Last week at MicroStrategy's annual user conference in Las Vegas, CEO and co-founder Michael Saylor kicked off the keynote with his vision of how mobile and social are changing not just BI, but the world.
Saylor described improvements to MicroStrategy's core BI platform as a "toolset for application developers to build compelling apps that are beautiful, agile, mobile, and fast." Mobile has been a part of MicroStrategy's focus for a number of years, and this vendor has been steadfast in its strategy to build native apps for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices. The native app approach differs from many other BI vendors who are betting on HTML5. For now, the native app approach seems to give users the best experience. In its latest release, MicroStrategy has continued to refine the online and offline performance with smart caching, newly incorporating video and PDFs inside dashboard apps, and usage tracking of BI activities on the device. While Transaction Services was announced in 2011, this was the first conference I saw more widespread usage of this mobile write-back capability. Dallas Fort Worth Airport for example, is using MicroStrategy Mobile with Transaction Services to capture survey data on customer satisfaction. Interestingly, Dallas Fort Worth was recently ranked in the top for business travelers (my hub, Newark, not surprisingly, ranked near the bottom.). Also, in the mobile space MicroStrategy stated its plans to pursue the mobile app development market, intending to leverage its ability to develop mobile apps without code. IDC estimates the segment will surpass $35B by 2014. Gartner currently positions Antenna and SAP (Sybase Unwired and Syclo) as leaders in this segment with Adobe, Kony, and many others as visionaries.
Visual Insight, part of the 9.3 release in September, also took center stage. It's one of the best visual data discovery products I've seen from BI platform vendors, with significant improvements since its debut in 2011. It's not yet on par, particularly in terms of flexibility and formatting, as tools from specialty vendors such as Tableau, QlikTech, and TIBCO Spotfire, but it has some compelling differentiators (BI Scorecard subscribers can access a product review and side-by-side comparisons here). First, any MicroStrategy customer who owns Report Services (which is the majority), gets Visual Insight for free (in contrast to SAP and IBM who charge premiums for their visual data discovery products and Oracle that also requires the Exalytics appliance). Further, all the existing MicroStrategy grid reports can readily be converted to a Visual Insight document in a single click.
MicroStrategy Cloud, now in its second year as well, showed good momentum. Customer Four Seasons touted the cloud platform as providing a simpler deployment, particularly important for independently owned and remote hotels that lack large IT departments. Customer Huntington Bank described how they are using the direct connect feature of MicroStrategy Cloud in which they can leave their data on-premise in a number of relational databases. MicroStrategy Cloud now counts 30,000 users in 100 countries and 2 PB of data.
There was a strong push for some of the new tools including Wisdom, Alert, and Usher that takes MicroStrategy out of its core area of business intelligence into social and market segmentation, targeted promotions, and identity management. Saylor described some of the uses or Wisdom as "hyper research and an idea whose time has come." His vision is valid to an extent but for the majority of attendees, they are still trying to exploit the potential of the data they own and control, let alone what originates in the social sphere.
In this regard, MicroStrategy glossed over its big data story, in my opinion. They have a number of the components, including integration with Hadoop, forthcoming Impala, and newly announced support for SAP HANA. However, the company's positioning and strategy could have been better articulated in the general sessions. I suspect part of the missed opportunity to emphasize capabilities in this area was due to recent changes in leadership and re-organization, with a newly appointed President, Paul Zolfaghar and CTO, Peng Xiao. While the MicroStrategy product line is solid, its execution in 2012 did not keep pace with the growth of the overall BI market. Part of the challenges may be execution and global economy related, but I suspect it's also tougher waters in SAP and Oracle accounts on the one end of the spectrum, with QlikTech and Tableau challenging them on the other end.
Cindi Howson, BI Scorecard