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This has been the year of the cloud for MicroStrategy. After ignoring early competition from cloud-based business intelligence (BI) providers, the company has jumped on the cloud BI bandwagon. At MicroStrategy Worldearly this year it announced a program called Cloud Intelligence and this summer introduced MicroStrategy Cloud, a complete BI platform with the option of using either IBM Netezza or ParAccel as the database and Informatica as the data integration environment. Now the company has expanded its cloud offerings to include MicroStrategy Cloud Personal, which enables individuals to easily upload spreadsheet data, analyze it and share it with others. (A free version is currently in beta testing.)

Cloud Personal automatically uploads and interprets up to 100MB of spreadsheet data using a simple wizard-based approach. The wizard allows users to review the data in tabular form to confirm the categorizations of metrics vs. dimensions and then makes it immediately available for analysis and visualization. Users can create as many dashboards as they wish using the various visualizations MicroStrategy supports. Cloud Personal supports filtering, sorting and formatting of the data as well as aggregations (sum, min, max, average and others) and some standard calculations such as ranking and percent of total. The dashboards can be shared via Facebook, Twitter, blogs, websites and MicroStrategy Mobile. These distribution options align with the company’s recent emphases on mobile technologies and social media.

Cloud Personal provides a range of analytic capabilities accessible through an easy-to-use interface. Novice BI users should be able to create useful presentations of information. Organizations that are sharing spreadsheet-based analyses should know from our recent benchmark research on business analytics that this approach is both error-prone and time-consuming. Individuals in such companies can use MicroStrategy Cloud Personal to demonstrate the value of a more robust solution. However, spreadsheet experts should not expect the product to be a complete replacement for all the ad-hoc analytical capabilities of Excel. Nor does the current version attempt to translate sophisticated spreadsheet presentations into similar presentation objects in MicroStrategy, although it may add that in future versions.

At least for now, Cloud Personal is less a spreadsheet replacement than a taste of MicroStrategy. Other vendors provide free access to similar cloud-based products; for example, Tableau Public uses  more of a download and publish model than MicroStrategy’s 100% cloud-based version. Tibco just announced Silver Spotfire version 2.0, a cloud-based version of its data visualization products, and now offers a personal version that includes a one-year free trial.

We expect to see cloud-based applications and business intelligence tools keep coming from other suppliers. The cloud is one of five key innovations we see revolutionizing the BI and information management markets. Our business data in the cloud benchmark research shows that even one-third of the finance function, which has been slow to adopt cloud-based applications, appears poised to move to the cloud.

Pure-play cloud BI vendors, such as Birst, GoodData and PivotLink, may find the competitive environment more challenging with larger vendors such as MicroStrategy entering cloud-based BI market aggressively. Birst recently announced an on-premises capability to expand its ability to compete. And as I described in a recent blog post, PivotLink has focused on the retail market and others with packaged metrics as a competitive differentiator.

With respect to MicroStrategy Cloud Personal, keep in mind that it is inherently a personal, not departmental or enterprise, solution. MicroStrategy offers an enterprise cloud edition that supports additional data sources, user and group management, secure authentication and other features you would need to support a large number of users. However, if you are questioning the capabilities cloud-based BI can deliver, or if you are simply trying to move your organization off of spreadsheets to a more robust BI platform, you can try MicroStrategy Cloud Personal here.

Regards,

David Menninger – VP & Research Director

PivotLink introduced version 5 of its Business Intelligence (BI) product, which it delivers in the cloud computing environment and available through software as a service (SaaS) at its user conference. Demonstrating one of the unique benefits of providing it a SaaS approach, PivotLink did not require any of the attendees to request a download, get a new license file or do any type of software upgrade to receive the new version. It had already been done for them. One purpose of the conference was to inform customers of the new features they now had at their disposal. Any enterprise that has had to coordinate a major software upgrade should appreciate the time savings SaaS can provide on normal software maintenance activities. Our recent benchmark research on business data in the cloud indicates that companies are adopting SaaS-based products to varying degrees across all the lines of business.

Not only has PivotLink’s product been overhauled, but the management team has been overhauled as well. Bruce Armstrong, former CEO of software companies Kickfire and Knova, joined PivotLink earlier this year. He has assembled a leadership team that includes some of his former colleagues, bringing a focus and discipline to the company that should help it capitalize on its assets and the market opportunity represented by SaaS BI.

On its BI platform  PivotLink has created ReadiMetrix packages of key performance indicators (KPIs), dashboards and reports for several domains including sales, marketing, human resources, supply chain and retail. Much of PivotLink’s commercial success has come from retail customers and related domains such as the suppliers to those retailers. My colleague Mark Smith has previously written about the challenges of retail analytics, and our new benchmark research findings on this industry sector. PivotLink’s SaaS-based approach to retail solutions allows its customers to easily incorporate their network of manufacturers, supplier and distribution channels in the BI process. Anyone in the network can access the appropriate portion of the data and the analysis without installing any software.

In addition to operating in the cloud computing and SaaS approach, the PivotLink BI platform is designed for speed and flexibility. A columnar database combined with in-memory analytics provides high performance. A dynamic data model that allows structure to be created at query time rather than in advance, provides flexibility and minimizes the amount of data preparation required. As our business analytics benchmark research shows, over two-thirds of organizations spend more time on data preparation tasks than on analyzing data, so any steps to reduce this time can be valuable.

PivotLink 5 also adds mobile BI with native capabilities for Apple iPad, Android-based tablets and BlackBerry PlayBook. In our benchmark research on information applications 51 percent of participants said broader access to information on mobile technologies is important or very important. In addition, our benchmark research on BI and performance management shows that many organizations support a broad spectrum of mobile devices. Users want all the capabilities inherent in those devices, which are available only via native applications. Mobile capabilities should also appeal to PivotLink’s core constituency of retail customers who often spend many hours out of the office traveling to various locations and suppliers.

The new release incorporates enhanced visualization capabilities including geospatial mapping, another capability important to the retail market. As well its dashboarding, charting and conditional formatting provide more usability. On the back end are new editors for defining data sources, tables, queries and reports, which make it easier for self-service administration by end-user groups. Additional Web services interfaces have been created along with an expanded metadata layer so administrative functions can be performed programmatically and automatically.

To build on its success in retail, PivotLink will need to expand on its success in retail-specific analytics, as identified in my colleague’s post above. As a smaller vendor, it can’t be all things to all people. PivotLink faces competition from larger vendors who have now introduced cloud-based alternatives of their own BI offerings. Right now there is plenty of interest in the cloud and few pure-play cloud-based BI vendors. PivotLink must capitalize on that interest in the cloud and build its market share with a continued focus on specific markets where it can be competitive even when commodity BI vendors expand further in the cloud. Take a look at PivotLink and its simple path to business analytics, it might surprise you.

Regards,

David Menninger – VP & Research Director

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