Microstrategy Adapts to New BI Realities

The business intelligence software veteran is adapting to the latest analytics trends--and to new rivals. 

This pioneer in the field of business intelligence software is adapting to the latest analytics trends--and to new rivals.

  • Company: MicroStrategy
  • Headquarters: Vienna, Va.
  • Employees: 3,200
  • 2013 Revenue: $576 million
  • CEO: Michael Saylor
  • What They Do: MicroStrategy offers business intelligence software, called MicroStrategy Analytics Platform, to examine organizational data records. It recently launched a cloud service, plus a desktop version for visually oriented ad-hoc analysis. The company also offers marketing intelligence software for mobile platforms.

The Pitch

MicroStrategy wants to bring business intelligence (BI) to all of an organization's employees, not just to the expert number crunchers. It wants to analyze all the organization's data, not just the stuff stored in databases and data warehouses. And it wants to make the analysis available at the organization's front lines, not just in the back office.

Compared with products from competing enterprise BI vendors, such as IBM's Cognos and SAP's Business Objects, MicroStrategy's flagship software holds its own in terms of features, quality, innovation and pricing, says Cindi Howson, founder of research firm BI Scorecard. And the latest release has made it easier to install, she says.

The company has extended the BI software to mobile platforms, such as tablets and smartphones, where it is used by traveling sales reps and in-store salespeople. Paul Zolfaghari, MicroStrategy's president, calls this "salesforce enablement."

The Catch

The BI market has changed dramatically in the past few years, Zolfaghari acknowledges. The company has new competitors, as well as challenging new sources of data to analyze.

"Ten years ago, everything was in a relational database. Everyone was looking at having a single version of the truth, in a centralized enterprise data warehouse," Zolfaghari says. These days, data can come from many sources, including social media sites such as Facebook, point-of-sale machines, and cloud services such as Salesforce.com.

The company also faces a new crop of BI vendors, such as Qlik, Tableau and Spotfire. They aim to address the emerging market for easy-to-use software (with strong visualization features) that can be used by business managers rather than seasoned statistical analysts, says Wayne Eckerson, founder of BI Leader Consulting. As these products become more commonly used, the new companies start to compete with MicroStrategy on its own turf for enterprise-wide sales.

The Score

To compete in this emerging market of departmental use of BI, MicroStrategy released MicroStrategy Analytics Desktop, a no-cost product that allows more casual users--people with a fraction of the configuration expertise required of full-fledged analysts--to generate reports and make queries against their own sources of data.

This software does an OK job of serving the new market. "MicroStrategy is doing good on serving the needs of individuals now, but Tableau is doing excellent," Howson says.

Sticking with MicroStrategy has benefits though. The desktop software can be integrated with an enterprise-wide MicroStrategy deployment. That allows the organization to keep its enterprise data warehouse and maintain a coherent set of data, rather than letting each department generate its own data sets. Bonus: Running a single tool for all BI operations simplifies IT operations as well.

Unlike many other BI vendors, MicroStrategy hasn't been acquired by a larger enterprise software vendor, so it's independent and focused entirely on the BI market. "Smaller companies tend to be easier to do business with," Howson says.

Zolfaghari says every MicroStrategy product was developed internally. As a result, he says, "everything we build is designed to work with everything else we've built."

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