At its annual European conference in Amsterdam last week,
MicroStrategy launched version 9.3 plus two new products in the BI space.
Visual Insight, originally released in 9.2 last summer, is MicroStrategy’s solution for visual data discovery, a hot segment with solutions from fast-growing vendors Tableau and QlikView as well as innovations from BI platform vendors (IBM Cognos Insight, Microsoft Power View, SAS Visual Analytics Explorer, SAP Visual Intelligence). The first release of Visual Insight brought easy-to-create visualizations against modeled and unmodeled data sets, all via a web interface. Users could readily share visualizations via the iPad or Facebook. Lacking, though, was the ability to enrich the data with calculations or to readily assemble the visualizations into a business-authored dashboard. MicroStrategy 9.3, due to become generally available this quarter, significantly improves upon this, now allowing business users to display multiple data sources in a dashboard-style report. Over 300 functions are also newly accessible, but emphasizing ease-of-use, the most important functions such as rank and time series analysis are readily accessible via quick menus. Several new chart types as well as a visual recommendation engine are also new in 9.3. (How important is visual discovery vs. dashboards to you: tell us here.)
While the improved visual data discovery capabilities got me most excited, 9.3 brings a host of other enhancements in big data, search, advanced analytics with support for open source R models, and administration. Data scalability with MicroStrategy’s ROLAP engine and tightly integrated in-memory cubes has long-been a differentiator, but in 9.3, the vendor also adds support for Hadoop and Hive. While discussed conceptually, I remain skeptical on the practical performance of the Hive query approach and have yet to talk to any beta customers. A more practical approach is loading some of the Hadoop data into the in-memory cube with the new Hadoop connector.
Likewise, enterprise-grade administrative tools have also been long-standing capabilities, but in this release, the vendor introduces System Manager, an optional interface that enables administrative tasks to be grouped and established as work flows with interdependencies. The work flows can also be based on third party events such as starting an Amazon Instance. MicroStrategy cited case studies of companies that could save 1000s of man hours per year in manual administration. System Manager is expected to be priced separately (a difference from Visual Insight which is included in the Report Services license). While it’s reasonable that MicroStrategy charges extra for new capabilities that are above and beyond what’s generally available in BI platforms, too many a la carte options risk further
confusing an industry in which BI pricing and packaging is already a challenge for customers to decipher (see BI Scorecard’s pricing and packaging matrix).
Cloud meanwhile has gained acceptance in CRM, human capital management, and payroll, but has been slower to be adopted in the BI world. In day two of the MicroStrategy keynote, Gartner analyst Andreas Bitterer predicted that Cloud BI will account for just 3% of total BI revenues by 2013. Last year, MicroStrategy released its first foray into cloud, offering both cloud personal a free version of the product based primarily on Visual Insight, and Cloud Enterprise (rebranded MicroStrategy Cloud Platform), mainly a platform as a service (PaaS) solution. Now in beta, MicroStrategy announced Cloud Express as SaaS, which combines visual data discovery, dashboards, mobile BI, reporting, bursted reports, and enterprise security, without the need to first fully model a data
warehouse. In fact, Fabrice Martin, VP of Cloud Express, included a keynote demo in which every attendee received a personalized, bursted report of their country’s World Cup performance, setting a new bar for key note demos. With Cloud Express, data can be imported from flat files, spreadsheets,
SalesForce.com, or SQL data sources. The vendor is clearly trying to ride the cloud wave both for enterprise customers, but also for departments looking for fast deployment times, an area in which competitors QlikTech and Tableau have been encroaching.
Customer Tapjoy, a mobile advertising company, offered a compelling testimonial of the value of cloud. While the company has only a hundred or so internal employees, there are thousands of clients and advertisers who want access to Tapjoy’s data. Deploying BI to the cloud, then, is ideal for extranet capabilities. Richard Yan, Director of Business Development & Strategy at Tapjoy, said they went from a four day proof-of-concept to live in two weeks time with “beautiful mobile interfaces and powerful self- service capabilities.” While this is a perfect example of the value of Cloud BI, less clear to me is whether cloud is always an ideal substitute for fast deployment. It certainly addresses software deployment challenges, but does little for rapid data modeling for data better left on premise.
MicroStrategy Mobile continued to get top billing, both as CEO Saylor released a new book The Mobile Wave and has the vendor refined its use cases for mobile, emphasizing executives, retail, and sales force. New abilities to mirror a dashboard on an iPad or iPhone to an AppleTV will no doubt revolutionize some board rooms (or at the very least, some executive offices).
Lastly, MicroStrategy released Wisdom Professional, an evolution of the product first released last year. Wisdom Professional allows marketers and CRM users to explore Facebook demographic and interest data based on 12 million users who have opted in. It’s an interesting product that has generated some mainstream media coverage. While I am enthused that MicroStrategy is innovating in social analytics, I confess I’m in the Facebook skeptics camp, somewhat like General Motors. (Don’t send me a friend request unless I’ve known you for at least 20 years. Try me on LinkedIn or Twitter instead.) Facebook is undoubtedly an important force shaping social behavior, consumers, and BI tools, but just how to use it for business, whether for advertising or segmentation, remains to be seen. Call me a laggard. With my Blackberry still limping along, I won’t argue the charge. But even so, when I talk to the younger generation whose lives are rooted in Facebook, they lie on their pages about age, relationships, interests. They advise each other never to ‘Like’ a page, lest you get spammed later, and they are oh-so-astute as to which marketers make the ‘Liking’ worth the invasion. They may hold privacy in low regard, but what’s personal versus professional is a line they
don’t like marketers crossing. Knowing the customer and “stalking on Facebook” is a fine line savvy business users should carefully consider.
Bottom line: MicroStrategy is a company continuing to improve on an already solid product and innovating in multiple areas.
Reminder: Take the 2012 Successful BI survey to rate your BI vendor, benchmark adoption, and success with modules.
Cindi Howson, BI Scorecard