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Q&A with Brian Gentile, JasperSoft's new CEO: Consolidation, interoperability, and $1 billion

Q&A with Brian Gentile, JasperSoft's new CEO on a wide range of topics.

I recently caught up with Brian Gentile, JasperSoft's new CEO, to get his take on the rampant industry consolidation in the Business Intelligence world, where JasperSoft competes. I also asked him about his favorite open-source software (shouldn't have, as you'll see :-) and whether open-source interoperability is a "must have" for his customers.

With more than 2.5 million downloads worldwide and more than 7,000 commercial customers in 96 countries, JasperSoft is on a roll. But with Pentaho getting $12 million more in funding, there's no easy sailing for JasperSoft. I wanted to see how Brian was planning to navigate the difficult dynamics of his industry.

Q: You joined JasperSoft just a couple of months ago. What have you been working on?

BG: Well, I've been on the JasperSoft board for more than two years, so I came to the table in many ways ready to go. I think JasperSoft's opportunity is in its ability to offer choice and flexibility in a market where customers are facing the realities of hegemony: fewer choices, higher costs and little innovation. It's true that choice and flexibility are inherent features of open-source software, but in the BI market, where consolidation is at an all-time high, it's more relevant than ever.

So, my focus has been on how to work with the JasperSoft community and our partners' communities to deliver new value to customers who are increasingly considering the open source BI alternative.

Q: What did you do before?

BG: I just came from Informatica and have also worked for Brio Software. I also spent a number of years at both Sun and Apple working with the developer communities at each company.

Q: I recently wrote a post about "winner takes all in open source,"where I made the point that there is only room for one open-source company in each category. How do you respond to this considering you share your space with Pentaho?

BG: I would argue that the "winner takes all" philosophy transcends the open-source arena. From a vendor economics view, Microsoft seems to have done fairly well in the operating system and office productivity categories. Of course we think there's really only one open-source BI company, and it's JasperSoft. But there's plenty of room for competition from companies such as Pentaho that can offer pieces of the BI stack.

We're all addressing a multi-billion dollar annual market opportunity, not competing with other open-source slices in the BI software stack. Customers understand more and more that open source takes the risk out of BI and puts the right economics in. Open-source BI tools are easier to use and enable better access to the right data, which fuels better business decisions. The JasperSoft community has unparalleled depth and vibrancy. All in all, these are the reasons for my bullishness.

Q: Who's the next open-source acquisition target?

BG: The reason open-source companies have become serious acquisition targets is customers are increasingly validating the model. The companies that will be the most sought after will have the largest, most loyal communities and existing contracts with major customers. Certainly, there a number of targets about which to speculate, not the least of which is one I think you're quite familiar with - Alfresco.

Q: Thanks for the plug. (Bids start at $1 billion. :-) But what about all the consolidation going on in the business intelligence space? Is this good or bad for JasperSoft?

BG: Consolidation is nothing new in software but today it has different consequences for consumers of technology given the presence and maturity of open source software. Customers and contributors will flock to open source BI to get the choice, flexibility and innovation that has been stripped from their grasp without their consent by the legacy proprietary vendors. One of the great things about open source is that it's bigger than any single vendor.

Q: What are you hearing from your customers?

BG: I know this has been a highly-debated topic, especially on your blog, but I have to say that customers tell us they need interoperability among open-source applications. They get why open source make sense in their environment, and they no doubt enjoy the low cost, but as they use more open-source point solutions, they need them to work together. There are a number of ways to address this; I think one of the most compelling ways is to foster community overlap - some call it "meta-communities" - at both the developer and business-user levels. This is an area I'm especially interested in.

Q: What open source tools are you using and tinkering with?

BG: I'm a huge Drupal fan and believe that having the ability to build a more sophisticated, richer-media-based web site and then manage it well is surely a natural next step for so many net citizens who have already embraced blogging, forums, video sharing and so on. I expect this will be the next frontier of authorship, really. So, watch out Matt - you'll have even more editorial competition on your hands with tools like this!

And to think we were getting along so well up until that point. :-)

It's great to see Brian's experience being put to use by JasperSoft. He's a great addition to the open-source business community. Welcome!

Disclosure: I am an advisor to JasperSoft.