Q&A: Integrating Content Management and BI

Integrating BI, content management, and portals has long been a challenge for IT. Open source has a price advantage, but is it right for you?

Integrating standalone software packages from different vendors has become one of the great challenges of IT. It can be costly, and issues such as security increase as data moves between software. A solution is a suite that combines several functions under one roof -- as an example, enterprise content management (ECM), business intelligence, and portal software.

We spoke to Scott Barnett, co-founder and COO of Bluenog, whose Bluenog ICE provides that very combination of integrated software -- in this case, ECM, BI, and a portal solution. We asked Barnett about that particular combination of software, about the integration challenges companies face in general, and whether Bluenog is a model for future open source software.

BITW: What challenges do companies face in integrating their BI, content management, and portals?

Scott Barnett: It’s exactly in what you described -- integration. Most companies spend a lot of time customizing or creating new capabilities that tie together their independent CMS, BI, and Portal strategies. This is time and effort that doesn’t create value for their constituents, and the support/maintenance costs of integration can be large. In addition, there are challenges around a single security model for integrated authentication and authorization around these solutions, as well as for administration and deployment.

Having a single place to go to manage users, groups, roles, and resources is a huge time saver. Working with an integrated product offering also limits vendor incompatibility issues and provides a lower total cost of ownership for IT.

Those are challenges that every company faces. Is there a company size range in particular that is most stymied by this?

Companies in what we describe as mid-market (yearly revenue between $200 million to $2 billion) typically don’t have large IT staffs and can readily see the value of having a product and solution that provides integration out of the box. Companies in that size range also have a strong need to rely on a solution partner for support, upgrades, indemnification -- the things that they generally get from their existing commercial partners.

Also, these companies traditionally don’t have the time or capability to do the basic levels of integration, and many of them use commercial infrastructure products (such as databases and application servers) from leading companies such as Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft. They want to make sure their applications can run on their existing commercial infrastructure, not just on open source infrastructure. Of course, both need to be supported, but it can’t be either/or.

There is discussion in the BI space about commercial versus open source. Can you offer some general suggestions for choosing between commercial and open source BI?

This really breaks down in two ways -- a technology decision and a business decision.

From a technology perspective, it comes down to features and access to the source code. Are you looking to make changes to the underlying code? Do you have staff to review the code for support purposes? How can you most effectively integrate separate systems?

If these issues matter to you, then source code is a great differentiator. If you don’t care about these things, then it simply comes down to features/functionality -- access to source code doesn’t really matter.

From a business perspective, what level of support do you want or need? What’s your budget? It’s well-known that pricing for open source will generally be advantageous, but sometimes it’s at the expense of a generally expected level of customer support, so these and other decisions must be carefully considered before a selection is made.

Also, BI is a pretty overloaded space -- there are all sorts of features, including ETL, OLAP, and data warehousing, that may or may not come into play. We actually find that many companies with enterprise BI tools are still looking for a “lighter-weight” BI solution to integrate with their Web presence. Instead of using a sledgehammer to drive a nail, they are looking for that right-sized hammer to do the job. In that case, a simpler BI tool that is lighter and focused on Web reporting, for example, is a good fit.

BITW: How important is the open source component at Bluenog? You’re approaching things a bit differently in that you don’t produce open source code, but you’ve integrated open source code from several projects in creating your code, and your customers get the product’s source code. Can you talk about that approach?

We are taking a “best of both worlds” approach to software development. When we started Bluenog, we knew we wanted to create a product that integrates enterprise content management, portal, and business intelligence. Given the nature of each component, we knew we couldn’t build all these components from the ground up in a reasonable amount of time, so we started looking at open source as the “foundation” for our suite.

Although there are lots of options in the open source space, it became apparent what projects to choose when we started to narrow things down to two areas: the most flexible foundation and interoperability. We needed this so that we could optimize our integration work. We’ve put many man-years of effort into this integration already. The resulting product is a combination of several distinct open source projects and Bluenog’s integration and innovation.

From a business perspective, we found the customers in the target market ($200 million to $2 billion in revenue) were uncomfortable with open source licensing schemes, at least in the U.S., so we decided to use a commercial software license but also make the software available to customers, so they get both sets of benefits -- all the source code like an open source project, but business benefits such as customer support, updates, upgrades, and indemnification. This model works very well in the U.S. and is what customers here are used to.

As we make changes or enhance the underlying open source projects, we submit those changes back to the community -- either ourselves or on behalf of our customers -- or our customers may submit changes back directly themselves. The model allows participants to focus on what’s most important to them.

We also focus on ready integration with existing technologies, which includes traditional closed-source vendors. Based on feedback from our customers, the most important thing is to make sure the products they choose can interoperate quickly and cost-effectively. If providing source code to our product allows them to do that, it’s a significant benefit that they can’t get from most commercial product companies.

BITW: Is your model at Bluenog where open source is headed?

We’d like to think so, although there are plenty of models and there will likely be several that receive market acceptance. It’s clear that there needs to be a business model that allows companies that use or create open source to make money. It’s pretty obvious that without that there isn’t a viable business model to sustain.

About the Author

Linda Briggs is the founding editor of MCP Magazine and the former senior editorial director of 101communications. In between world travels, she's a freelance technology writer based in San Diego, Calif.

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