Q&A: MicroStrategy set to expand in 2007, exec says

It plans to unveil Flash-based dashboard builder, performance tool

MicroStrategy Inc. has long tailored its business intelligence tools to quickly get information out of data warehouses and data marts and then interpret that data for users. Next year, the McLean, Va.-based company plans to expand its business with the release of a new Adobe Systems Inc. Macromedia Flash-enabled tool for building BI dashboards. It also expects to unveil new software to beef up query performance and is building tools to help users create their own reports without IT assistance. In an interview on Monday, Sanju Bansal, MicroStrategy's chief operating officer, talked about the new products and the company's expectations for them.

Excerpts from that interview follow:

Why has your company focused on the data warehouse and data mart areas rather than on the reporting tool business that has attracted so many vendors? The real money now is being spent by corporations building very large data warehouses or "data refineries." They are taking raw data, sending it to their data warehouse and creating refined information products. These tend to be three-to-five-year projects with budgets in excess of $50 million. Companies are also willing to pay for a specialized set of BI tools above and beyond report writing.

What are your plans with regard to query performance tools in the coming months? We're seeing a tremendous increase in interest in getting query response times down into the few seconds level even as people [are querying] several terabytes of data. There are performance paths to get to the data faster. We've got a very big effort in the works to make sure that by the middle of [2007] we have something truly fantastic on that front. People are now looking for specialized data warehousing and data mart tools that can be used to access the rest of their run-of-the-mill operational systems. That is a relatively new phenomenon in the industry.

What are your plans regarding dashboard tool technology? In 2007, we're going to dramatically improve the look and feel of dashboards and the ability to construct them. People want the ability to build dashboards without programming. They want to drag and drop content through a palette, and we'll provide that. There is the idea of using new design technology like Flash, which has been used for animation but not for BI. People are saying, "If I can use Flash on my Web site to animate, why can't I use Flash to animate how my inventory is flowing through the U.S.?" People are looking to build live movies based on the data to show ... pricing changes and merchandise mix changes. It is the animation of data and bringing it to life ... by playing it. In 2007, we'll release a Flash-based dashboarding capability.

Can you explain the tool the company is building to help eliminate the BI report backlogs that many IT shops are grappling with? We call it "surfing and saving." Companies are asking for help dealing with the infinite report backlog that seems to be coming from users. Our experience is that end users don't really have the ability to build their own reports like an IT person can. End users are hesitant to use a simplified report-construction palette.

If I'm an IT developer and I can build one report and give it to the end users and allow them to pick [some criteria], I can let them land somewhere in the data warehouse. All of a sudden, without programming, you can let a user surf through the entire contents of a warehouse without an IT developer creating the reports. You have end users creating hundreds of reports on their own exactly how they want them.

This idea that you can give end users the ability to surf and bookmark is really powerful, but it requires a new generation of intelligence about the structure of a data warehouse. A large part of our customer base is [testing] this surfing [tool] and ... dramatically reducing the report backlog.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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