Jaspersoft CEO: We're driving pervasive business intelligence

Opening business intelligence to more users has long been a goal -- and Jaspersoft CEO Brian Gentile claims his cloud-based tools offer a breakthrough solution

Would your ears perk up if you heard there was a BI/analytics company that claims to deliver three-quarters of the functionality of traditional BI solutions at 20 percent or less of the cost?

What if you also learned that its product is fully cloud-based and can be embedded in Web and mobile apps? Or that its CEO promises to help you deliver BI beyond power users to virtually every employee, helping you foster a data-driven culture?

If all that sounds intriguing, meet Brian Gentile, chief executive of San Francisco-based Jaspersoft. In this installment of the IDG Enterprise CEO Interview Series, Gentile spoke with John Gallant, chief content officer with IDG Enterprise, and InfoWorld Editor in Chief Eric Knorr about how Jaspersoft aims to shake up the BI market and how big data will shake up everything. Gentile also discussed the embeddable analytics market and why some big-name customers are walling off the old-line BI solutions and firing up Jaspersoft instead.

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Q: What's the mission for Jaspersoft, and what makes you different in the marketplace?

A: We create lighter-weight, entirely Web-based, powerful but simple, BI tools that can be integrated into business apps and processes. Many other companies take our tools, and we become their BI inside, the reporting analysis inside of their apps. Sixty-five percent of our business is embeddable BI. You know you're using a reporting and analysis tool, it's providing you with calculations, and some are aggregations and some are summaries, but you might not know it's Jaspersoft.

We've had two axes on which we've innovated. The first axis is open source, and nine years ago that was really novel. We were the only BI company with a pure open source strategy. The other is the modern architecture. We've always said we're going to deliver everything -- every client experience -- inside of the browser. All the heavy lifting is going to be done at the server, and it's going to be a pure, open, Web-based, open standards-based server.

[Early on] that was a pretty risky call, because the client browser technology wasn't really where we needed it to be to deliver an application-like experience. Today it looks like a really smart and bold call because of technologies like AJAX on the server and dynamic HTML and now HTML5, which is what our [latest] release is substantially about. It looks like a brilliant move because we have just as impressive an interaction model inside of our environment and animation and graphics and visualization of data, and we have scalability, low cost, same footprint regardless of the device that you're on. Our cloud-based deployment is just as easy as on-premises. We have access to big data because the architecture never assumed it would just be structured in a relational world. All of a sudden our tough, gritty, hard-fought tradeoffs starting seven years ago look like brilliance.

Q: Let's talk about this business intelligence inside processes and applications. Help me to understand how that plays out. Give me an example of what you or a partner is doing with that.

A: The fastest growing subsegment of BI is embeddable BI, and Gartner and others have been reporting on this for a long time, although there's not a lot of clear understanding of what that means. It's really a spectrum of embeddedness to a BI tool -- everything from "let's just stick a graph that we created in an iframe inside of a Web page" to building it into our portal, we want to expose this BI within our enterprise as part of a standard set of portal-based applications. Maybe the next stop is Web services. Now you're getting a little more sophisticated and you want to be able to call the application and have it yield control to you and create a report or create a graph result or something like that in the return control.

We've identified five levels of embeddable BI, from the simplest to the most sophisticated or most completely integrated. We've published two documents on this over the years, one of which is like a how-to guide for the technologist. You'd be amazed at how many people today are actually embedding BI. It's testimony to the fact that everyone's building software again. The Web paradigm has created a new class of programmer and a new set of standards around which everybody programs. We see this explosion of development that's based on the Web.

Q: Just to be clear, you're not talking about ISV partners, you're talking about enterprise application developers, that kind of thing.

A: Everybody you just mentioned and more. If I showed you a customer list by logo, I know I could point out which ones are embedded and which ones are not, but you wouldn't be able to. So, yes, it's a lot of ISVs. Yes, it's a lot of VARs, who do solutions-oriented work, and SIs [systems integrators], but it's also enterprises. It's amazing the breadth of application development that's going on today.

Q: Give us a real enterprise customer example.

A: I'll give you a couple just to mix it up. DuPont has been a customer for years. They have plastics and paint and coatings divisions. It's a tough market, low margin, typically. Part of the way they distinguish themselves is by making themselves easier and simpler [to work with] for their supply chain and their demand chain. They've created a set of applications that are portal-based that their supply chain partners can log into. One of the views is an analytic view that shows the status of a wide variety of parts and components and pieces within their overall supply chain. They do this as an effort to more closely knit together the supply chain with the demand chain. They don't charge for it, they just see it as a competitive advantage. Jaspersoft for years has been the analytics inside of all that.

Several of the world's largest investment banks are using Jaspersoft for their own funds transfer supply chain -- it's a parallel to a supply chain but for a banking or investment institution. They're using a similar set of reports and analysis along the whole supply of funds transfer from source of funds through to use of funds and movement of funds through that chain. They report on it and analyze it and they provide those views to all those partners. Some are inside the bank, some are outside the bank. So they have to have a secure login, probably a single sign-on or authentication.

Q: Who do you consider to be competitors in this crowded BI and analytics market?

A: There are so many competitors we have to put them into categories. Let's start with the best-known, the large-cap, probably-already-been-acquired, household-name guys: Business Objects acquired by SAP; Cognos acquired by IBM; everyone else acquired by Oracle. As we've matured and our feature set has advanced, we run into them more and more commonly. There's opportunity for us because the kind of price tags that those guys are still commanding makes it compelling for a CIO to say, 'Wait a minute, why am I paying all that?' Against that kind of competition at any scale, meaning hundreds of seats or thousands of seats, we would be 10 to 15 percent of the cost of those guys. That's compelling.

In fact, the bank example I gave you earlier, that particular bank is trading out a big competitor systematically over time for the broader use of Jaspersoft because there's a not quite 10-times advantage in savings in so doing. They aren't going to completely move Business Objects out, but they'll ring-fence it and be done with that level of cost and complexity. For new projects where Jaspersoft is a solid fit based on our features and capability, they're going to use Jaspersoft because the cost-value curve is so compelling.

Q: Those big guys typically have their own integration arms that customers employ as well.

A: It is true. There's a whole industry around those guys. That adds both to the value and the complexity at the same time. They're seen as safety because of the industry around them, but the complexity factor is clear. You're probably not going to choose one of those older tools if you say you've got a problem to solve and only six weeks to solve it. You look at a tool like ours that you could download in the morning, and if you have somebody pretty smart, you can be analyzing data in the afternoon, and it could be from almost any source. It's a pretty big difference.

Q: Who are the other competitors?

A: They're very different. Second would be the faster-moving, higher-growth, newer players that are typically referred to as "data visualization" and maybe "data discovery." It's specifically QlikTech and the even newer Tableau. This is the first group that I actually have a reasonable amount of respect for, because they're doing something interesting and disruptive. For a certain BI audience, they're doing something interesting and productive and disruptive. They're providing the business analyst, the power user, with a genuine alternative to both the old guys and Microsoft Excel. If you're a data jock and your job is to live inside Microsoft Excel for a lot of the day and along comes QlikTech or Tableau, you're pretty excited, because this gives you a whole new, really interesting visualization route. Download, connect, it interrogates the data, allows you to discover it quickly and start visualizing it. Fantastic. What's not to like?

A couple of things: First, the architecture. Both of those products and companies have chosen, for very good reasons, to use desktop-centric code. Both products require Windows as your desktop environment. What if I'm not on Windows? You don't get to play. Now they've made mobile extensions and so on, these are smart companies.

But fundamentally, the architectures are Windows-based, and Qlik is even more difficult because it has a variety of different code bases over the years. It's actually a 20-year-old company. Tableau is only six or seven years old, so they have a more modern environment, but it's still Windows-centric. And it's inherently designed for that data analyst. It has a lot of things going on and if you're that data analyst you love it.

But what if your job isn't to be a data analyst? Tableau is probably not a great fit. It's probably too much, and in fact if you wanted to scale Tableau to hundreds or thousands of desktops in an enterprise, a) it would be a poor fit because not everybody needs a Tableau, and b) it wouldn't be cost effective. You'd literally be putting Windows code on everybody's desktop and paying for it. They have a workgroup server edition, they've done some nice things architecturally to make it a little bit more scalable, but it's not designed for 100,000 desktops. You would never think of Tableau for that or Qlik.

While we respect them, we respect them for the user type that they have been designed for. Fundamentally, they're not scalable, and they're not going to have a very broad impact on how many people in an organization are really using BI to get their job done.

The third category is a whole bunch of niche vendors that on any give day we might bump into. Most of them are very small, much smaller than Jaspersoft, and they solve for something that's industry specific, vertically specific, or a certain BI function like dashboarding or just graphing. So they solve some very niche-oriented thing.

Q: There's been a lot of money been spent on BI over the years and there's really not a lot of customer satisfaction to go with that. How do you change that for customers?

A: You could say that Qlik and Tableau have done a great job changing their portion of this curve by appealing directly to the business user. If you queried those business users, you'd find a pretty high level of satisfaction. If you queried the IT guy who has to kind of clean up behind them, you might not be that happy. We believe satisfaction and broad use of BI come by bringing both the technologist and the business users together. If you're going to reach the number of people, devices, desktops, whatever, in an enterprise it's going to be because you're delivering to them just the right amount of BI at the right place, the right time, no more, no less. That's not Tableau. You're not going to be able to tailor Tableau for the amount of BI that somebody on a production line needs versus somebody who's a data jock.

With Jaspersoft, that's exactly what you get. You get a tailorable, implementable, customizable amount of BI that can be constrained for the type of user that needs it. They could get a report, just a report, delivered to them that's interactive, they can explore the data within that report and it can be delivered to them on whatever schedule you want, and it's delivered entirely inside of their Web browser. You don't have to install or manage anything. It's consistent whether it's on a mobile device or a desktop computer.

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