MicroStrategy 9.3 takes on self-service, Big Data, cloud and iPhone 5

The new release of independent Enterprise BI veteran MicroStrategy targets end users; integrates with Hadoop, HANA and R; wins customers over to its cloud and updates its iOS app to work with iPhone 5's 16:9 display.
Written by Andrew Brust, Contributor

Organically Grown
MicroStrategy started out as an independent Business Intelligence (BI) company and has remained that way, building out its BI stack organically. This contrasts significantly with the acquisition strategy that many of the mega-vendors have employed in building their own BI portfolios.

The pureness of MicroStrategy's BI stack pedigree is a good competitive edge against its Enterprise competitors.  But companies like QlikTech and Tableau have opened up another front in the BI wars, around self-service dashboards and data visualization.  It's a double-whammy, and MicroStrategy knows it needs to respond.

MicroStrategy 9.3
Part of that response came Thursday, with the General Availability of MicroStrategy 9.3.  The new version's updated Visual Insight component gives end-users the ability to select and combine data sources and ostensibly extract "insights" (a much ballyhooed term in the industry) in short order.  The visualizations range from simple bar and pie charts to more complex and high-value visualizations like heat maps, geospatial visualizations and network diagrams.

One especially interesting thing MicroStrategy has done, as officials from the company described it to me, is to put several of the most popular of its more than 300 analytic functions (for example, moving average) in a short list of sorts, let users pick them, supply their criteria and then just calculate the result.  Further, the calculation is accelerated through use of MicroStrategy's memory cache-optimized analytics engine.

Big Data
Speaking of in-memory, this version of MicroStrategy can also query SAP's HANA in-memory database.  It can integrate with Hadoop (via Hive) as well, and now has the ability to import packages from R, exposing their underlying functions within the MicroStrategy environment.

Then there's the cloud.  MicroStrategy has implemented its BI stack on its own cloud infrastructure, in versions ranging from Personal to "Express" (currently in beta) to Platform (the Enterprise offering).  For the last of these three, the company has signed on several marquee customers, including Chrysler, Thomson Reuters, Johnson & Johnson, Four Seasons and Ingram Micro.

When I interviewed MicroStrategy executives, they told me that while they originally thought the cloud might catch on best with small and medium businesses, recently it's the big Enterprises that have been leading the charge.

As much as MicroStrategy champions the cloud, the company is into mobile in a big way.  Its iPad app has become mainstream enough to be mentioned in a Sprint commercial and it offers excellent data visualizations in a native iOS environment.

Also read: Is the iPad the new normal for data visualization?

MicroStrategy has an iPhone app as well, and the company explained to me that an iPhone 5-ready update to that app should be available on the App Store in time for the iPhone 5's release on September 21st.  The updated app will support a "pixel perfect" approach, whereby users can build explicit 4:3 and 16:9 views of their analyses, and will also support automated approaches, which will use the extra screen real-estate for an enhanced UI or to support modes like fit-to-width, fit-to-screen and so forth.

Line of Business...Intelligence
My discussion with the MicroStrategy folks ended with a very interesting development, so to speak.  The company intends to provide not just its own BI apps for mobile platforms, but also a code-free (that's the company's term) platform for transactional, line-of-business app functionality.  MicroStrategy's take on this is that true BI insights should lead to actions, and those actions should be supported in the same app platform that delivered the insights in the first place.

I'm skeptical of no-code approaches, though there are some that I like.  But the fusion of analytics and line-of-business, to me, is an obvious win that most software companies have seemed to have ignored.  If MicroStrategy does even a half-way decent job of bringing Big Data, BI and LOB together, especially on mobile platforms, it could be a game-changer.  I, for one, will be keeping watch, to see how this all turns out.

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