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Eclipse approves BIRT

But will it only be good for Actuate?

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Build a business case: developing custom apps

The Eclipse Foundation has approved the Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools project, which goes by the rather prosaic (with apologies to all Alberts out there) acronym of BIRT. This was proposed by Actuate just a month ago and, after a positive response from the open source community to which the Eclipse Foundation caters, the project has just been approved.

As its name suggests, BIRT is about providing tools for building business intelligence and reporting applications that fit within the Eclipse framework. This raises a number of questions, of which the main two are: is this a good idea? And is this a good idea for Actuate? As we shall see, these are not the same thing.

Starting with Actuate, I should make it clear that this is not about plugging any part of the existing Actuate product set into the Eclipse framework or, alternatively, making its software into an open source product. Instead, Actuate will, in effect, be mentoring the development of appropriate development tools.

This should certainly provide some traction for Actuate within the open source community and those involved with Eclipse-based development tools in particular. It will also be good for the company's visibility in general. Whether the effort required will be commensurate with increased recognition of Actuate is only for the company to know, but overall this is a "good thing" for Actuate.

However, I am less convinced about the likely success of BIRT in more general terms. Certainly, it makes sense in so far as the Eclipse Foundation is concerned, since it rounds out its product set. However, I am not persuaded that there is a market for business intelligence development tools in the same way that there is for more general-purpose development tools.

Why do I say this? Because there have been lots of business intelligence tools and they have all, more or less, disappeared, in favour of more packaged approaches. For example, Holos was arguably one of the most advanced BI development tools, but it never really made much impact on the market. Arguably this is because Crystal didn't know what to do with it after they bought it, but the same is also true of other such products. WebFOCUS from Information Builders is arguably an exception but even that product is much more packaged now that it used to be.

The bottom line is that most people simply don't want to develop business intelligence applications. The reason for this is that some transactional applications (the most important ones) represent real competitive advantage in that they encapsulate the unique characteristics of the user organisation. This is not true when it comes to the analysis of information. The way that you analyse data may involve differentiation but how you do it, which is what BI applications provide you with, is a packaged function.

So, BIRT looks like a good idea, and it may be useful for developers who need to add some standard reporting tweaks to their applications; but I don't think there is a significant market for people that want to build their own version of Business Objects or Hyperion or, for that matter, Actuate.

Copyright © 2004, IT-Analysis.com

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