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MicroStrategy Expands Business Intelligence For SMBs

Visual Insight allows users to glean, analyze, and publish data without centralized IT support or deep BI expertise.

MicroStrategy recently released version 9.2 of its business intelligence (BI) platform, and while the vendor has historically targeted the enterprise market, its new Visual Insight feature could help broaden its appeal to small and midsize businesses.

Visual Insight translates data into visualizations, which MicroStrategy senior VP of products Mark LaRow said was designed for a wide swath of business users--not just business analysts or other workers with deep BI expertise. LaRow touts Visual Insight as a way for users across a variety of departments to glean, analyze, and publish data without heavy-duty IT support--something that SMB owners and managers often deal with as a regular part of doing business.

When SMBs consider taking the BI plunge, budget can be a big issue--the top-shelf options are rarely feasible from a total cost of ownership perspective. Like some of the open source options on the market, MicroStrategy's existing Reporting Suite offers a relatively low-risk entry point to the platform. It offers up to 100 free licenses for its basic reporting software. That doesn't include Visual Insight, but the feature can be purchased as part of the vendor's Report Services add-on--the upgrade costs $240 per user, per year. The free version does include two user licenses for the full feature set including Visual Insight, though that's likely not going to meet the needs of most full-fledged SMBs.

Smaller firms anticipating rapid growth can also scale the Reporting Suite as they expand. Pricing gets a bit trickier in this case. Customers first need to buy one of MicroStrategy's premium tech support plans; a 100-user bundle runs $10,000 per year and additional users are $90 apiece. Then additional user licenses (beyond the initial 100) can be purchased for $500 each per year.

While MicroStrategy's current customer base has a clear enterprise heritage, LaRow said the company has a number of departmental customers--smaller departments within large companies, which sometimes grapple with the same challenges that SMBs face. "These organizations want just a small BI implementation pointed to a local data source in their department, without all of the heavy baggage that typically comes from centralized IT," LaRow said in an interview.

Therein lies a key difference between departments and actual SMBs, however: The latter typically doesn't have the initial IT manpower to get their implementation up and running. MicroStrategy offers what amounts to a temporary IT staff, called QuickStrike, for smaller companies that need deployment support. At $15,000 for two weeks of consulting, QuickStrike might be more of a midmarket play--but it does give SMBs an option for short-term IT support without a long-term budget commitment.

"We come in and be their centralized IT group for a period of two weeks," LaRow said. "We set up the infrastructure, we connect the databases, we do the minor amount of modeling that typically small companies' data requires, and leave them with a bunch of subject-area, in-memory data sets--running on our servers--for them to begin designing reports against."

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