Update 07/12/2018: This article has been updated to reflect the most current information and to delete options that no longer offer a free version of their software.
One of the best things about business intelligence software is that its benefits are not restricted by the size of the business. Whether you’ve got ten or 10,000 employees, you can still find value from what business intelligence software offers, such as dashboards and ad hoc queries.
One problem, though? Business intelligence tools are expensive.
Fortunately, there’s a solution: If you’re a small or midsize business (SMB) with a tight budget, free and open source business intelligence software is your way to get the benefits of data and analytics for free.
No worries: I’ve done the research for you.
It can be difficult to shortlist free and open source BI platforms, so I’ve created a comprehensive list of only those that offer a free or open source version. I also referred to Software Advice’s FrontRunners as a guide to ensure I didn’t leave out any tools that belong on this list.
Open source business intelligence software
BIRT is an open source BI program that CloudTweaks says is often viewed as the industry standard. BIRT boasts “over 12 million downloads and over 2.5 million developers across 157 countries.”
Its 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 cross tabs 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 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 such as “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. How good is Jaspersoft? Good enough that Tibco spent $185 million to acquire them in 2014.
Jaspersoft Community is the company’s free offering. Jaspersoft offers four of its 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 that exports reports in HTML, PDF, Excel, and other formats.
- Jaspersoft ETL: A data integration engine that transforms your raw data into easily consumed information.
- Jaspersoft Studio: A program that lets you design and customize the reports you’ll embed in JasperReports Server.
They have an impressive list of customers: Groupon, Time Warner Cable, 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 advisers, whether you get an answer depends on whether another developer has the time, or interest, to offer a solution.
Knime (short for Konstanz Information Miner), a free and open source data analytics program, comes in several versions:
- Knime Analytics Platform
- Knime Cloud Analytics Platform
- Knime Server
Knime is a great choice for data scientists, or employees who do the work of data scientists (citizen data scientists, as they’re also known).
If you work with languages such as R or Python, or use predictive and machine learning algorithms, give Knime a look.
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. It gets an 8.1/10 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. It offers such features as a SQL-free interface (you won’t have to know how to code to use it), ad hoc queries, and data visualization.
Metabase offers dashboards and 11 visualizations, including pie charts, bar graphs, line graphs, and maps of the world.
Worried you won’t pick the right sort of visual? If a particular visualization isn’t right for the sort of data you’re trying to visualize, Metabase will gray out that option in the drop-down menu (though you can still use it if you want to).
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. It’s still called Pentaho, though. Though the free version of Pentaho Business Analytics is no longer offered through Hitachi’s website, you can find a free version on SourceForge.
Pentaho offers a lot of helpful BI basics such as visualizations from heat graphs and geo-mapping, as well as reporting in outputs as diverse as PDFs, Excel, HTML, and others.
It offers 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 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. That said, Pentaho’s forums are less active, with most questions getting one or two responses at most.
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, that vendor’s open source option.
Report Server is good for unlimited users, which is unusual among free BI software tools.
A lot of free business intelligence software doesn’t offer the collaborative features that make it such a good investment, but ReportServer has collaborative Team Spaces in its free version.
As with a lot of open source software, there’s also a community forum you can check in case another user already had the same questions you have.
Since the last update of this piece, SpagoBI has rebranded as Knowage. The most recent free and open source version is called Knowage Community Edition 6.1.
Based out of Italy, Spago will give you the basics BI professionals anywhere need, such as visualizations, dashboards, reporting, and multidimensional analysis.
If you have enough data to need data mining, Spago offers that, as well.
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.
While Dataiku DSS (short for Data Science Studio) is more of a data science program than a business intelligence tool, I’m including it on this list because 1) it offers some dynamite data visualizations, and 2) it’s free.
Dataiku Free offers 26 different chart types, to be precise. 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.
Dataiku’s free version isn’t multi-user, and, given how important collaboration is to business intelligence, you’ll be missing out there. Dataiku’s Enterprise edition (for which you have to pay) does, however, allow multiple users.
Microsoft 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.
The biggest benefit of Power BI is its accessibility. If you can use Excel, you’ll probably have an easy time with Power BI because it uses the same DAX language as Excel.
Two great things about Qlik Sense Cloud Basic: 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 that every business intelligence program should have (research available to Gartner clients).
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 also offers a free, one-user version of their QlikView program.
QlikView’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).
They don’t offer the same ability to collaborate and share data you’d get with the full versions, but if you’re a solo entrepreneur or in charge of a small operation, these could still be solid options.
RapidMiner offers free versions of all three of its products: RapidMiner Studio, RapidMiner Server, and RapidMiner Radoop.
If you’re a small or midsize business, RapidMiner might be a good place to start.
When you download the free version of RapidMiner Studio, the first 30 days offer all of the features of Studio Large, which include unlimited rows of data, and Auto Model. After the first 30 days, you’ll be limited to 10,000 rows of data, and lose Auto Model.
If that worries you at all, assuage your fears 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 paid versions, you’ll still have access to RapidMiner’s community support. The free version of RapidMiner Radoop similarly limits you to community support and supports only one user, but it still supports over 70 Hadoop operators.
13. Style Scope AE
Style Scope AE (Agile edition) is InetSoft’s free business intelligence offering. It’s primarily a data visualization program, but it also allows you to prep your data beforehand.
Style Scope AE uses a drag-and-drop interface, so even the technophobic can 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 StyleScope AE training page.
14. Tableau Public
Tableau Public is business intelligence tool creator Tableau’s free offering. 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.
Tableau also offers a free version of Tableau Reader, if all you want to do is look at Tableau visualizations, rather than make them.
15. Zoho Reports
Zoho’s business intelligence program, Zoho Reports, offers a free version that supports two users. 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 (10,000).
What should your next step be?
If you’re interested in using a business intelligence software program, your best bet is to download three or four of these free options and try them out.
Pick one simple question you want to answer, and see how easy it is to answer that question in each program.
As is always the case with business intelligence software, you’ll get the most out of the program if you’re familiar with the data you collect.
For more information on any of the programs above, check out Capterra’s business intelligence software directory, and see what the program’s customer reviews have to say.
Looking for Business Intelligence software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Business Intelligence software solutions.