When MicroStrategy first floated the idea of a free version of their software several months ago, my gut reaction was not positive. I kept looking for the catch. I also was imagining the inevitable competitive FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) that ensues in a cut throat market place. “The product is so weak, so hard, so niche, they have to give it away.”
So far, I can’t find the catch. Given the product capabilities, migration path, and support, it seems like a deal too good to be true.
Other vendors have touted their products as “free” and have experienced mixed degrees of success. Oracle has sometimes included Discoverer and Reports (now referred to as the standard edition) for free with the RDBMS; the newest OBI Enterprise Edition, however, is not free and is notably more robust. Microsoft BI is often considered “free”, assuming you’ve bought SQL Server and SharePoint. I would counter, then, that those products are low-priced but not free. Clearly, Microsoft has had a successful seeding strategy that explains the rapid adoption of Analysis Services (for OLAP) and Reporting Services (for production reporting). Open source BI is also “free”, but lacks support and maintenance, unless you pay. It’s also not yet clear that they compare in capabilities to commercial software. (Look for some upcoming evaluations this year where we hope to answer that question.)
The free version of MicroStrategy, called Reporting Suite, is for up to 100 users and includes online support and training. Some of the more attractive products like the dashboards and the new in-memory option are not included for all users in this starter bundle. But the appealing aspect to this deal is that it provides customers with an easy entrée into BI, without that entrée being a total throw away. If customers later want to add dashboards or multi-source, for example, they don’t have to start over or migrate to a new product as is often the case with many departmental BI tools.
BI licensing is only one part of BI’s total cost of ownership (TCO). While it is usually the smallest piece in TCO, it is an out- of- pocket expense that companies would like to minimize in the economic downturn. MicroStrategy’s Reporting Suite saves that expense.
A valid concern with this deal is that MicroStrategy will make up for the “free” by overcharging later, when customers are hooked and want to add options. Indeed, MicroStrategy has alienated customers in the past with its aggressive, sometimes inflexible, pricing tactics. But over the last 2-3 years, the company seems to have recognized those tactics back fired and has modified its pricing accordingly. The BI landscape is also significantly different from that of 3 years ago; the vendor knows it has to be more creative about even getting invited to a BI selection when usually one of the big 4 vendors already has a relationship.
This latest move seems like an attractive option for both departments and smaller businesses with limited BI budgets. For companies that know their BI deployment will evolve into something bigger, I recommend continuing to follow a BI selection process (see this report for a methodology). As part of that process, compare the full range of capabilities and the total cost for your requirements, regardless if you start out with a free version.
So with this deal, it seems good as well as true. But of course, let me know if you find whatever catch I’m overlooking!
Cindi Howson, BI Scorecard