MicroStrategy Powers Up Security for Analytics and BI

At its annual MicroStrategy World conference, this provider of analytics and business intelligence systems for business and IT introduced a new version of its flagship product, MicroStrategy 9s. Among many advances it adds enterprise grade security with MicroStrategy Usher as part of the maintenance update to its 9.4.1 release. Security is increasingly critical for analytics and BI. Technologies that work intensively with data, including reporting, business intelligence, analytics and data preparation, have access to a range of applications and databases and could leave gaps in access controls and security of essential business data. Already in 2015 the data breach at Anthem put more than 80 million medical records at risk. Our benchmark research in big data analytics finds that integration into security and user access frameworks is a very important capability to 37 percent of organizations.

MicroStrategy has spent years and significant investment of resources on MicroStrategy Usher. On the company’s mobile platform Usher provides multifactor authentication that includes fingerprinting for biometrics, unique identification through smartphone verification and a mobile device pass code to ensure secure access. Further identification security is offered through geo-fencing, which requires a user to be within range of a specified access point such as a building or a computer, by permitting access only during a specific time window or using QR code scanning to rapidly match the individual with authorized access. At the conference MicroStrategy demonstrated VR2014_TechInnovation_AwardWinnerthese security techniques along with AES-128 GCM encryption of data on devices and in transit.

Ventana Research recognized MicroStrategy Usher with a Technology Innovation Award in 2014 for using mobile technology to provide secure access to applications, information and even physical locations; in the last case it has partnered with building companies such as Honeywell. Organizations should realize the risk of having only single sign-on through insecure passwords, which can expose access to all their systems. Usher is available as part of MicroStrategy 9s or as a stand-alone product.

On another advanced technology front, MicroStrategy has advanced its cloud computing offering to embrace Amazon Web Services (AWS). This partnership can provide flexibility for its customers while reducing the effort it must put into building vr_Big_Data_Analytics_15_new_technologies_enhance_analyticsout its own data centers to support its products. Here also the company is addressing security of information and systems. MicroStrategy Secure Cloud includes enterprise security capabilities to ensure authenticated access. This is an important feature: Our big data integration benchmark research finds that security concerns are the most common barrier (in 54% of organizations) to using big data through cloud computing. Many buyers want to reduce the amount of software they have to license and install, but they must have confidence that their data is safe in on-demand cloud systems. Keeping it simple but secure for cloud computing is critical, and our research finds room for improvement here across the technology industry.

Regarding big data MicroStrategy has advanced its computing power through PRIME, its in-memory and parallel processing technology. Our research in big data analytics finds that in-memory systems are the most sought-after innovation in half of organizations seeking to enhance analysis. That research also shows that the number and dispersal of data sources is a major issue. More than one-third (36%) of organizations have six to 15 sources and one-fourth (26%) have 16 or more information sources that need to be integrated for optimum access. And blending data from so many sources raises security concerns; in our research in big data integration security is the fourth-most important data activity, cited by 61 percent of organizations. MicroStrategy continues its efforts to help organizations get access to any data sources. For example, it now supports the Oracle Database 12c with in-memory and databases releases and has embedded its BI software in Oracle appliances that become big data machines. In addition MicroStrategy has embraced Apache Spark to maximize compute potential across Hadoop, NoSQL and RDBMSs and expands its database support every quarter. Earlier in 2014 MicroStrategy announced support for MarkLogic 7 NoSQL technology, which is becoming more relevant in the analytics and BI market. MicroStrategy also has been continuing its efforts to support data preparation tasks performed by analysts rather than administrators as some other vendors do. Our big data analytics research finds that in creating and deploying information and using analytics, almost half (47%) of organizations spend the largest portion of time in data preparation; this is true across customer service, finance, HR and other operational areas.

Like many others MicroStrategy discovered painfully in 2014 that overall the IT market for purchasing software to deploy on-premises has slowed down and specifically that the BI market has reached a saturation point in organizations that have more than US$10 billion in revenue. Even so the company exceeded $579 million in total revenue for 2014. Its investments in cloud computing over the last several years have helped it vr_Big_Data_Analytics_12_benefits_of_visualizing_big_datathrough this transition. To adjust to the market changes it has brought in new executives including CTO Tim Lang, who has decades of experience dating back to Holistic Systems and Crystal Software, and CMO Mark Gambill who has over 18 years’ experience leading marketing teams; these two are streamlining their respective areas to make them more efficient. MicroStrategy continues to get brand-name customers on board with its mobile and analytic offerings, and its focus on security in 2015 should help in these efforts. In the past several years demand has been strong for visualization-related discovery and analytics tools among the lines of business and analysts, and now MicroStrategy has caught up and matched these capabilities. Visualization and presentation of analytics and data remain very important, according to our research: Half (49%) of organizations said it helps those who have the right skills perform analytics faster. Our research also finds that the majority of businesses want analytics to be simpler and easier to understand and available quickly on their mobile devices.

In our 2014 Value Index on Mobile BI, MicroStrategy earned the Hot Vendor rating for its mobile business intelligence VRMobileBIVI_HotVendortechnology across device platforms, primarily for Apple and Android support. But MicroStrategy will have to ante up its support for Microsoft who is making inroads with smartphones and even more so with its Surface 3 tablets and also with new generations of notebooks using Windows Touch, which enables the use of gestures in Windows; Microsoft is finding opportunities in businesses that are phasing out older desktop and laptop computers with new ones running Windows Touch technology. MicroStrategy in 2014 simplified packaging and pricing of MicroStrategy Mobile and its Web products that operate on its MicroStrategy Server platform. MicroStrategy is building on a solid year of technology advancement as I pointed out in 2014 and is poised for innovation. It provided a sneak peek at MicroStrategy World of MicroStrategy 10 (now in beta and early release), which will up the ante with the next generation of in-memory analytics and simpler administration. Developments include further support of Apple Mac OS and iOS and advancing visualization and sophistication of analytics, which may be available fairly early in 2015.

I believe that MicroStrategy should do more with search vr_Customer_Analytics_02_drivers_for_new_customer_analyticsand collaborative capabilities, which our research finds to be a priority for business professionals (less so for IT). All BI vendors must be careful to listen to all audiences and stop paying attention only to IT. They will need to make sure that those in the lines of business understand how they can use analytics within the context of solving problems and opportunities, and make it as easy as possible for them do so on their own. Vendors also must understand their purchasers’ own business priorities. For instance, our next-generation customer analytics benchmark research shows that improving the customer experience and customer service strategy are the top drivers in this analytics segment. The release of MicroStrategy 9s and the upcoming MicroStrategy 10 continue this company’s prominence as an enterprise-class provider. We advise organizations to assess its evolving portfolio to identify missing elements in their existing BI and analytics deployments, with an eye on mobile platforms and security of data.


Mark Smith

CEO and Chief Research Officer

Office of Finance Research Demonstrates Importance of Using Effective Financial Software

Our recently published Office of Finance benchmark research assesses a broad set of functions and capabilities of finance organizations. We asked research participants to identify the most important issues for a finance department to address in a dozen functional areas: accounting, budgeting, cost accounting, customer profitability management, external financial reporting, financial analysis, financial governance and internal audit, management accounting, product profitability management, strategic and long-range planning, tax management and treasury and cash management. Among the key findings is this: Not using the most capable software is an underlying cause, often unrecognized, of process, analytics and data issues.

Process design, analytics use and data availability and quality vr_Office_of_Finance_02_key_challenges_for_finance_departmentswere the three most frequently cited issues, each selected by slightly less than half of participants. Software was the least frequently named issue, chosen by just 24 percent. That software was the least cited factor either means that most companies have this aspect of their business nailed down or – more likely – that they are focused on the symptoms and do not recognize the root causes of many of their process, analytics and data issues.

The lack of concern about software in finance departments points to a problem we have observed in our research for a decade. There is a connection between the technology that a company uses to support its processes and the issues that arise when it uses ineffective technology. Persistence in using such tools to execute finance processes is an ongoing barrier to improving the performance of finance departments. For example, companies often handle the mundane chore of accounting reconciliations with desktop spreadsheets. When electronic spreadsheets were introduced decades ago they offered a major improvement in the time required to perform processes. Today, however, dedicated software can perform the process even faster and more cleanly. Our research shows that companies that use software designed to automate their reconciliations process can close faster than those that have manual, spreadsheet-driven processes: More than twice as many that use automation (57%) can close their books in six or fewer days as those that do not (27%). Other research we have done consistently points to reliance on desktop spreadsheets as a root cause of process, analytics and data issues.

vr_Office_of_Finance_17_automating_reconciliationSoftware can have a profound impact on how well a company carries out essential processes. We find that the best-performing finance organizations adopt a total quality management approach to finance and accounting. As in a manufacturing operation, the objective in any finance department process should be to design quality into the process (for example by addressing root causes of errors in calculations and classification) and to ensure consistent execution of that process. Yet spreadsheets often are a source of errors: More than one-third (35%) of research participants said they have found data errors in the most important spreadsheet they use. The inappropriate use of spreadsheets instead of a dedicated application is often the source of problems that result in unnecessary work for the finance organization to correct them. Such glitches also affect other departments, operations and even customer-facing roles such as billing and credit. Inconsistent execution can even nullify the benefits of a well-designed process, but software with built-in workflow can eliminate the root causes of issues that arise when processes are managed with spreadsheets and email.

One of the most important roles that a finance department has is providing the rest of the company with analysis and vr_ss21_errors_in_spreadsheetsperspective on business results to enable them to understand “the why behind the what.” Here, too, using the appropriate software can be a critical factor. Desktop spreadsheets are fine for relatively simple ad hoc analyses. However, because they are two-dimensional grids, desktop spreadsheets have a limited ability to manipulate data in multiple dimensions such as by business unit, product family, currency, geography and time. Moreover, creating periodic reports in spreadsheets consumes valuable time that would be better spent focused on addressing other, more valuable tasks. Self-service reporting, which I have advocated, and using the reporting capabilities of enterprise software are two alternatives. Replacing desktop spreadsheets with more capable software can address analytics issues.

The results of our research show that many finance executives and managers are unaware of the negative impacts of using inadequate software, especially the misuse of desktop spreadsheets. People “know” that desktop spreadsheets are the wrong choice; there is overwhelming evidence of their shortcomings. Yet they continue to be the default choice to support many repetitive, enterprise-wide processes because their convenience and familiarity have trumped their shortcomings. Until recently the alternatives were not sufficiently better to convince people to change their habits. That is no longer the case.

There are many compelling reasons for finance and accounting departments to increase end-to-end process automation by substituting dedicated applications and controlled data flows for spreadsheets. Ultimately this is a management issue. Finance executives must periodically evaluate the applications they use and determine whether there are better alternatives. They should routinely triage the desktop spreadsheets commonly used and replace them with more efficient and fully capable automated systems.


Robert Kugel

SVP Research