By Cindi Howson, BI Scorecard
MicroStrategy has established its reputation as one of the most innovative BI heavyweights – early to adopt mobile, in-memory, and cloud. The product is known for enterprise scale, but also was known for its complexity to implement. In truth, it's not so much that the product itself was harder to implement than comparable BI platforms, but rather, that it required a clean data model, with conformed dimensions. Customers who didn't have an enterprise data warehouse usually sought alternatives from more flexible BI platforms or newer visual data discovery vendors.
With MicroStrategy's latest release, the vendor has gone a long way to improving the ease of use and has now set its sights on engaging even the every-day decision maker, with free versions of MicroStrategy Desktop and MicroStrategy Express. MicroStrategy Desktop is a new product aimed at the individual BI user based on its Visual Insight product, competing most directly with the likes of Tableau. Users can import data (modeled or not) and immediately create interactive visualizations and dashboards. Dashboards can be emailed as a PDF to other users.
Although MicroStrategy has branded this new product as "Desktop," it shouldn't be confused with the earlier and original Desktop interface of MicroStrategy. This version installs locally and creates an internal website on the local desktop, so users still work through a web-based browser to create content, the same interface that MicroStrategy Express and Enterprise users access. This approach makes for a more consistent user interface across the product line and a transition path to a larger deployment. However, compared to other BI products that are truly desktop-based, the start-up process is slower.
MicroStrategy Express – the cloud version of the product -- has more robust capabilities than Desktop that also include highly formatted reports, report scheduling, and file sharing. The vendor has announced that it will make MicroStrategy Express free for the first year, with no future commitment or cap on the number of users. The main limitation here is that data has to be loaded to the cloud, whereas the fee-based MicroStrategy Cloud enables data to be left on premise.
In addition to an overall face lift, all versions of the product now support data blending, in which users can mash together data from multiple data sources. Data can come from a flat file, spreadsheet, dozens of relational databases, Hadoop and Hive, or existing MicroStrategy reports. In the past, the inability for users to blend or mash their own data sources together has been one of MicroStrategy's biggest limitations, and a strength of competitors Tableau, QlikTech, and TIBCO Spotfire. This improvement boosts MicroStrategy's flexibility for individual report authors. Meanwhile, more scalable and centrally controlled data federation at the server level continues to be supported through MicroStrategy's Multi Source option.
In making these two versions of the product free, MicroStrategy is clearly trying to seed the market and get customers to take a second look at the new MicroStrategy. The vendor has tried this seeding approach once before with Reporting Suite that met with mixed success, mainly because that version was harder to deploy and lacked dashboards. With the ease of use and flexibility addressed in the latest release, the vendor's seeding strategy could provide a big boost in its competitive position. MicroStrategy's moves are one more proof point that visual data discovery is one of the hottest segments of the BI market.
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