Picture: Saqib Ansari
Trial and Error
In 2018, Faris Ansari, a product engineer at Frappe was working on a Gameplan project. Seeing his elder brother, Saqib got fascinated with the idea of working on a real-world project and joined the same company to work on Frappe Books. After 3 months of work, he didn’t see the value in working on this project and jumped ship.
He moved to the ERPNext accounts team. Saqib dedicated a solid 9 months to maintaining the asset and building a better POS/retail system. Saqib has always been passionate about coding and developing amazing UI screens. Since this was a UI-heavy project, it was a satisfying experience for him.
Another mini project tumbled across Saqib’s way, the development of an E-invoicing feature in ERPNext. While the feature took 3-4 months to stabilize, the learning and self-growth seemed pretty low. In the meantime, Saqib dipped into the management of the ERPNext Accounts team with Deepesh. Once a person escalates to a little managerial work, the operational/creative groundwork reduces. This could be very relaxing for some but for others like Saqib, it turned out to be rather frustrating. He enjoyed the art of coding and when he wasn’t able to do much of it, he was ready to jump ship again.
Saqib worked on a major customer project for custom requirements and when even that didn’t seem fulfilling, he knew it was time for a bigger project. He started working on his own product prototype in his free time.
Ideation by frustration
The CEO of Frappe, Rushabh Mehta is a motivational leader and keeps pushing the developer team to build new products. One of his tricks was making a Gamplan post to list down all the new products our team members could build. Gameplan is Frappe's internal communication forum for new proposals, initiatives, and important updates.
From this inspiring list of apps to develop, the Frappe BI idea resonated the most with Saqib. Why, you ask? There is a little backstory there. When Saqib worked with the Accounts team, he found himself wasting a lot of time on calls, support, mentoring, and doing PR reviews instead of developing the Accounts module. To prove his point, he needed data. In May or June 2021, he tried to track all his activities using activity bots, an open-source project. But he didn't get the charts he needed readily.
Using Frappe Framework, he created a form to record all this data and it was pretty simple. But getting the necessary reports to draw analysis required scripting and coding. Finding this cumbersome, Saqib wanted to improve it. He wanted to make a low-code platform for reports and charts/dashboards.
‘Initially, there were too many questions on what to do with this product and how it would go. But I started with the aim of making it easier for an ERPNext user to create reports whenever they want, without the help of a developer’
Feedback, improvements, repeat
In January 2022, Saqib started building insights. It was like starting his own thing from scratch which included figuring out if there is a need for the product and how to sell it. He made the first prototype and used it with Frappe data. Frappe Framework served as a base for creating models, dynamic alerts, etc, and made things easier with authentication and deployment too. Since the Frappe Framework took care of 50% work in the backend, Saqib could easily focus on the app development.
Screenshot: 1st iteration using Doctype (Query)
Screenshot: 1st iteration using Doctype (Result)
What followed was a cycle of feedback and improvement and back to feedback again. The 1st iteration was made using DocType. It was not as simple as it sounds. The use of SQL was extensive. With lots of feedback came lots of changes from converting fields to buttons/popups and reducing clicks or actions to cleaning the UI and making it simpler.
Screenshot: 2nd iteration of Insights
Screenshot: Frappe Insights today
The first Insights dashboard was made to find out which customer’s renewal is due, and whom we are yet to receive payments from. We had the data but still, we didn’t know how to find out the required answers readily. Saqib thought of giving Insights a go, to answer this question. And it worked! By resolving this problem statement, Frappe got more visibility of its data and soon after Michelle, COO at Frappe used the same tool heavily to resolve all such queries in Frappe support, sales, etc. She made a dashboard for all the problem statements and visibility for Frappe just shot up!
Screenshot: Frappe’s dashboard of Insights
The UI changes were rapid and the feedback cycles were as intense as fortnightly. The UI for onboarding and the next steps was the most difficult part for Saqib. Once he figured this out, he felt much more confident. Saqib was clear in his mind that Insights had to be stable before the conference in September. With a clear goal and lots of hard work, the first version of Insights was introduced to the community at the conference with the help of Hussain Nagaria. It was a huge hit! Everyone found it pretty cool and was really impressed. Check out the recording for yourself.
‘The idea of developing a BI product was too huge initially for me. I started with a small problem and as problems kept getting solved, more ideas came up. The confidence that this can be done, came gradually. What started as a ‘better report builder’ is now a BI tool!’
The feedback still keeps coming in. A few months ago, Saqib realized that all BI tools are DB agnostic. So he started exploring and decided Insights should be able to work with any data, not just Frappe data. The code had to be very generic for this and so Saqib worked on this till last December. Today we can connect with any database and get charts or reports instantly.
Screenshot: Adding a data source of any database
Along with these improvements, the website is being developed for setting up free trials. Currently, Saqib is exploring text to SQL so that people don’t have to do much to create reports. You just give a good enough description and with the help of OpenAI, the report would be generated!
Video: POC of a report generated using description and OpenAI
“There is a lot to left to do but I am confident that things will work out with gradual improvements. I believe it will soon be one of the best open-source BI tools.”
Screenshot: Dashboard on Insights
Insights is an open-source business analytics tool that is built using Frappe Framework as the backend, SQLAlchemy and Pandas to make Database Agnostic, Vue 3 as the frontend framework, and Charts Library.
Most BI tools are developer-friendly and require code to be written. Very few of these tools provide visual SQL builders and Insights is one of them! Frappe Insights is unique because the UI is more logical as compared to other BI tools and is slowly turning focus to cater to non-developers too!
Install Insights from Frappe Cloud Marketplace and try it out for your business for free! And if you need some additional support, check out the support plans. Insights just like any open-source software is finding its way through the community. Get in touch with the community on Discuss, telegram, or GitHub.
If you have used Insights, share your review with everyone.