MicroStrategy Tries Free To Win Customers

Business intelligence vendor MicroStrategy introduces free, easy-to-use desktop and cloud products to get potential customers to take a second look at the company.

Cindi Howson, Founder, BI Scorecard

November 1, 2013

3 Min Read

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Simple, flexible and highly visual products are what's selling in the business intelligence and analytics arena, and MicroStrategy is hoping to jump on that bandwagon with free cloud and desktop versions of its product designed to be easy to use.

MicroStrategy has established its reputation as one of the most innovative business intelligence vendors -– early to adopt mobile, in-memory, and cloud. The product is known for enterprise scale, but also for complex implementations. 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 improve ease of use and deployment, setting its sights on engaging even every-day decision makers with free versions of MicroStrategy Desktop and MicroStrategy Express. MicroStrategy Desktop is a new product aimed at individual BI users. It's based on Microstrategy's Visual Insight product and competes 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.

[ Want more on data visualization? Read Tableau Data Visualization Tool Gets Major Revamp. ]

Although MicroStrategy has branded this new product "desktop," it shouldn't be confused with the vendor's original desktop interface. This new product installs locally and creates an internal website on the local desktop, so users work through the same browser-based interface used by the Express and Enterprise products. This approach makes for a more consistent user experience across the product line and an easy 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-based version of the product, has more robust capabilities than Desktop, including highly formatted reports, report scheduling, and file sharing. The vendor says it will make MicroStrategy Express free for the first year, with no cap on the number of users. The main limitation is that data has to be loaded to the cloud, whereas the fee-based MicroStrategy Cloud can analyze data left on-premises.

In addition to getting an overall face lift, all versions of MicroStrategy now support data blending, a technique 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 ability to blend data has been one of MicroStrategy's biggest limitations -- while a strength of competitors Tableau, QlikTech, and TIBCO Spotfire. Meanwhile, more scalable and centrally controlled data federation at the server level is supported through MicroStrategy's Multi Source option.

By offering two free versions of its product, MicroStrategy is clearly trying to seed the market and get customers to take a second look at the new MicroStrategy. The vendor tried this seeding approach once before with a Reporting Suite product that met with mixed success -- mainly because that version was hard to deploy and lacked dashboards. With the ease of use and flexibility offered in the latest release, the seeding strategy just might provide a big boost to MicroStrategy's competitive position.

These latest moves by MicroStrategy are more proof that visual data discovery is one of the hottest trends in the BI market.

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About the Author(s)

Cindi Howson

Founder, BI Scorecard

Cindi Howson is the founder of BI Scorecard, a resource for in-depth BI product reviews based on exclusive hands-on testing. She has been advising clients on BI tool strategies and selections for more than 20 years. She is the author of Successful Business Intelligence: Unlock the Value of BI and Big Data and SAP Business Objects BI 4.0: The Complete Reference. She is a faculty member of The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI) and a contributing expert to InformationWeek. Before founding BI Scorecard, she was a manager at Deloitte & Touche and a BI standards leader for a Fortune 500 company. She has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, the Irish Times, Forbes, and Business Week. She has an MBA from Rice University.

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