MicroStrategy Doubles Down On Mobile, Data Visualization
Business intelligence vendor focuses on mobile, cloud, social and visual analysis amid a tight battle with SAP, Oracle, QlikTech and Tableau.
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Mobile computing and social networking are changing the world, and they're changing business intelligence expectations in the process. As a result, BI vendor MicroStrategy has upgraded its software to help BI application developers "build compelling apps that are beautiful, agile, mobile and fast," said CEO and co-founder Michael Saylor at the company's recent user conference in Las Vegas.
Mobile has been a big part of MicroStrategy's focus for at least three years, and it has been steadfast in its strategy to build native apps for iPhone, iPad and Android devices. The native-app approach differs from that of many other BI vendors who are betting on HTML 5. For now, native apps give users the best experience. In its latest release, MicroStrategy has continued to refine the online and offline performance of its mobile apps with smart caching, support for video and PDF content inside dashboards, and usage tracking of BI activities on the device.
The conference highlighted high-profile uses of MicroStrategy Transaction Services, a mobile write-back capability first announced in 2011. Write-back lets users capture as well as consume information from smartphones and tablets. 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 among the top airports for business travelers (while my hub, Newark, not surprisingly, ranked near the bottom).
MicroStrategy also used the conference to announce plans to pursue the mobile app development market with its capabilities to build mobile apps without coding. IDC estimates the mobile app development segment will surpass $35 billion by 2014. There's plenty of competition. Gartner currently positions Antenna and SAP (Sybase Unwired and Syclo, respectively) as leaders in this segment, with Adobe, Kony and many others as "visionaries."
Visual Insight, upgraded in MicroStrategy's 9.3 release in September, also took center stage. It's one of the best visual data discovery products I've seen from broad BI platform vendors, with significant improvements since its debut in 2011. The module is not yet on par with what's offered from data-visualization specialists such as Tableau Software, QlickTech and Tibco Spotfire -- lacking in particular flexibility and formatting -- but it has some compelling differentiators (as described in this BI Scorecard side-by-side comparison). First, any MicroStrategy customer who owns Report Services -- which is the majority -- gets Visual Insight for free. That's a contrast to SAP and IBM, which charge premiums for their respective Business Objects and Cognos data visualization products. Oracle charges extra for visual analysis software in that it also requires the Exalytics appliance. Further, all the existing MicroStrategy grid reports can be converted to a Visual Insight document with a single click.
MicroStrategy Cloud, now in its second year, seems to be showing good momentum, with 30,000 users and 2 petabytes of data in the cloud, according to the vendor. Customer Four Seasons touted the cloud platform as providing simple deployment, something particularly important for its remote, independently owned hotels, which lack large IT departments. Customer Huntington Bank described how it is using the direct connect feature of MicroStrategy Cloud to access on-premises data in a number of relational databases.
MicroStrategy pushed its social-network intelligence tools -- Wisdom, Alert and Usher, which support market segmentation, targeted promotions and identity management, respectively -- on Facebook. Saylor described the "hyper research" opportunity behind Wisdom as "an idea whose time has come." In my view, the majority of MicroStrategy customers are still trying to exploit the potential of the internal data they control, let alone what originates in the social sphere.
MicroStrategy actually glossed over its big data story, in my opinion. They have a number of components, including integrations with Hadoop, with Cloudera's forthcoming Impala interface for Hadoop and, as recently announced, with SAP Hana. However, the company's positioning and strategy for big data could have been better articulated. I suspect part of the missed opportunity was due to recent changes in leadership and reorganization, with a newly appointed president, Paul Zolfaghar, and CTO, Peng Xiao.
Why did MicroStrategy reorganize? That wasn't discussed at the event. The company's product line is solid, in my view, but its execution in 2012 did not keep pace with the growth of the overall BI market. Part of that shortfall might be execution, but I suspect MicroStrategy is facing tougher competition than before from SAP and Oracle on one end of the spectrum, and from QlikTech and Tableau on the other.
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