How “Free” is Free?

Thursday 30 June 2011

In these days of austerity more and more people are looking for the next bargain and trying to find ways of slashing costs and trimming what fat they can to increase margin and profit.

When it comes to IT spend, we have noticed a change in peoples and companies mindsets over the past couple of years around their buying decisions and changing priorities as companies cope with a contracting economy.

Many people are giving more time to “Software as a Service” or “Pay as you go”.

“Software in the Cloud” to cut out IT hardware-spend and reduce on-going support costs.

“Hosted Applications”, the all in one, one-stop-shop for back office systems and data.

We’re involved in all of these through our partners and can see that there is definitely a lot of opportunity and momentum building up for externally managed services and SaaS in general.

Many other potential IT buyers are treading water. Sitting tight until their “readies” become more ready or looking to their own internal IT departments to “self-build”.

…Looking to build their own solutions using “Free software” and some corporate glue that can be supported and managed in-house and hopefully save the company time and money.

We use Open Source Software in our own BI stack but this does not mean our software is free to build or can be bought for free.

A lot of what we use are standards based components that allow you to integrate with other standards based components.


“Because it provides you with a quick way of integrating two technologies but without any firm technology lock-in.”

Nearly all of the standards based components we use can be swapped out with commercially available alternatives so the choice is really down to how much the customer wants to pay, and whether they are happy to use Open Source technology within their organisation.

Hundreds of man-years of effort have gone into the development of our product and millions of pounds of cost. All this to come up with something that combines the best of Open Source with the best of what a team of Business Intelligence, Search Engine and UI experts can conjure up over 6 and a half years.

So what do I mean by “How free is free?”

Not everything that comes without a price tag is free.

In the world of software, complex problems often require complex solutions even if that solution is broken down into a set of manageable units of work.

Re-assembling these small units of work and getting them to communicate with one another in a manner that works in complex environments is difficult, time-consuming and expensive.

Supporting these complex environments is also expensive.

How much does it cost to change the software when the business changes? How many people need to be employed to manage the software and how do we share the knowledge of how things have been built to protect the business when key staff members are on holiday or leave?

It’s all money and risk, and in times like these they are all things that need to be thrown into the pot when acquiring software or services off a supplier or considering a self-build.

Software choice is greater than ever as is the pressure to get value for money and deliver a return on any investment in as short a time scale as possible.

Talking specifically as a Business Intelligence supplier, if you are looking at the world of free BI tools, look closely at what the true costs are of implementing a solution over what is often a complex, multi-system, multi-database environment.

Don’t just count the external consultancy costs but look closely at how many people you will need to configure and maintain your solution over a period of 3 to 5 years.

Think of the hardware costs and how this might compare to other alternatives as you scale-out the solution across more and more systems and users.

Think of the solution’s value to the business and whether or not it will do exactly what you want and what compromises you might have to make over other commercial alternatives and what this might mean to your bottom line.

Think of what the users will be able to get out of the software and calculate what savings will be made through more efficient working and improved access and see how this stacks up against other alternatives.

Above all, compare this to our product CXAIR.

A typical on-premise implementation is 5 days. This includes training, setting up the data sources, building the indexes, configuring the search engines and creating a load of reports.

In the Cloud you can upload your data and start writing your own reports in a matter of minutes.

How free is free? We’re not free but a lot “freer” than other “free” alternatives.

A bit of a tongue twister, but I hope you get my point…

Get in touch to discuss your requirements further