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Open source not best bet for all business analytics projects

Many enterprises today are building their business analytics programs around open source tools, but one software company took a different path.

You might think that the company behind JW Player, a popular open source online media player, would use an open source tool to manage its business analytics projects. After all, open source data management and analytics tools like Hadoop, Spark, R and Python have become very popular in the past few years. But if you think that, you'd be wrong.

JW Player uses a few open source tools for heavy data science work, mainly building recommendation engines. But when it comes to the company's core business needs -- tracking customer use of services, identifying upsell opportunities and reporting on payments -- JW Player uses a combination of tools from Alteryx and Tableau.

Why would an open source software company choose vendor tools for this work? "The good thing about the non-open source software is, No. 1, you get the support you get," Jenny Zhang, business analytics manager at JW Player, said.

Although the media player itself is open source and free to download, the company makes its money by hosting media on behalf of its users and offering related services like monetizing videos through advertising and reporting on media performance metrics.

Zhang said the company used to have a difficult time managing these business analytics projects. She knew there were opportunities to get better answers by incorporating customer data from the company's Salesforce implementation with media performance data on how often videos are watched and how much server space customers are using. Combining these data sets could help the sales teams identify customers that could benefit from more server space and help the marketing teams build customer segmentations to guide future campaigns.

JW Player is a long-time user of Tableau's visualization and analytics software, but Zhang said the vendor's data integration and blending features couldn't handle the volumes of data they needed to process for their business analytics projects. The company brought in the data integration platform Alteryx Designer in September 2015 to address this challenge. Now, Zhang said, loading data into Tableau is much faster.

With Tableau, she said, "it was not possible to blend that large volume of data. Even for a small portion of the data, it would be like 20 hours. It's down to 20 minutes now."

She made the decision to keep Tableau as the visual front end for the company's business analytics projects, rather than standardizing everything onto Alteryx and using that company's analytics software. She said she likes Tableau's support for collaboration and sharing of dashboards and reports.

Since pairing up the Alteryx and Tableau tools, JW Player has seen a number of benefits, Zhang said. The sales teams have been able to close more upsell deals and are hitting their sales targets more consistently. Also, the accounting department is able to see which customers have late or outstanding payments, allowing them to send more targeted reminders. This has helped the company get paid on time more regularly.

All of this could have been accomplished before the current system, but Zhang said it wouldn't have been as easy or quick to get the kind of insights that now happen nearly automatically.

"The ROI is that before, there was no dashboard or report that could tell us about the business," Zhang said. "The biggest benefit is time savings."

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