MicroStrategy touted its social, cloud-computing and mobile business intelligence initiatives at its user conference last week and has since added proof that those bets are paying off.
MicroStrategy Cloud was released in mid-2011, and over the last six months it has been refining that strategy and building out its infrastructure. I was surprised when the company decided to establish its own data centers, in contrast to other SaaS vendors that use public cloud services such as Amazon's. MicroStrategy claims that owning the infrastructure enables it to better control performance.
Steve Stone, senior vice president of MicroStrategy Cloud, reported that some of its cloud deployments boast better performance than on-premises installs. Stone knows all about customer performance expectations; he's the former CIO and a 19-year veteran of Lowes, which has some 14,000 MicroStrategy users.
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MicroStrategy Cloud is a powerhouse of partnerships, with Netezza, ParAccel, and Teradata (the last announced last week) offering supporting cloud-based data warehousing and Informatica adding cloud-based data integration. MicroStrategy also lets customers leave their data on-premises.
MicroStrategy Cloud Professional, announced last week, gives customers three cloud service options: personal, professional, and enterprise. Cloud Personal is primarily MicroStrategy's Visual Insight product delivered as a cloud service. Cloud Personal is free, but it supports just a single, manually loaded data source.
Cloud Professional brings workgroup management and security to the visualizations created with Visual Insight. (MicroStrategy calls them dashboards, but they really aren't dashboards: there's just one data visualization per page.) The Professional Edition also allows data to be refreshed automatically on a schedule. Cloud Enterprise is about large-scale deployments of the vendor's suite delivered as a service.
MicroStrategy expects its cloud offerings to appeal to line-of-business organizations and departments that lack IT resources to install infrastructure on-premises. As a case in point, customer Enova was looking for a best-fit BI tool, not necessarily a cloud solution. A cloud deployment enabled Enova to get a fast time to value with all the breadth of the MicroStrategy BI platform.
MicroStrategy Social garnered many of the headlines from last week's conference. The company's approach to social media is drastically different than that of other vendors. The social movement in BI has been of two flavors: collaboration and sentiment analysis. I didn't see any MicroStrategy moves to bring collaboration to its product; that's a miss in my view.
MicroStrategy is not pursuing sentiment analysis either. Instead, it is focusing on using Facebook data and enabling users to merge it with customer data via MicroStrategy's Gateway product. Another product, Wisdom, allows users to do customer segmentation based on demographic data in Facebook. MicroStrategy Alert can be used to create targeted, personalized Facebook campaigns using the information discovered with Gateway.
All of this is certainly bleeding edge and compelling. The big "but" comes back to the quality of the data in Facebook. (Trust me: my 13-year-old son does not have 3 wives and 7 brothers.) As a case in point, MicroStrategy shared an interesting graphic from the New York Post that used Wisdom to explore interests between Patriots and Giants fans. The favorite book for Patriots fans is Harry Potter. For Giants fans it's Diary of a Wimpy Kid. (Note: the data set is based on 4 million Facebook Wisdom users). I suspect that this finding is not true of the general fan population. I suspect, too, that younger Wisdom users have been more likely than older users to fill out their profiles and that they have more permissive security settings that allow for such data exploration.
The bottom line is not that the apps are useless. Instead, I think there is big potential and clear first-mover advantage for marketers that can exploit Facebook effectively. But any initiative in this area has to be met with a high degree of skepticism.
MicroStrategy has been ahead of both BI customer demand and its competitors with its mobile BI capabilities. Some vendors are struggling with mobile BI and the shift from RIM dominance to Apple iPads, but MicroStrategy was one of the first to offer native support for the iPad. BI on the iPad has been a Trojan horse for some BI initiatives, with a number of customers citing mobile deployments as the way they are getting a direct line to BI decision makers.
With more than 3,000 people attending MicroStrategy's largest-ever annual conference last week, it was clear the vendor has continued to grow despite a tough economy and fierce completion from mega-vendors IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP. On Monday MicroStrategy released 2011 financial results showing a whopping 23% increase over 2010 total revenues.
Gartner estimated 2011 BI growth rates at 9%, so it's obvious that MicroStrategy is outperforming many of its BI competitors and that the innovation initiatives are paying off.
Cindi Howson is the founder of BI Scorecard , an independent analyst firm that advises companies on BI tool strategies and offers in-depth business intelligence product reviews.