On the heels of the release of his new book, The Mobile Wave, Microstrategy’s CEO Michael Saylor delivered an interesting keynote at Microstrategy World in Amsterdam this past week. Unlike other keynotes we’ve seen at various supplier conferences, the presentation was not a sales pitch. There was no reference to the fact that the company was simultaneously launching MicroStrategy 9.3, a major new release of its flagship offer. The presentation focused almost entirely on the rise of mobile computing and its ability to change the world. Saylor sees the Apple iPad at the heart of the mobile revolution, and notes that BI capabilities delivered through the device are displacing paper and people within organizations. The iPad’s 10-inch screen, which can display 90 percent of printed pages, is the key for companies to unlock the shackles of the physical office environment. Between the lines, it’s easy to read that Microstrategy is betting a lot on mobile and on the iPad.
Saylor’s argument against paper is relatively straightforward. For years we’ve been talking about the paperless office, but technology has not yet allowed us to get away from paper, and executives are still using it for all types of reports and data. Business intelligence before mobile was restricted to columnar reporting, and business intelligence before device interactivity was a manual, paper-based process in which an executive asked an analyst to run a report to answer a question, then looked at the report on paper. The results often inspired other questions, sending the executive back to the analyst to run yet another report – and so on. Finally, once the executive’s questions were answered, he could ask an employee to take action based on his conclusions.
The iPad, Saylor argues, changes all of this, since iOS and the 10-inch screen allow us to look at standard-size documents and interact with company data. Given the revolutionary capabilities of mobile BI systems, an executive can interactively and visually query multiple data sources, get answers immediately, run his own scenarios, and take action, all from the sidelines of his kid’s soccer game. The executive, now doing the job of three people, is much more productive (if a bit lonelier).
How does the Microstrategy iPad-focused BI strategy stack up in the new mobile world that also contains tablets such as Google’s Nexus 7 and Microsoft’s Surface? With his presentation and over the course of the conference, Saylor took aim at the mobile strategy of a number of industry stalwarts, including Google and Microsoft. Microsoft in particular, he suggested, alienated both its customers and its partners with its recent preannouncement of the Surface tablet computer.
The most obvious competitor currently in the enterprise environment is Google’s Android, but the Android development community is focused around the smartphone, not the tablet. Google’s Nexus 7 suggests that the company is not keen to take on the iPad directly in the enterprise market; the 7-inch screen suggests consumer ambitions. One argument that Saylor gives against the Android is that it lacks tight enough integration between the hardware and the software for delivery on a 10-inch device. I’m curious whether this argument will still hold as Google starts to produce larger form-factor devices with tighter hardware and software integration, and as improved content parsing technologies allow for more information to be consumed on different-sized devices.
The more interesting enterprise play is around Microsoft’s Surface tablet running Windows 8 on Intel chips. When it is finally introduced, the Microsoft advantages will be hard to ignore. As it moves away from ARM-based chips, Microsoft will be able to provide full access to entrenched office productivity software, tight integration with other Windows-based hardware and software, and backward compatibility. Hewlett Packard, in signing with Intel earlier this year, signaled its own move into Windows 8 tablets. HP’s global distribution power could make this an important milestone. The challenge is whether business will engage and consider Microsoft tablet or how many folks will bring this technology into business and expect support for it with business intelligence.
Unlike Google today and Microsoft tomorrow, Apple takes a “walled garden” approach to its operating system and applications, and enterprise IT departments generally do not like this idea, especially as it relates to security. On the other hand, the developer community in this garden is huge, and the “bring your own device” (BYOD) trend is really helping drive iPhone and iPad into the corporate market. The most influential businesspeople and cultural icons in our society carry iPads, and corporations, much to the chagrin of IT departments all over the world, are being forced to deal with this phenomenon.
On a practical note, I had an opportunity to test-drive MicroStrategy’s platform for mobile applications. I built a number of interactive mobile dashboards for the iPad, the iPhone, and for my own smartphone running Android. While things worked well with the iPad and the iPhone, the Android applications had a lot of issues. I’m not sure if this was due to the lack of Microstrategy focus on Android, or to Android itself. What I do know is that Microstrategy Mobile works well on iPad; just about any user can create designs with minimal training, and not having to wait for coders is a huge advantage.
Nevertheless, an Apple-focused bet in the enterprise environment is a bit risky as new devices come onto the market. It will be interesting to look at Microstrategy’s tack in the context of our upcoming Next Generation Business Intelligence Benchmark Research, which focuses on mobile and collaboration technologies in the enterprise BI environment.