MicroStrategy Brings Future Vision and Reality of Business Intelligence to Customers
January 29, 2010

At MicroStrategy World 2010, I had a chance to personally experience MicroStrategy at their annual conference in Las Vegas and examine technologies, collaborate with customers and review their progress in the market with employees. The conference was a very busy event with long lines and not even standing room or seats from the keynote to sessions which is a great sign for the health of MicroStrategy. They knew a storm of customers was coming as they announced it and was clear at the growth of the event which I have attended over the years. It was good they were broadcasting the keynote on the Internet which believe it or not some of the largest software vendors still do not do yet for some reason. I described this on my status on Facebook and LinkedIn as the conference for BI diehards as the technology talk and competency of customers is always more than stimulating. Of course my two days were more than busy with great new nuggets of insight from examining the product and collaborating with clients and customers. Of course, that means this analysis is longer than usual too. So if you are not really into BI, be warned the following details are for those that really love business intelligence!

At this year’s event, Michael Saylor the CEO of MicroStrategy took the stage on the opening keynote slot and focused on the advent of consumer and business technology adoption of mobile technologies like smart phones from RIM BlackBerry and Apple iPhone. Michael outlines his vision of ‘Mobile Intelligence’ that I would agree will be a seismic shift to how business is conducted. Just look at the launch of Apple iPad that simplifies computing again with an interactive and simple tablet computer and I was surprised to see MicroStrategy already operating on the Amazon Kindle. There was an emphasis on the Apple iPhone from Michael Saylor’s keynote that became clearer as Mark LaRow the SVP of Marketing keynote demonstrated a prototype of a native Apple iPhone application that provides access to MicroStrategy platform. It is not clear when this prototype will be available in 2010 or beyond, but the demonstration was important as MicroStrategy has for a long time bet their focus on RIM BlackBerry who has been under attack by the growing Apple iPhone revolution (See: “Apple iPhone and New 3Gs is a Healthy Dose of Apple for Business“). I was happy to see this expansion as MicroStrategy has for many years been exclusively focus on RIM BlackBerry though much of MicroStrategy can operate on other mobile devices like Apple iPhone, Google Android, Microsoft Windows Mobile through email and web browser access through the web browser and email quite easily.

MicroStrategy at this year’s conference announced an incremental release of Version 9 called Release 2 that introduces dramatic increased levels of performance and scalability for analysis and processing data but also significant advancement in the management and operations of MicroStrategy across the enterprise. These are outlined at a summary level at their Version 9 product information page. These advancements were not just casually discussed but were maniacally presented with emphasis on time and cost savings through measurement to previous versions along with comparison to other vendor’s BI technologies like QlikView and SAP Business Objects.
MicroStrategy outlined their technology advancements and strategy thematically to emphasis the important impact of advancements in what they called: speed of thought performance, mobile intelligence, enabling an information gateway, rapid time to value, lower cost of ownership, making BI pervasive and the future with predictive analytics and next generation user interfaces through navigation and visualization. I want to discuss some of these that are more than relevant to those that look for the ultimate performance and outcomes from their BI investments.

MicroStrategy over the last year examined every possible point of performance and scalability improvements in what they call shortening the ‘computational distance’ from user to the actual data and interactions between them both internally and with their customers. They have introduced new optimization techniques for pre-caching data from intelligent cubes and database aggregates that is transparent to the user or BI administrator. This also included how the optimization of data within their in-memory cubes that take 70% less memory and with one customer was measured from having a 513mb to 89mb sized cube. MicroStrategy has really optimized their technology and processing of data from their 64 bit memory deployment of their technology which is now installed in more than 50 percent of customers running on version 9. I believe all of this is essential as you should not expect that major changes to the database and indexing can be done in any short period of time so the more you can tune the BI technology the better. I would note that analytics database appliances and technology from Netezza and newer ones like Aster Data, Greenplum and Vertica were at the event presenting with their customers who have done joint deployments with MicroStrategy. The advent of specialized analytic database continues to grow as organizations are finding a faster path to optimizing their data for analytic use as they did in the 90’s with multi-dimensional servers.

MicroStrategy was one of the early BI technology vendors supporting native access to data from RIM BlackBerry but over the last three to four years had not progressed to build anything native for other devices which are continuing to grow in use across business including Palm, Microsoft Windows Mobile and now Apple iPhone. Most of the basic needs for business can be easily addressed through design of the reports to easily make available in most of the mobile devices.  MicroStrategy Mobile has 535 companies using it with RIM BlackBerry and with this second release of version 9 they have improved through use of prompted reports, event-based triggers for notifications and subscriptions management to simplify the access to information. The prototype of Apple iPhone support was visibly appealing and has addressed most of the needs in embracing the usability of Apple iPhone through presenting information from search and navigation support and good attention to the fit and finish elements required to fulfill the iPhone user population. But as MicroStrategy teased the audience on their future native support of Apple iPhone they also showed how using email, Adobe Acrobat (PDF) and through use of Safari browser and standard HTML. I would say this is one of the areas that should have had deeper education and discussion to exploit what is possible today without having to wait for anything new in the future.

MicroStrategy highlighted the importance of using their platform as a single information gateway with single universal model of business to make it simpler for making information available. They have accomplished this through many technology advancements but the Multisource Option provides  the method to unify data across relational database sources into a single view. This is rapidly being adopted as organizations have to integrate data from multiple data sources in the enterprise. MicroStrategy has seen that many of their customers need to provide more information-centric applications using their platform along with integrating data from their BI system into broader set of applications. This is exactly what the industry and organizations have been examining methods to using technology for what I call Information Applications which is advancing quite rapidly (See: “Information Applications: New Focus on Information Availability“).

MicroStrategy is quite proud of their dashboard assembly and deployment being simple but yet sophisticated which I do not disagree with at all. MicroStrategy has even further simplified this process in what they call ‘download to dashboard’ that can be accomplished within a day through a couple of key technology advancements. The first is through advancing MicroStrategy Architect with auto-configuration to reduce the time and series of administrative tasks to establish access and design of data to the presentation and interactivity of the dashboard. This advancement translates to 6 to 30 times faster than the previous version 9 release to get a dashboard up and running. But event better is the second advancement which is what they call ‘MicroStrategy Jump-Start’ that make it simple to get started in establishing the data related structured of a MicroStrategy project. Basically they have established a superset of the majority of projects as already created metadata within MicroStrategy. After installation, all you need to do is just rename the dimensions, facts, reports and even dashboard templates instead of creating them from scratch. They have created over 90 unique views of projects saves significant time in the configuration and establishment of a BI project. These fine details are critical as you examine how to operationalize not just one BI project but many to meet the hungry needs of business for analytics and metrics.

MicroStrategy is not fooling around in their progressive discussion and comparison of total cost of ownership of BI projects at any size over a three year time period. In fact part of the keynote was emphasizing their costs from not just their software but the required technology infrastructure from server and memory to the reduce amount of labor to install, configure, deploy and administratively manage MicroStrategy projects. They also took their customer research, analysis of other products and related industry research to provide comparison to other competitive products. Interestingly enough was the stark difference in TCO to QlikView and Microsoft, and though I did not closely analyze their TCO, I did find the dedicated educational session on the topic quite enlightening as they have done some very detailed analysis of the specific tasks and timing to manage enterprise and departmental BI projects. MicroStrategy is not one to shy away from competitive posturing and their session on migrating Business Objects deployments to MicroStrategy was well attended and insightful to how you can leveraging your historical investment in one vendor and transition it to another. They have also introduced a new capability called MicroStrategy Health Center to centrally monitor their technology across a network for any issues but it also compares to an existing database of similar issues to provide recommended resolutions. This can also be connected to MicroStrategy technical support and either way will help reduce issues and streamline any technical support issues with a BI deployment. But for advancing the ease of migration and optimization, I actually like MicroStratey Integrity Manager that ensures projects and deployments are well configured with no issues. This capability was validated at MetLife where significant time was saved that added up to massive amount of savings. Of course getting started with MicroStrategy in the past had cost more than many companies wanted to pay and in 2009, they introduced their 100 free reporting user edition has stirred many of the competitors but has begun to pay off for MicroStrategy. They have had over 6,000 downloads of this offer which is 50% more than the number of existing customers and of conversion to larger BI projects which do have to purchase the technology. I think it is a great way to get to know the technology and get some value quick without having to spend significant amount of money except for your time to get it configured and deployment which just became a heck of a lot easier with this new release.
MicroStrategy is very bullish on their contribution to helping organizations towards pervasive BI across the enterprise. Indeed many of their customers have done sizable deployments like those at Intel and to 80k employees at USPS. MicroStrategy has not just been helping in this endeavor through reporting but through the deployment of their dashboard applications in what they call ‘DashboardApp’. As I have mentioned the advancements to support dashboards are very significant in this release through configuration and customization to the level of user performance and data scalability. The MicroStrategy approach to dashboard enables organizations to have simple or sophisticated ones that can enable analytics to be easily accessed depending on the design. It was impressive to see the number of companies who submitted their dashboards for review including EBay and Guess and recognition by MicroStrategy and were highlighted in the conference keynote.

One of the ‘should not be hidden and should be more obvious’ advancements at MicroStrategy is their support for SAP Business Information Warehouse, usually called SAP BW and supported in MicroStrategy SAP Services. In fact the level of support of reading and integrating metadata from SAP and building MicroStrategy OLAP Services cubes is quite simple and is a great way to generate reports and dashboards with data dynamically retrieved from SAP BW. I will be writing a specific review of this set of capabilities but sufficed it to say was a popular focus at the conference and major global organizations were collaborating on the capabilities. MicroStrategy also makes it very easy to get started and has growing interest as they start to get more engaged with organizations that are rapidly looking to leverage their SAP BW investments as part of broader enterprise BI efforts. Of course the optimization and scalability improvements to MicroStrategy OLAP Services are more than sufficient to analyze larger volumes of data from SAP BW. Of course this focus on SAP BW has been quite a competitive focus for many BI vendors as I wrote “Leverage Every Transaction from SAP for BI” should be a standard activity for every organization using applications from SAP.

I enjoyed their customer awards on the second day keynote as the deployments were quite impressive. The winners from this year were AmerisourceBergen for extranet deployment, Con-way Freight for advanced analytics, Yahoo for data analytics, Lowes for user scalability, Ross Stores for enterprise deployment and Brian Fox from Citi for individual excellence in business intelligence. Of course I was a little bullish on two separate deployments at NationWide using MicroStrategy and Teradata as they won the Business Intelligence and Information Applications Ventana Research Leadership Awards for 2009. I found it quite encouraging that many of the awards and initiative were led and awards accepted by representatives from the business side but just as impressive is that these brand name organizations have scaled into massive volumes of data and number of users leveraging MicroStrategy.

MicroStrategy has come a long way since the 2009 annual conference where version 9 was introduced and their plans for a more scalable BI platform for any data source were outlined and I analyzed (See: “MicroStrategy 9 Brings Simplicity and Sophistication to BI for Business and IT“). Clearly this new release has significant value in savings of time and cost for business and IT as part of deploying BI more broadly in a business or getting started in a department. It appears from the business results and activity at the conference that MicroStrategy is getting their fair share of new customers and expanded deployments at existing ones. I think that with their focus on expanding their support for mobile technologies like Apple iPhone and adding another level of deeper analytics though I think that MicroStrategy Data Mining Services is a great start for most organizations and analysts. I am still hoping that they add the ability to do the basic what-if and forecasting of base data within MicroStrategy and not have to go to Microsoft Excel. This continues to be a significant need in organizations and to date perpetuates the need to spend more time in Microsoft Excel when you should be able to do spreading and projections within the actual MicroStrategy technology dynamically from a table or chart. And my last request as MicroStrategy moves forward would be further technology investment into collaboration around the information within the reports and dashboards to eliminate the need for emails and link but operating within MicroStrategy itself.

MicroStrategy has continued to advance the sophistication of BI and the version 9 release 2 is no different. With significant focus and technology improvement to the platform and operations of it behind MicroStrategy, they can now focus on ensuring that more organization experience their products and find methods to deploy it across the enterprise and out to their supply chain of partners to customers. I continue to recommend MicroStrategy for those looking for a simple and sophisticated platform with a set of tools for business and IT as I did in 2009. I believe that the dedicated focus and attention to detail for those that know the pain and joy of operating BI projects will find MicroStrategy a pleasure to review and assess for their organization.

Let me know your thoughtsor come and collaborate with me on Facebook,LinkedInand Twitter. 

Regards,

Mark Smith – CEO & EVP Research


 

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