Note: I received this blog posting in an e-mail. I generally and in principle agree with Arpit in his assessment of MicroStrategy. I thought I would share his thoughts and, if time permits, offer my thoughts in a future blog.
MicroStrategy “Data Science to Business Value” by Arpit Agrawal (blogged on IT Central Station on August 14, 2013)
When a customer wants to implement BI, there are lots of options available in the market to choose from. The decision depends on various parameters such as scale of implementation, costing and performance. They can either go with the open source options, or they can plan towards a paid BI tool. The decision can also be driven based on strategic factors of the company. I personally don’t believe in tool agnostic approach, I feel every customer has his own BI needs and has some specific requirements. No tool in this world can meet each one of these requirements, but in my experience MicroStrategy provides a complete product, which meets most of the customer requirements. This would be my first product review on a Business intelligence tool “MicroStrategy”
MicroStrategy is a solution provider for enterprise software platform on business intelligence. When we talk about MicroStrategy the first thought that comes into my mind is the core focus of the company, which is to deliver Business intelligence solutions, unlike other companies, which have their focus on different horizons. This, in my opinion, is the core strength of MicroStrategy as a company. Mike Saylor (CEO) gave similar insights in the MicroStrategy World conference. According to him the biggest advantage of MicroStrategy as a company is that they are the largest independently owned BI platform. There are a lot of companies in the market who acquire small firms to improve their technology and product, but MicroStrategy is not one of them. The fact that MicroStrategy has resisted the temptation to build a technology portfolio through acquisitions has become their core strength. They always believed in their core framework and everything was developed by their own team. According to the BI Survey 12, conducted by German-based Business Application Research Center (BARC), MicroStrategy has received the highest ranking in numerous KPIs (Key Performance Indicator) such as total Performance, user Recommendation, mobile, query performance, data volumes and big data.
MicroStrategy has a deep market penetration and is regularly used for industry level solutions in different domains such as Retail, Healthcare, Banking, Manufacturing, Social Media etc. There are lots of key advantages of using MicroStrategy which I will elaborate verbosely.
- Core functionality and Ease for Development - Having worked on different reporting platforms, I feel that most of the functionality is directly available out of the box in MicroStrategy. MicroStrategy platform supports distributed development so many developers can work on the project at a given time. Most of objects are reusable and their definition can be reused across other business areas. It also has extensive control on formatting of reports / dashboard. It supports as many number of databases and next generation database along with multi sourcing. The security architecture of MicroStrategy makes designing and implementation very powerful. You can have row level, object level, application level, and all different forms of security. Any developer with a fair amount of development experience in MicroStrategy would be able to list down product features and limitations. Although limitations of the tool are not much but there are functionalities which can be handled using SDK.
- Visual Data discovery - For any BI tool, the ease-of-use is very important along with the sophisticated analytics which can be presented using the best visualization framework. As the size of data is increasing day by day, this is not going to decrease in the near future as well. It has become very important for a BI to analyze these enormous data volumes in a best representable format. Data visualization is driving demand in the business intelligence (BI) market because it’s intuitive and accessible to business users who aren’t schooled in query languages or statistical analysis. MicroStrategy has a strong stand in these areas due to large number of visualizations in their library. This separates MicroStrategy, as a tool, for visual exploration from other competitors. Features like flash widgets and interactive flash PDF export make it very versatile tool. The advance dashboards visualizations make the dashboard appealing and are best way to represent data in a more intuitive format.
- Impromptu BI - There are customers in the market who look for Impromptu BI as a solution for their BI needs. MicroStrategy provides a solution called as visual insights which meets this purpose and is best suited for such cases. MicroStrategy Visual Insight empowers you to discover insights from your data using compelling visualizations. Users can use any of the out of the box Visualizations or they can create their own custom Visualizations using SDK. Once the base cube is developed it hardly takes 10-20 minutes to create visualizations for the analysis and this is what most business users want these days. They are the people who understand their data and want to play around with the data. Other than visual insights there are solutions developed using Object prompt where user has an option to select what they want to view in a report. This makes MicroStrategy stand out in front of other competitors.
- Mentoring and support offering - For any business intelligence tool the level and depth of customer support is becoming increasingly critical as BI becomes more integrated into organizations’ operations. Better product support results in higher application success rates and helps to ensure customers get full value from their Investments. MicroStrategy on that note has one of the best customer support offering in the industry. This helps you to report your issues and business cases enhancements to MicroStrategy which can be taken into consideration for the subsequent release/hotfix/patch depending on your business impact. The support offering also helps in providing solutions to MicroStrategy developers and Administrators for the issues they face during the development. Striving to maximize the business benefits of a MicroStrategy one should prioritize customer support strategy. Apart from the excellent customer offering MicroStrategy hosts customer trainings events at different Geographic locations as it is important to keep decision makers across the company educated on the tool. End user training and mentoring is very important for success of any BI tool. MicroStrategy also hosts their annual user conference called as “MicroStrategy world” which consists of lot of sessions; it is also a good opportunity for individuals looking for more networking opportunities in MicroStrategy.
- Performance and stability - MicroStrategy provides unmatched Performance and Stability on a Consolidated BI Platform
- Social media and big data - MicroStrategy is one of the first vendors to certify integration with Amazon Redshift. MicroStrategy constantly demonstrates leadership and innovation in both major dimensions of Big Data analytics. They are one of the leading innovators in big data space. When we talk about BI, social media analytics cannot be neglected. Many market research firms rely on data from social media like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to get some insights. MicroStrategy’s social intelligence platform includes a number of applications that help enterprises harness the power of social networks for marketing and e-commerce.
- MicroStrategy Mobile - Michael Saylor, who is the founder of MicroStrategy, has also written a book called “The Mobile Wave: How Mobile Intelligence Will Change Everything” and I believe that its Saylor’s vision on the Mobile technology that has made MicroStrategy to grow on the Mobile Side. The Mobile App Platform transforms business intelligence reporting from paper or the desktop, to the mobile device. Workers are no longer chained to their desk, or reliant on paper-based documents that are obsolete by the time they reach their target audience. Mobile applications provide functionality that is unmatched by paper or a web browser. MicroStrategy has created some really amazing apps for IOS and Android users. They also have a program called Mobile Quick strike for 10 days where they would come up with a fully functional app. It gives customers the confidence in the overall strength of the tool. MicroStrategy’s mobile intelligence platform helps companies and organizations build, deploy, and maintain mobile apps across a range of solutions by embedding intelligence, transactions, and multimedia into apps.
- Integration and certification with other platforms - MicroStrategy tool is certified with various reporting databases and platforms which makes it easily usable across the organizations. MicroStrategy team adds new certification and support with every release of the product.
Although every tool has some limitations, MicroStrategy is no exception. I will list down a few:
- Sometimes it can be hard to quantify the ROI (return on investment) on software as the returns come indirectly through the better informed workers and decision makers across the company. The tool can be of limited use for some companies. MicroStrategy system still cannot be afforded by most of the companies. When they plan to buy this product they have various purchase options wherein the cost would be around some hundred dollars per user if they plan to go for a user based license or it can go as high as a million dollars for a CPU based license depending on the performance they want from their system. Although, in the past few years MicroStrategy has started modifying their services towards medium and small-sized industries, but the fact is that many of such firms do not consider them to be highly essential as its hard to quantify the ROI.This stands true for other paid tools as well and that is the reason open source tools are getting some market share these days
- Having worked as a developer on MicroStrategy, I see Impact Analysis as a pain point area in MicroStrategy. MicroStrategy is an object-oriented tool and in this world of business, change is something which is inevitable, so in case there is a request for change and you need to find the impact of the object in MSTR, it does a recursive search and doesn’t give the list of objects in one view which makes very difficult for any developer to know the overall impact of the object inside a big project implementation. Unlike other BI tools which list down all the objects dependent on a particular object in a single view which can be exported into excel for tracking the change and validation of test cases.
- Version control is not a strong point for MicroStrategy and I feel there is a scope of improvement in this area.
- Development in MicroStrategy is done mostly using desktop though they have included lot of features with their latest release in web but I feel full support of web-based development is important and would improve with the future release.
- A pain point for some organizations these days is to find a good MicroStrategy resource. Getting a Cognos/BO/OBIEE expert from the IT market is comparatively easier than finding a good MicroStrategy resource.
These are some advantages and disadvantages of the tool. Compared to the advantages the disadvantages are some minor improvements which i feel would be taken care in future releases. I haven’t listed granular details as I wanted to keep this review at a high level for product understanding. There are lots of features which one can explore. When you do the contemplate MicroStrategy is a great product over all. To conclude you should never forget “Owning a supercomputer gives you a special feeling but the question is, Are you really using it for what it is intended to?”
Hope this review helps customers who are preparing their BI strategy. In case you need more insights, or you are planning for a BI implementation and have some questions do write to me on my e-mail. I would be more than happy to help.
Disclosure: The company I (Arpit) work for is partners with several vendors.
This past week, MicroStrategy World Europe 2013 was held in Barcelona, Spain. As usual, Michael Saylor, Founder and CEO of MicroStrategy, Inc. provided the keynote address of the conference.
I have listened to Michael’s presentation today and want to think about it a bit before I post some commentary.
In the meantime, here is a link to the video of his presentation. Just click on the image below.
The first person who exposed me to best practices in data visualization was Stephen Few. I had the good fortune to take a one day Data Visualization class from him in 2007 at TDWI in San Diego. Stephen’s company is called Perceptual Edge.
Stephen founded Perceptual Edge as a consultancy that was established to help organizations learn to design simple information displays for effective analysis and communication. With 25 years of experience as an innovator, consultant, and educator in the fields of business intelligence and information design, Stephen is now a leading expert in data visualization for data sense-making and communication.
He writes a quarterly Visual Business Intelligence Newsletter, speaks and teaches internationally, and provides design consulting. In 2004, he wrote the first comprehensive and practical guide to business graphics entitled Show Me the Numbers, in 2006, he wrote the first and only guide to the visual design of dashboards, entitled Information Dashboard Design, and in 2009 he wrote the first introduction for non-statisticians to visual data analysis, entitled Now You See It.
With that introduction to Stephen Few, I wanted to provide you a link to his web site and his review of Tableau 8. Here is a brief snippet of Stephen’s review.
“I’ve seen it happen many times, but it never ceases to sadden me. An organization starts off with a clear vision and an impervious commitment to excellence, but as it grows, the vision blurs and excellence gets diluted through a series of compromises. Software companies are often founded by a few people with a great idea, and their beginnings are magical. They shine as beacons, lighting the way, but as they grow, what was once clear becomes clouded, what was once firm becomes flaccid, and what was once promising becomes just one more example of business as usual.”