Actuate Leads Open Source Reporting System Initiative - InformationWeek

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Actuate Leads Open Source Reporting System Initiative

Strategic developer partnership with eclipse foundation brings reporting to Java IDE and developer base.

VentanaMonitor™

Summary

Actuate announces that it has joined the Eclipse Foundation as a strategic developer and board member.  A completely new open-source reporting system will be contributed by Actuate to the Eclipse project portfolio. This project, called Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools (BIRT), is one of six major project initiatives for the foundation and is expected to be available for use 2005. BIRT would be an addition to Eclipse's already leading Java Integrated Development Environment (IDE). For Actuate, this initiative builds awareness of its products within the open source and application development communities. Through the arrangement with Eclipse, Actuate will launch commercial products based upon BIRT within one year of BIRT's availability (2005).

Analysis

On August 24th, 2004, Actuate Corporation announced that it has joined the Eclipse open source foundation as a strategic developer and a member of the board. Further, Actuate has proposed a new open source development project called Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools (BIRT). This proposal intends to give Actuate a strategic advantage in the BI market by being the first BI vendor to offer (indirectly) an open source reporting software product.

Actuate's Eclipse proposal will be available to the public for review and comment within 30 days of the announcement date (August 24th, 2004) on the Eclipse web site. If this project is ultimately approved by the Eclipse board, it will be the first top-level Eclipse project for the development of applications that include business intelligence and enterprise reporting functionality. Actuate claims the source code will be developed anew, meaning no existing Actuate product code will be included. This will be comprised of three parts; a report development tool (written in Java), a report file definition standard (using XML), and a report execution engine (written in Java). The project will support Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. No commitments were made by Actuate concerning its implementation of other complimentary BI capabilities such as the recently announced EII, web or Microsoft Excel based ad-hoc query and reporting.

Eclipse has gained significant traction in the market with its Java IDE (Integrated Development Environment) and claims to have had over 29 million downloads from its site by over 640,000 organizations spanning 125 countries from the last 24 months. Its Java IDE has the largest market share, greater than IBM WebSphere Studio. This announcement is significant in that thousands, if not millions of Java developers will gain access to a new, license-fee free reporting technology.

If Eclipse developers choose to enhance BIRT and submit those enhancements, the quality of the code will be high and its usability will grow over time. A key aspect of the Eclipse model is the mandate for commercial products from corporate sponsors based on its open-source projects. Actuate fully intends to leverage this mandate, with commercial products planned for the Formula One brand (via its ReportingEngines subsidiary) and its Actuate iServer brand. While not stated explicitly, there will likely be a streamlined migration path to Actuate's core products. In fact, Actuate views this new initiative in part as a marketing vehicle, improving company awareness and product trial and familiarity. Its bet is that it can demonstrate sufficient value from its BIRT-derived commercial products to entice developers to license them.

Market Impact

It is unlikely that customers intending to license a business intelligence solution in the immediate future from a leading vendor (Actuate or otherwise) will postpone that purchase based upon Actuate's Eclipse announcement, because no new software is available. Yet this announcement raises the visibility of Actuate in the business intelligence and open source communities, as Actuate is the first significant BI vendor with an open source alternative.

Certainly, BIRT can become a preferred alternative when embedding reporting capabilities into other applications. This is a growing (but currently small) sector of the reporting technology market, especially because reports are more frequently deployed as part of operational applications. As no other leading BI vendor has initiated a similar open source project, this provides Actuate first-mover advantage.

Actuate's project may impact other open source-based reporting software, but these software products constitute a small part of the reporting market. Importantly, open source has not been a key requirement for mainstream reporting software purchases. The success of this approach will hinge upon the trade-off between upgrade convenience to Actuate's BIRT-derived commercial software and any significant advantages offered by reporting software from other competitors. Nonetheless, growing a cadre of developers who can easily upgrade to Actuate will aid Actuate in its efforts to build awareness.

Recommendation

For now, IT managers who are responsible for deploying BI solutions should continue with their plans for near term deployments. Developers who intend to deploy embedded Java-based reporting should review and comment on the Actuate proposal if they see the proposed project as advantageous. (Bear in mind that BIRT is only reporting and not a complete BI platform yet.)

When it becomes available sometime in 2005, BIRT can serve two purposes: provide a low-cost way to prototype embedded reporting and provide a low-cost way to embed reporting for small-scale use (5-200 users). Organizations will need to understand the cost and value of upgrading to Actuate's commercial products and take on source code maintenance if the BIRT platform is the only utilized application. Ventana Research believes at some time in 2005 or 2006, other vendors will be available to provide support and maintenance for BIRT.

Eric Rogge is VP & Research Director - Business Intelligence & Performance Management at Ventana Research (www.ventanaresearch.com), a research and advisory services firm.

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