Last week I attended MicroStrategy World 2011 in Las Vegas, the North American version of the business intelligence (BI) vendor’s annual user conference. The event was well attended, and the company claimed attendance was up 40% over last year. The purpose of the post is to recap the announcements made, highlight the areas where MicroStrategy is making investments and comment on the overall direction implied by these investments.
Continuing to emphasize mobile access as a key theme in its approach to the market, MicroStrategy revealed more about that strategy and its relation to other key areas of focus. You can read my colleague’s previous comments about MicroStrategy’s mobile efforts here. In the conference’s opening session, MicroStrategy CEO Michael Saylor cited three waves combining to create a “perfect storm” in the technology market: mobility, cloud computing and social networking. In the second day’s general session, SVP Mark LaRow added two other key themes: performance management and interactive visualization. Our benchmark research on business intelligence and performance management suggests that these themes closely match market demands. To begin with, mobile access to data tops the list for business with BI usage capabilities organizations are hoping to deploy. Adoption of cloud-based BI and performance management is growing: More than one-third of organizations have deployed or plan to source BI on a software-as-a-service (SaaS) basis. And nearly two-thirds of organizations consider collaboration – the business use of social networking – important or very important to supplement BI performance management for decision-making.
MicroStrategy continues to embrace the Apple iPad as a preferred mobile platform. Saylor predicted that Apple could sell 50 million iPads this year, and he also expects 50 million tablets running Android in the market. The emphasis on mobile technology was so significant that in the first 30 minutes of his opening keynote, Saylor spent only five minutes on BI itself. In my opinion, one of the most interesting and most promising directions for MicroStrategy, and for BI in general, was buried within the discussion of MicroStrategy Mobile. The concept of transaction services begins to bridge the gap between analyzing information and taking action on it. Our benchmark research shows the third-most common source of dissatisfaction with organizations’ current analytic processes is that information is not actionable. Transaction services attempt to solve that problem by making BI reports and screens sources for data entry. That is, you can edit data directly from the reports and displays where you are reviewing the information. It’s also noteworthy that while this feature was introduced as part of MicroStrategy Mobile, it is not restricted to the company’s mobile products. I expect to see other BI vendors follow suit and begin to tie their BI products more closely to the business processes and systems necessary to enable action. By the way, someone at MicroStrategy shares my opinion on the importance of transaction services: The press release of MicroStrategy World announcements begins with new products and capabilities
With a program called Cloud Intelligence, MicroStrategy will offer its entire stack in a hosted environment on a pay-as-you-go basis or on a named-user basis if you prefer. MicroStrategy will not host the data but rather will connect to the data on your premises or in some other cloud-based service. At first thought you might have performance concerns with the data movement between the database in one location and MicroStrategy in another. But given MicroStrategy’s architecture of pushing down to the database as much of the data manipulation as possible and minimizing the movement of data to the MicroStrategy components, this approach could deliver satisfactory response times. According to the company, internal test results prove this to be true, but we’ll have to wait to see since Cloud Intelligence isn’t available publicly yet (though it should be available in a beta version during this calendar quarter). Given MicroStrategy’s obsession with performance (see below), I suspect the company can get it right. It appears that many details still need to be worked out, but MicroStrategy claims to have developed its plans based on extensive internal use of cloud-based proof of concepts its field organization has conducted for customers and prospects. When Cloud Intelligence becomes available, the two key questions will be price and performance.
Mark LaRow also introduced and demonstrated interactive visualization capabilities in a work-in-progress that is still unnamed. LaRow and the press release refer to the capabilities as “visual exploration.” The new features include heat maps, graph matrices and a number of existing visualization techniques such as maps and charts, all configured in an interactive framework that includes layout and filtering options. If you are a visualization aficionado, I don’t think you will be wowed by what this has to offer, but MicroStrategy users who have been looking for some interactive visualization techniques probably will be pleased. As with the other announcements made at the conference, these features are not available in public release yet, but a beta version should be available in the near future.
The final corporate theme was around performance. LaRow reviewed the recent improvements MicroStrategy has made with its High Performance Initiative announced last month. MicroStrategy continues to invest in performance, and I believe its benchmarks help focus research and development efforts on measurable improvements in the speed and scalability of the product. What gets measured gets managed, and so I think the high-performance initiative is having a positive effect.
Here are some other observations about the event. Hadoop was in the room (see my post “Hadoop is the Elephant in the Room”). This association is not surprising since MicroStrategy often is associated with large data sets, which are typical of Hadoop implementations. MicroStrategy announced support for Hadoop last June Hadoop provider Cloudera exhibited and spoke at the event, and Amazon presented a session on Elastic MapReduce (its Hadoop offering). I was also intrigued to see Longview Solutions exhibiting. My colleague has commented previously on MicroStrategy’s lack of planning and what-if capabilities. It appears that Longview and MicroStrategy have established a partnership to deliver these capabilities in which the heavy lifting of the planning and forecasting process happens outside MicroStrategy and the results are pushed back into it.
Finally, while the show was taking place, MicroStrategy also announced financial results that show record revenues for the previous quarter, which suggest that like the attendees, the market continues to be interested in its approach to business intelligence and advancements in technology.