Many grand claims have been made about the iPad, Apple’s popular tablet device, but Michael Saylor, CEO of business intelligence software vendor MicroStrategy, makes some of the grandest.
He believes that by making management data accessible and portable, the iPad is significantly changing the way business executives consume information and make decisions.
“If you look at people with money and power, they don’t sit behind desks and use BI tools,” he says. “If they need information, they get someone to print it out on a piece of paper.
“The iPad is the first device in the history of technology that competes favourably with paper,” he continues. “And every single CEO I’ve met with in the past six months had an iPad.”
That’s an important development for MicroStrategy, he says, because it changes the target user of its systems. “The elephant in the room for the BI industry is that for the last 30 years, all the software we created was used by people one step removed from money and power. What we’ve got now is a chance to directly influence the behaviour of the decision-maker.”
While many business intelligence vendors talk about the ‘democratisation’ of BI, whereby reporting and analytical functionality is delivered to ordinary employees, Saylor argues that only by reaching the hands of the real decision-makers will BI live up to its true potential.
Of course, this is not a trend that Saylor would be singing about unless he felt it was one from which MicroStrategy could benefit.
Unlike all of its rivals, MicroStrategy has neither acquired many companies nor been acquired itself. This is partly due to Saylor’s decision to retain the majority of voting shares in the company he founded (a decision that meant he lost $6 billion in a single day when accounting irregularities were exposed back in 2000).
That means the code base has grown organically, he says, and is not a chimera of different products patched together. This allows the company to port the software to new platforms – such as the iPad – quickly and easily, Saylor claims.
“When you have a homogeneous architecture, with a common data model and a common object model, all you need to do to exploit a new platform is code the interface,” he says. “If you don’t have that, then all the components need to be re-engineered for the new platform.” He says that MicroStrategy can create iPad versions of its customers’ BI systems in a matter of days.
The argument that Microstrategy is best positioned to put BI in the hands of business executives is somewhat challenged by recent analyst reports. Gartner remarked this year that with MicroStrategy’s software, “self-service ad hoc reporting and dashboard creation have not been particularly business-user-friendly to date. This presents a challenge for MicroStrategy business users that want more intuitive tools for analysis.
“MicroStrategy customers continue to rate the platform below average for ease of use,” it added.
Saylor acknowledges, though, that if BI tools are to make that move, they will have to evolve. One consequence of BI moving into the hands of actual decision-makers, Saylor explains, is that users will want to enact their decisions from the same interface. “When the intelligence goes to the decision-maker, then the logical conclusion is that they want a transaction tagged to it.”
For that reason, he says, future versions of MicroStrategy’s software will allow users to make changes to transactional systems, such as applications, via open web services.
That effectively annuls the distinction between analytical and transactional systems, a huge development in the evolution of BI. In fact, says Saylor, “MicroStrategy have grown beyond thinking of ourselves as a company selling business intelligence.”
But does the removal of this distinction not play into the hands of application vendors such as SAP and Oracle, which, thanks to their acquisitions of MicroStrategy’s rivals, can provide both analytical and transactional systems?
Saylor is not too worried about that, he says. For enterprise software vendors, the iPad and other smart mobile devices are poised to unlock plenty of commercial opportunities to go around.
“For every business process that has been automated, there are at least two or three that have not,” he says. Mobile devices will allow many of those remaining processes to become instantiated in software, he says, creating a whole new wave of data to be transacted and analysed.
“If we’re one of the four or five companies that can help businesses do that,” Saylor says, “we’ll be fine. In fact, we’ll do very well.”