Last month, MicroStrategy hosted its 20th user conference in Washington, DC, with over 2800 attendees. There are only a couple BI and analytic vendors that can lay claim to such longevity – most have been acquired or are new to the space.
It’s a different landscape than 20 years ago, when I first discovered DSS Suite at a conference in Germany. It’s a different landscape even to five years ago, when IT drove most of the buying and the themes of enterprise grade, standardization, and single-version of the truth were more the mantras. Now, self-service, agility, and ease of use often top BI buying priorities— priorities and budgets increasingly controlled by the business. These changes are forcing MicroStrategy to re-invent itself.
CEO and founder Michael Saylor kicked off the keynote announcing that MicroStrategy is now available on Amazon Web Services. The vendor was early to the cloud, initially running in its own data centers and offering trial versions leveraging Amazon. This new capability gives greater flexibility for deployment and elasticity, allowing customers to deploy in less than an hour. I also noticed that Saylor sported a conservative suit, in contrast to prior years in attire more apt for party. It seemed a subtle message, a shift in tone that aligned with Saylor’s emphasis on MicroStrategy’s financials: the company has been profitable on an annualized basis for at least a decade, with some quarterly losses last in 2014, but margins have greatly improved the last two years (neither Tableau or Qlik were profitable the last two years on GAAP basis). Note: we consider such things in the Magic Quadrant under Vendor Viability and you can use the interactive version to see the impact of this on dot placement. However, this is where any public company has two different stakeholders: shareholders who want growth and customers who want great products, innovation, and best-in-class support. Maybe both stakeholders interests are aligned over the long term, but the time horizons are often drastically different. The return to profitability has improved MicroStrategy’s financials, but this, in part, has disrupted support and operations, as we wrote about in the MQ. At the conference, the vendor shared a number of initiatives to improve these things, including a revamped community site.
MicroStrategy was also early to develop Visual Insight in response to the rise of Tableau. But so far, it has failed to crack the ease of use requirement, and initially, the agility part, although agility was largely addressed in version 10 as described in the Critical Capabilities note (or this older note, deep dive on MicroStrategy 10). Ease of use then was a key part of CTO Tim Lang’s future’s keynote on day two. The company introduces a new concept of Dossier to allow users to rapidly assemble content into briefing books, with familiar navigation concepts like a table of contents. There is a lot in here that looks promising, such as natural language query and telemetry to recommend popular content. On this point, I was also impressed with customer Domtar and Alisha Witty’s presentation on how they are using data to track usage and better design dashboards.
But we know that ticking all the boxes for capabilities is not enough to win the hearts of prospective buyers, a type of fan base if you will, that competitors such as Tableau, Qlik, and more recently Microsoft are capitalizing on. Building (or re-engaging) a community and earning their loyalty are slow moving things well beyond the product itself. In another small step in the right direction, I was really impressed the vendor added a Women in Analytics event to the conference and started the day with a charity run for STEM for her . Who knew I could function at 5:30 a.m., sans the Starbucks?! Clearly it’s a cause I care about (see this blog). Kudos to Danielle Ruppel and Susan Cook for spearheading these events and the excellent turnout.
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