Nikhilesh Tiwari, Helical Insight: “having a security policy is especially important in today’s working environment”

The importance of real-time analytics is increasing exponentially, yet searching for reliable software often causes quite a headache.

Most famous BI (business intelligence) tools collect vast amounts of data and usually provide way more than what’s essential. All that information must later be maintained and analyzed, which may be a bit overwhelming for some companies. Thankfully, there are a number of free open-source tools out there.

In this article, with the help of Nikhilesh Tiwari, Director of Helical Insight, we will provide a brief overview of their product, examine possibilities of open-source, and will once again discuss best cybersecurity practices.

Tell us about your journey throughout the years. How did the idea of Helical Insight originate?

We, the co-founders, Nitin Sahu and Nikhilesh Tiwari, always wanted to start something of our own. One of the ventures was also about starting a healthcare IT company and trying to provide software products to hospitals, labs, blood banks, etc.

Having failed a few times we have had a good share of learning of do’s and don’t while starting up. Since Nitin had been working in the DW BI ETL space for a few years now, we thought of starting a company in the same domain. That is how Helical IT was born.

Helical IT had started as a pureplay services company and used to provide services in the same domain which too primarily focused on open source technologies. Later we developed expertise in BI and ETL tools as well as data modeling, and data warehouse designing. Aside we also helped clients with their migration to big data technologies like Cassandra, or Mongo. We have worked across various domains and geographies with 80+ clients and helped them with their DW BI implementations.

After working on various BI products and customers we saw the limitations which were present in existing products. That is when we started the development of our BI product. In 2016 we launched the first version of the open-source Helical Insight. The paid version is more than 85% cost-effective compared to other enterprises' BI software.

We currently have 50+ clients who are using our BI product Helical Insight across various domains and geographies like education, clinical trials, banking, security, manufacturing, etc. Some of the client names include Cynet, Timetrade, Reify Health, SmithsDetection, WastEquip, DavisStandard, KidsXAP, Unidesign Jewels, etc.

Can you tell us a little bit about your business intelligence tool? What are its key features?

The current version of Helical Insight provides various features mentioned below:

  • Datasource layer supports various DB including RDBMS, Columnar DB, Flat files, and NoSQL DB like MySQL MariaDB Postgres SQLserver PrestoDB Vertica DynamoDB Mongo Athena Redshift Data lake Spark, etc. It also supports flat files and the ability to upload custom JDBC drivers.
  • We support various embedding options like iframe and embed tag. Single Sign On support is there with options like CAS, JWT, OAuth, etc. User role management provides 4 layers of security like organization, role, user, and profiles.
  • The multi-tenant application ensures low-level data security based on the user, role, org, profile, etc thus ensuring people see only their own data.
  • Reporting and Analytics: Supports more than 30+ visualization options and have high availability and load balancing support. With it, you can create map-based canned reports allowing multi-page document reports like invoices or salary slips. The self-service drag-drop interface allows the platform to maintain with no code. Email scheduling capabilities, caching and pagination will ensure way better performance. Finally, you can choose various exporting options like pdf or CSV.
  • The extensibility feature uses open source code. There is the support of workflow as well as API support for each and every frontend function, thus allowing us to automate things and build custom UI also. We installed placeholders to allow injecting of your own custom HTML, CSS, SQL, Groovy code, etc. Finally, it has the ability to add your own chart, your own chart customization, your own DB function, and your own aggregate function.
  • Infrastructure and Stack contain cloud support and it is a completely browser-based software. It is built on Java and frontend react. This feature is completely responsive and can be accessed from any device or any screen size.
  • Pricing. There are various flexible pricing options, but the community version is completely free. You can choose the subscription or perpetual license option without distribution.

The roadmap includes in-memory support, continuous UX revamp, UI-driven workflow engine with data pipeline capabilities, and many more.

It is evident that open source is an important part of Helical Insight. Would you like to share more about your vision?

We have been working in the domain of open source for many years. When we started the company we used to provide services in the domain of open source BI, open source ETL, etc. So we came with a very rich experience in open source and always had a preference towards open source technologies.

When we started the development of our product it was very much natural for us to make the product open source as well as make sure that we are contributing back to the open source community. Over the long term, we want to make Helical Insight the most feature-rich and most used open-source BI product.

Generally, when the term open source is used there is a thought that the cost will be less as well as the functionality and UX. We want to change that perspective.

How did the recent global events affect your field of work? Were there any new challenges you had to adapt to?

The biggest event which has affected the way work is happening is Covid. After covid, working from home has become a new norm. There was a global meltdown after the first wave and this also affected our business as well (though not to a huge extent). The sales pipeline was reduced. Companies pushed or delayed their purchasing decisions.

Though we have a lot of open source background and work a lot on open source technologies, we also saw that companies tried to reduce their costs and switched from proprietary technologies to open source technologies to save their expenses on licensing.

The challenge we had to adapt to was in terms of adapting to this new work-from-home norm. Collaboration has become a bit difficult and things that can be discussed in person and quickly also require online meetings and extended working hours. This has affected the entire process of hiring as well, though now we can hire people from any location (no location constraint) this has also increased the number of resignations as well as cases of fake candidates appearing for interviews.

What are the best security practices do you think companies of all sizes should adopt nowadays to maintain smooth and secure remote operations?

Having a security policy is very important for organizations and especially in today’s working environment where the WFH has become a norm and teams are distributed all across. But having security policies can definitely go a long way in ensuring smooth and secure operations. As such we would extract:

  • Back up the data on a regular basis. Automate this process as much as possible.
  • Have a strong password. Via a central server or IAM ensure secure passwords as well as the passwords every few weeks.
  • Install a good anti-virus and have a good firewall with proper security policies.
  • Employees should use laptops only with the company's VPN.
  • Access to any external devices like USB etc should be blocked. Users should not have access to the admin credentials.
  • Only installing safe and secure software, install only what is required.
  • Keep the OS as well as other software up to date.

Despite all the solutions available today, some companies still refuse to upgrade their operations with new and innovative measures. Why do you think that is the case?

There could be multiple reasons for doing the same. One of them is that people are often reluctant to change.

The second might be investing in new technology as it will require purchasing new software in terms of the license, investment in resources, and doing the migration/development work.

Third – ROI. In many cases, business owners might see new technologies primarily as a cost center and if they do not see any tangible immediate benefit from it they might keep on postponing such a decision. This can especially happen in the case of companies where the founders/decision makers are not of technical background.

Lastly, we would mention politics and other factors. It has been often seen that in the case of big organizations, PSU, governments, etc., there are a lot of external influencers with vested interests which are affecting such kinds of decisions.

In your opinion, what are some of the most challenging issues new business owners face nowadays?

The most challenging issue any business faces (old or new) is in terms of finding skilled resources. This was and will remain the most challenging issue. Having the correct skilled resource with the correct attitude can make or break a company.

This problem is especially acute for startups and new companies since they are not established brands so far, they might be bootstrapped and hence might not even have such huge budgets as well.

Also as a new business owner, it would always be difficult to get the first set of paying customers. That is when personal references or your previous companies can be most useful.

Are there any types of data that you think are often overlooked, but can bring valuable insights for businesses?

Nowadays we are generating huge amounts of data. But still, the usage of Business Intelligence tools is primarily limited to RDBMS and databases, often called structured data.

Outside these relational databases also there is a huge amount of data which is in the form of unstructured data. These data types include flat files like excel or CSV, log files, social media data, emails, documents, and much more. The amount of data and insights present in this source is immense and is rarely considered to derive the insights.

Tell us, what’s next for Helical Insight?

We are working and about to launch Version 5.0 of Helical Insight. This is going to be a major release with next-generation features and our vision is to make our product the most feature-rich and affordable open-source BI product in the market.

In this major version we are revamping and moving everything to DB, the entire UX is being revamped to make it much more easily usable, a new charting engine is being integrated, more databases are being supported, performance and security are being revamped, and migration to latest technologies is happening, etc.

Our roadmap includes in-memory mode support, direct support of various machine learning and statistical algorithms, NLP powered engine for giving end users the capabilities to ask questions to the data and get direct answers, a UI-driven workflow model, ETL data pipelining capabilities, and much more.

We do plan to raise funding as well very soon which can help us to fast-track our product development and sales effort. We do plan to have some kind of offshore offices as well as have regional partners in non-native English-speaking countries for more outreach to clients

Aside we also plan to increase our services portfolio as well and add more and more cutting-edge skillsets to our product. That will always help us learn how the industry is shaping up and where to innovate.

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