Kiva.org is a nonprofit that connects philanthropic lenders with borrowers from developing nations. By providing microloans—to a farm worker in Bolivia to start a weekend snack shop, or a Kenyan farmer to buy a few head of cattle—Kiva endeavors to help entrepreneurs lift themselves out of poverty.
The nonprofit has a staff of around 90, and has dozens of volunteers working all over the world to find where a few dollars can make a big difference. Kiva.org’s three-person data team—including one business analyst—has been working with commercial open source BI tools from Pentaho since January. The big payoff: workers in the field can run their own reports using to assess lending opportunities and borrower potential.
Kiva is a representative example of what Pentaho strives to do: bring data analytics to everyone by combining a low-cost and easy-to-use analytics platform to lower technical barriers.
The company’s Java-based platform casts a wide net to target small- and medium-sized businesses or individual departments inside larger enterprises, providing tools for data integration, metadata, predictive and mobile analytics, and features an interactive UI to build reports and create visualizations from several different data sets.
“What you see right now as one of the biggest obstacles for people implementing big data solutions is the lack of technical expertise,” said Richard Daley, a Pentaho co-founder and chief strategy officer. “They can’t find the skills, they can’t hire them because they’re too expensive, etc. What we’re doing is plugging that by providing software products and applications that don’t require that you go off and you have to hire a Ph.D. or a data scientist.”
Founded in 2004, Daley said Pentaho began to take off post-recession, when companies started to look for inexpensive options for streamlining operations. The company started integrating big data technologies like Hadoop and NoSQL in 2010.Daley said 70 percent of new customers are deploying Pentaho on Hadoop.
IT Teams Under Pressure
The ease of use lets business people answer business questions on their own, instead of being routed through already time-strapped IT workers. That is a selling point for Pentaho, according to John Myers, a senior analyst for business intelligence and data management at Enterprise Management Associates.
“The pressures on IT teams are so great today, that sometimes business [people] are taking on some of those challenges themselves,” Myers said. “Pentaho plays well into the business user base, where they can say, “If you have these questions, we can help you get at them without having to be a statistician or a big data scientist.”
Pentaho is part of a trend in which players in the analytics, business intelligence and data visualization markets—metaLayer’s Delv visualization tool is one example, and SiSense’s BI tools are another—seek to make algorithms and applications accessible to end-users who don’t have training or access to programmers and application developers.
Pentaho did not disclose specifics on its pricing model for annual subscriptions and support. The company states that about 80 percent of its platform features are free. Myers said that the model makes it possible to try out the product before deciding to make a commitment on spending. That model lowers the barrier to entry for many firms. “When you reduce the barriers for them to get in, they can try it and get it running. They are more focused on the business problem they are trying to solve instead of the technology problem they’re trying to solve. In that respect, Pentaho really hits into their sweet spot,” Myers said.
Insights at a Nonprofit Lender
For Kiva.org, that business problem is the need to better understand who their most frequent lenders are and how to attract new lending partners, and what causes unsuccessful connections between lenders and borrowers.
Greg Allen, Kiva.org’s business analyst, said one of Pentaho’s greatest assets is the accessibility and flexibility of the interface. Allen can point employees and volunteers in the field to the data to help them connect potential borrowers with lenders, and the field personnel can run their own reports.
“Because of that flexibility for our non-technical savvy users, I’m not a bottleneck for them to try to get insight into their operational data. Everyone is becoming a little better at self-service,” Allen said. “We have field support specialists all over the world, and they’re able to log in or get the reports emailed to them, and now they’re having informed and constructive conversations with our partners. It’s been a great way to make progress and get on the same wavelength.”
Email Staff Writer Ian B. Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter .