MicroStrategy Revs Up Mobile Computing

Transactions services and new cloud computing and data visualization options enrich the vendor's business intelligence portfolio.
Last week's MicroStrategy World was one of this vendor's largest conferences ever, with some bold announcements from a vendor that continues to innovate at a rapid pace.

CEO Michael Saylor noted the biggest things in technology that are generating excitement and Wall Street investments: mobile, the cloud, and social. From a business intelligence perspective, MicroStrategy has been ahead of the curve for mobile BI, supporting a larger range of devices natively and with advanced functionality such as interactivity, location awareness, and device-based caching.

MicroStrategy is kicking it up a notch (several, really) with Transaction Services. A new product, Transaction Services allows a BI user to act on information directly from a mobile device (or Web), whether for approvals, or to modify data for forecasting, for example. It's an out-of-the-box-solution that lets administrators map transaction processes and data to information in the MicroStrategy business meta data.

So, for example, a supply chain manager may be viewing his inventory on an iPad, and click a re-order button that writes back to the transaction system. The demo was impressive. The closest capability I have seen is Oracle's Actionable Intelligence in the recently-released 11g.

MicroStrategy also announced Cloud Intelligence, in which the vendor will support its infrastructure and software in the cloud, using a combination of its own data center and Amazon's cloud. The move into the cloud is intended to help lines of business and small- and midsize-businesses more quickly deploy MicroStrategy's BI solution, but also to provide elasticity when demand spikes in enterprise deployments.

The company demonstrated new data visual exploration capabilities on day two of the conference. Visual Explorer may not be on par with other advanced visualization products, but I was surprised this new product got so little attention. The positioning of the solution was also rather weak, being described by VP of Products Mark LaRow as an interface "between "Ad Hoc and OLAP." This makes me think that MicroStrategy doesn't quite get the impact of visual discovery tools. On the positive side, the product is included in the Report Services license for customers on maintenance.

Customer LinkedIn presented a fascinating session on how they analyze data and what they are discovering. For example, "analytics" has been one of the fastest-growing job categories since 2000. So if you are reading this, it confirms what you probably already knew: everyone in BI is busy, BI experts are in high demand, and it's a great area to specialize in!

Starbucks and Société Générale impressed me with the scalability and fast response times of their deployments, despite use of complex dashboards accessed by thousands of users concurrently. Coca Cola and Guess certainly took the geekiness out of BI entirely with mobile dashboards that are beautiful.

One long-time MicroStrategy customer commented that things are moving too fast -- faster than what the customer base can absorb. As I tweeted away, feeling frenetic and longing for the times when a reflective article was more valued than an off-the-cuff tweet, I had to agree. It made me think of a remark I have used in the last year: that the recession was about the survival of the smartest.

With some of the recent innovations, how much are we also moving to a survival of the fastest? There is sometimes value in first-mover advantage. They key is in figuring out which ones provide your company the most benefit.

Last week's conference ended in the midst of yet another whopper of a snow storm in the Northeast. So I was one of those stuck for a couple days and bounced between flights. I'd say I'm so happy to be office-bound this week, but with more snow and ice forecast in New Jersey, I'm not so sure!

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.