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MicroStrategy, one of the largest independent vendors of business intelligence (BI) software, recently held its annual user conference, which I attended with some of my colleagues and more than 2,000 other attendees. At this year’s event, the company emphasized four key themes: mobility, cloud computing, big data and social media. In this post, I’ll assess what MicroStrategy is doing in each of the first three areas. My colleague, Mark Smith, covered MicroStrategy’s social intelligence efforts in his blog. I’ll also share some opinions on what might be missing from the company’s vision.

Michael Saylor, MicroStrategy’s CEO, is enamored with Apple and its mobile technology, which sure seems to be a good bet. Coincidentally, on the same day Saylor delivered his keynote speech, Apple announced record revenues based on iPhone and iPad sales. MicroStrategy made an early commitment to mobile technologies and Apple’s products. As a result it has a relatively mature set of native mobile products on the Apple platform; now it is bringing those capabilities to Android devices via the Android Marketplace. In addition to Android platform support, the current release, 9.2.1m, adds new mobile features including offline capabilities and user interface enhancements. As a testament to the maturity of MicroStrategy’s mobile capabilities, several customers I spoke with were deploying mobile applications first and then extending those applications to Web and desktop platforms.

At last year’s MicroStrategy World, the company was just getting familiar with the cloud. Since then it has delivered two types of cloud capabilities: Cloud Personal for individual use and a cloud version of its full platform including database and data integration capabilities. Support for Teradata in the enterprise cloud offering extends previously announced support for IBM Netezza and ParAccel. Data integration capabilities are provided via a partnership with Informatica. At the recent event it also introduced a third version (not yet available): Cloud Professional extends Cloud Personal with multiuser capabilities including user management, security, personalization and notification of dashboard updates. In addition, Cloud Personal has added the ability to import data directly from Salesforce.com applications.

It’s still early days for MicroStrategy in the cloud, as it is for most vendors, but the company appears to be “all in.” It has committed $100 million dollars to build out the cloud infrastructure and offers free capabilities to individual users via Cloud Personal. Perhaps most significant are the software partnerships to provide database and data integration capabilities – the first revenue sharing partnerships for MicroStrategy. In the past it delivered only capabilities developed internally. It made no acquisitions and no partnerships. This willingness to share revenue demonstrates how important the cloud is to MicroStrategy.

The company chose to be practical rather purist in its approach. The cloud implementation is based on MicroStrategy’s existing product architecture which is not multitenant. In other words each enterprise runs in a separate instance of the software rather than sharing a single instance. This approach has no immediate or obvious downside for customers. However, in the long run, it could prove to be more expensive and labor-intensive for MicroStrategy. Company officials said that over time it will migrate to a multitenant architecture to overcome these issues.

Another key theme, big data, received less attention. Certainly, MicroStrategy executives and presenters mentioned big data, but that is not new to the company. MicroStrategy built its business around large data sets, often from the retail industry, before the concept of “big data” existed. As a result, its core BI product has been architected to deal with big data which is evidenced by its longstanding relationship with Teradata and some of the other databases it supports, including Greenplum, Netezza, ParAccel and Vertica. In addition, MicroStrategy and Cloudera recently announced a partnership that  provides connectivity to Hadoop data sources. As our benchmark research shows, organizations use multiple technologies to tackle big-data challenges so MicroStrategy customers should welcome this partnership.

I see a couple of holes in MicroStrategy’s coverage. Mark Smith discusses how MicroStrategy is tackling social media as a data source. However, the company has not embraced social media in the context of collaborative BI. In a recent blog post, I noted that Ventana Research sees collaboration as one of five key influences on business intelligence, and there is plenty of movement here. Enterprises have started to adopt collaborative BI processes. Other BI software vendors have begun to support collaborative BI in their products. Soon we’ll be researching market requirements in an upcoming benchmark research project. Another area where MicroStrategy lags some of its competitors is advanced analytics. The company has some support for predictive analytics but limited capabilities for planning and what-if analysis.

Despite these areas where MicroStrategy can make additional investments, its annual event demonstrated the company’s determination to embrace new technologies and expand the horizons of business intelligence. It was well attended by customers and supported by a range of partners. If you are struggling with big data, mobile or cloud challenges, you may want to consider MicroStrategy. If so, you can try it easily via its cloud offerings.

Regards,

David Menninger – VP & Research Director

Rather than make predictions for 2012, which are everywhere right now, I want to look back at some of the surprising events of 2011. I think it’s worth considering what happened that wasn’t expected and what these things might tell us about the information technology market. Here, in no particular order, are the most important ones I see.

The Arab Spring

Although the Arab Spring movement began at the very end of last year, it’s fair to say that its main impact occurred this year. Social media played a significant role in these protests as a way of not only organizing protestors but also globally communicating instantly what was happening. Early this year Ventana Research had identified social media as one of five key technologies causing a revolution of a different kind within the business intelligence and information management communities, but the speed of adoption and reach of social media have exceeded most expectations. Social media also is part of a trend toward consumerization of IT in which adoption of certain types of technology originate with consumers and then work their way into enterprise IT infrastructures.

Enterprises are still grappling with the implications of both of these issues. We are beginning to see effective use of social media as a vehicle for collaboration within business intelligence processes. You could say the genie is out of the bottle with respect to social media, but we still have a long way to go in making it a part of most enterprise IT infrastructures.

RIM Stumbles in Mobile Technology

The mobile market, in a state of upheaval, continues to evolve rapidly. BlackBerry devices brought mobile technology and enterprise IT together several years ago, but their manufacturer, RIM, stumbled this year. First Apple with its iOS devices and then devices powered by Google’s Android operating system have become the market leaders. These changes were driven by an unusual force in enterprise IT: consumer purchasing behavior. The influx of these devices into office environments forces enterprise IT organizations to grapple with BYOD (bring your own device) issues. Apple iPad sales skyrocketed, attracting other tablet manufacturers and fueling demand for BYOD support. But other tablet manufacturers, including RIM, struggled to produce a device that could capture enough hearts, minds and wallets of either consumers or enterprises. We saw the demise of one device, HP’sTouchPad, and heard rumors of the RIM PlayBook’sdemise. The mobile and social media markets helped blur the lines between consumer and enterprise technologies and in the process established a real focus on the consumer. This focus should benefit end users as it drives up the importance of ease of use.

An Elephant in the Room

Although it was clear if you looked in the right places, the rise in importance of big data caught many by surprise. While big data and Hadoop are not necessarily synonymous, our benchmark research shows that Hadoop has enabled organizations to do things with big data that they couldn’t do with other technologies. Analyzing more data at a greater level of detail and employing advanced analytics has enabled two-thirds of the organizations using Hadoop to create new products or services.

The Hadoop market has attracted a bevy of competition. Yahoo spun out its Hadoop team as a separate entity called Hortonworks. MapR entered the market with its own distribution of Hadoop that is part of EMC Greenplum’s big data offerings. Even Oracle announced its intention to distribute Hadoop as part of a big-data appliance offering. Other NoSQL solutions for big data such as Cassandra, Couchbase and MongoDB have enjoyed success as well; it now seems clear that big data will be a fixture on the enterprise IT landscape for the foreseeable future.

A Bookstore Outage Affects Millions

A few years ago who would have thought a bookseller’s website outage would affect millions of people? OK, Amazon is much more than a book-seller today, and its Amazon Web Services (AWS) has become the leading public cloud service provider. Many Internet-based businesses rely on AWS as part of the backbone for their IT infrastructures. Some of these are popular social media sites such as Four Square, HootSuite, Quora and Zynga. In fact, in Zynga’s SEC filing for its initial public offering, it cited as a risk that “a significant portion of our game traffic is hosted by Amazon Web Services.” AWS experienced two major outages this year, one of which lasted four days.

Two lessons should be drawn from this experience. First, the cloud has become a major source of IT infrastructure. Our Business Data in the Cloud benchmark research shows significant penetration of cloud-based applications into enterprises. Across eight different line of business functions, at least 40% of participants either already use cloud-based services or expect to be using them within a year. Second, if you rely on a cloud service provider for any mission-critical functions, you need to understand the vendor’s service level agreements and make sure you and they have contingency plans in place to deal with outages. You wouldn’t want to be out of business for several days as was the case with the AWS outage earlier this year.

A Machine Wins on Jeopardy

Earlier this year, IBM Watson competed against two Jeopardy champions and won a nationally televised contest. This event was the culmination of many years of effort on the part of IBM Research Labs, but it’s potentially just the beginning in a series of offerings from IBM and probably others that combine big data and predictive analytics. It was a brilliant marketing move as well as a significant technical accomplishment. Through its involvement in Jeopardy, IBM gave these two relatively “geeky” subjects an audience with the mass market, paving the way for expectation of similar capabilities in a variety of applications, some of which may even be consumer-facing. Without an explanation of the inner workings of big-data processing or predictive analytics algorithms, millions of people now know they can deliver impressive results.

By the way, we’re analyzing and writing our benchmark research on how organizations are adopting predictive analytics. We’ll share those results soon, but there are many signs in addition to Watson’s Jeopardy appearance that predictive analytics are onthe rise. If you’re not using predictive analytics, don’t be intimidated by Watson. It has become much more accessible with cloud-based and service-based offerings as well as improved software products that can make the capabilities much easier to use.

We have been and will continue to be researching these topics throughout the coming year. We’ll let you know what surprises we find and what they mean for your organization.

Regards,

David Menninger – VP & Research Director

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