dashboards and seven visualizations, including pie charts, bar graphs, line graphs, and maps of the world. You can upload a variety of data formats, from MondoDB to SQL.
Pentaho was bought by Hitachi, and now makes up one part of Hitachi Ventara. They’re still called Pentaho, though.They offer a lot of helpful BI basics such as visualizations from heat graphs to geo-mapping, as well as reporting in outputs as diverse as PDFs, Excel, HTML, and others. They offer an Enterprise Edition (for which you’ll have to buy a subscription) and a Community Edition (free and open source). As with Jaspersoft, your business will need someone who knows how to code if you want to really take advantage.
If you do have coders on hand, Pentaho is a great choice. The customizability one gets from coding is strengthened by offerings such as Pentaho’s CTools, which are “tools and components created to help you build Custom Dashboards on top of Pentaho.” The tools allow you to perform an impressive range of activities, such as creating more advanced dashboards or incorporating extra graphics for reports.
Like Jaspersoft, Pentaho offers community forums that allow you to discuss developments or changes you’ve made to the code, or ask questions. The odds aren’t bad for getting an answer. The forums for data integration and CTools are a good place to find answers, but the Reporting section of the forums is the equivalent of digital crickets chirping.
Pentaho definitely tries to take the idea of a developer community seriously. There’s a list of real-life groups, with links to meetup.com, but a lot of the groups haven’t had meetings in months. The exception is Business Intelligence Big Data Integration ETL Analysts. They’re based out of NYC, but two of their last three meetings were free webinars, so geography’s hardly an issue.
If you’re looking to run reports, you know how to code, and you don’t want to spend any money, check out Report Server Community Edition. Report Server is good for unlimited users, which is unusual among free BI software.
Another feature uncommon to free software are Team Spaces, which allow collaboration (a lot of free business intelligence software doesn’t offer the collaborative features that make it such a good investment). Like a lot of open source software, there’s also a community forum you can check in case another user has already had the same questions you have.
Since the last update, SpagoBI has combined with Knowage. SpagoBI is still available, and still open source, but is now offered alongside Knowage and Knowage Community Edition. Spago is, according to their site, “the only entirely Open Source Business Intelligence suite.” They’re also competent enough to have recently
Free Business Intelligence Software
If you really want a sense of just how much software has changed business intelligence, consider that some of the following programs offer unlimited reports. Thirty years ago, the amount of time, effort, and man hours that went into making a single report would have made that idea seem fanciful.
ClicData offers a free version of their software, ClicData Personal, which gives users up to 1 GB of data storage, unlimited dashboards, and the ability to turn Excel and CSV files into well-organized, useful data. As a heads up, the free version is only good for a single user. The downside of this restriction is that you’ll miss out on the collaborative element that makes BI software so useful. If you’re a small business, however, and only one person needs access, ClicData is a solid offering.
ClicData also offers the useful option to refresh your data. The free version offers ten data refreshes a month, so you could feasibly get new updates on the info you need every three days. ClicData prides themselves on their frequent refreshes, and that pride extends to their free option.
Since ClicData Personal is not just a trial version, there’s no time limit to how long you can use the program. Marketing Director Helene Clery says customers particularly appreciate this. Many small customers benefit from the lack of a time limit because Personal is “just right for their needs,” while larger, enterprise customers get “more time to test and sell it internally before upgrading.”
In either case, ClicData Personal is an option that suits the needs of large and small customers alike.
Dataiku also offers a free version of its business intelligence software. If you’re looking for data visualizations, you’re in luck – it offers 15 different chart types. Given that the full version offers 25 types, Dataiku’s free edition is worth a look if your primary interest is data visualization.
Dataiku Free also lets you play with machine learning algorithms, including a few of the most popular: regression, classification, and clustering. Given that you’re paying nothing, that’s pretty impressive.
It’s not multi-user, and, given how important collaboration is to business intelligence, you’ll be missing out. Still, that’s more than balanced out by the functionalities and, of course, the price.
Two great things about this version of Qlik Sense: 1) It’s cloud based, so you can access it from anywhere, and 2) it’s free for up to five users. That means you can collaborate with a small team, which is especially useful if you want to test before you invest. It’s that collaborative element that’s especially useful, as collaboration is one of Gartner’s Critical Capabilities (research available to Gartner subscribers) every business intelligence program should have.
One useful collaborative feature is Qlik Sense Stream, which shows changes, updates, and annotations made to documents and images. It’s like having a Twitter feed for what people do in the program. There’s also a stream for yourself, so if you get stuck in a “what-was-that-thing-I-worked-on-last-Tuesday” loop, all you have to do is scroll down.
Qlik, one of only three leaders in Gartner’s 2017 Business Intelligence Magic Quadrant, offers free, “personal” versions of three of its programs: QlikView Personal, Qlik Sense Desktop, and Qlik Sense Cloud (as discussed in the previous section.)
Qlik’s personal editions are best for solo use. They have the same functions as the full version and aren’t timed (as in 30-day trials), so get a solid product. They don’t offer the same ability to collaborate and share data you’d get with the full versions, but if you’re just a solo entrepreneur or in charge of a small operation, these could still be solid options.
Qlik’s new product, Qlik Sense Cloud Business, is also a great possibility. Qlik designed the program for the SMB space so it may be the first thing you want to check.
Microsoft also offers a stripped-down, free version of their business intelligence program, Power BI Desktop. It offers up to 1 GB of data, along with the ability to transform CSV data, and Excel spreadsheets, into something people actually don’t mind looking at.
Power BI refreshes daily, and you can get that info through a native mobile app (though you can’t create reports through the app). Even better is the ability to write queries in natural language (plain English, without any coding-specific terms of art).
RapidMiner offers free versions of all three of its products, RapidMiner Studio, RapidMiner Server, and RapidMiner Radoop.
If you’re an SMB, RapidMiner might be a good place to start. Its free version of Studio has almost all the features of the pay version, including the ability to crunch up to 10,000 rows of data. The only major exception is background processing execution, which isn’t included. If that worries you at all, assuage yourself by checking out all of RapidMiner’s other features.
With RapidMiner Server, you get up to 2 GB of storage and up to 1,000 web service API calls. Though you won’t get the same support as the pay versions, you’ll still have access to RapidMiner’s community support.
15. Style Scope AE
Style Scope AE (Agile edition) is InetSoft’s free version. It’s primarily a data visualization program, but it also allows you to prep your data beforehand. Almost as important as the features is the user experience: Style Scope AE uses a drag-and-drop interface, so even the technophobic can understand how to work it. You can upload a wide variety of data styles to AE, including (of course) Excel spreadsheets.
The visualizations you can make are gorgeous, especially for a free program.
Style Scope AE has beauty, but it also has brains. If you have trouble adapting to new technology, refer to one of the numerous free video tutorials on the Style Scope AE training page.
16. Tableau Public
Tableau also offers free BI software: Tableau Public. The program’s accessibility is a strong feature, with the ability to share visualizations via email or social media, and the option to connect to Google Sheets. Tableau Public can import and understand data from Excel and Azure, and also .csv files.
17. Zoho Reports
Zoho’s business intelligence program, Zoho Reports, offers a free version with the added bonus of two users. Extra users can be added for $10/month, but that’s stretching the definition of “free.” The free version also offers unlimited reports and dashboards, as well as cloud storage. There’s no limit on the size of a file in Zoho’s cloud storage, but there is a limit on the number of rows (100,000).
Are there any free BI software options I missed?
Know of any free and/or open source business intelligence software programs I missed? Let me know about them in the comments below!
Looking for Business Intelligence software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Business Intelligence software solutions.