Few companies can trace their history in the so-called big data space as far back as MicroStrategy. Co-founded in 1989 by its current chief executive, Michael Saylor, the firm made its name with the release of one of the earliest versions of data mining software for businesses. But in recent years, as data analysis has incorporated larger and larger sets of both structured and unstructured data, MicroStrategy’s data-warehouse-focused brand of business intelligence began to seem somewhat old-school.
With the mid-July release of MicroStrategy 9.3, the company aimed to change that perception. Touting a more user-friendly version of the company’s Visual Insight data visualization module, first unveiled last summer, the new software release also incorporates support for Hadoop and Hive, a nod to Hadoop’s growing popularity among its large clients. In addition, the release strengthens the company’s mobile offering, a particular passion of Saylor who in June published a book on the subject. By providing its clients with a personalized experience on Apple’s iPad, Brian Brinkmann, senior director of product marketing said MicroStrategy was responding to customers.
The industry response to MicroStrategy 9.3 so far has been largely positive. “As I see it, there’s enough for existing users to sink their teeth into,” said Helena Schwenk, principal analyst at MWD Advisors in the U.K.
Cindi Howson, president of New Jersey-based software evaluation firm BI Scorecard, agrees. “MicroStrategy’s ability to handle big data has long been proven,” she said. Howson pointed to the company’s use of a relational OLAP structure with in-memory cubes to analyze data harvested from Hadoop as a key differentiator, since it allows clients to put data through multiple iterations without having to re-query Hadoop.
MicroStrategy’s Brinkmann said that the company’s main concerns in incorporating Hadoop into its product’s dashboard were usability and processing speed. For the 9.3 release, MicroStrategy added a connector to Hive 2L, he said. “Because this piece is modeled, we remove the coding piece from the Hadoop query,” he added. The integration of open-source R models also enhances the software’s advanced analytics capabilities.
But observers remain skeptical that this new compatibility will increase processing times for Hadoop users. Schwenk said that while MicroStrategy clearly is pursuing “this idea to merge Hadoop data with other enterprise data,” that goal is not always realistic. Companies typically need skilled data managers to prepare Hadoop data for analysis, because it is challenging to harvest and use. “Hadoop is fairly grungy,” she said, “and most companies haven’t got the in-house capabilities to prepare that data for analysis.”
The Rise of Mobile
In some ways, MicroStrategy 9.3’s mobile capabilities signify a bigger evolutionary leap for its big data clients than the Hadoop connectors because it promises to put the power of real-time information into the hands of field managers and sales representatives across a host of industries. Its new iOS interface for iPads is not simply a reproduction of the dashboard available on a standard workstation; rather it is designed to provide relevant insight to company employees on the go, whether it’s inventory numbers or up-to-the-minute pricing changes.
“The write-back capability allows a salesperson to initiate a transaction from a mobile device,” said BI Scorecard’s Howson. MicroStrategy’s mobile business intelligence capabilities received the highest score out of 12 vendors in a recent BI Scorecard survey.
The potential for such mobile deployments has just started to appear. One client, the apparel retailer Guess, uses an iPad app developed by MicroStrategy to deliver relevant information to its executives, designers, buyers, regional managers, and store managers. Another, hospital supply company Novation, developed an application to help purchasing managers analyze pricing benchmarks and other supply chain data.
MicroStrategy has also developed the Wisdom Network, a Facebook app that is available for Web browsers and the iPad, to provide social networking analytics. A MicroStrategy customer like the Spanish soccer team FC Barcelona could use the Wisdom app to gauge the interests of its fans to determine new partnership opportunities with a movie star or other brand name, a company executive recently told The New York Times.
MicroStrategy’s Brinkmann said that while the company is confident that the 9.3 places it at the analytical vanguard, “the demand for big data capability is really just getting off the ground.” The hope is that its clients will stick with MicroStrategy to fully develop that interest. “Collecting data is much cheaper now; we wanted to help bridge that skill gap,” he said. “You don’t need know how to code MapReduce with our product.”