Q&A: MicroStrategy Right Where It Wants To Be

COO says company isn't worried about Microsoft's new SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services

We sat down earlier this month to speak with Sanju Bansal, chief operating officer with business intelligence (BI) powerhouse MicroStrategy Inc. Not surprisingly, Bansal says that MicroStrategy is right where it wants to be in the BI market, pooh-poohs Microsoft’s forthcoming—and highly anticipated—SQL Server Reporting Services component, and talks up MicroStrategy’s Report Services suite, which the company is expected to unveil next month.

There were lots of changes in the BI space this summer. Now that the dust has cleared a little, how do you feel that MicroStrategy stacks up against some of the BI players who made some pretty bold moves?

We don’t feel that all that much has changed for us. MicroStrategy today has five styles of business intelligence. We have ad hoc query and analysis, data mining, [and] cube analysis. We also, of course, do have today enterprise reporting, which includes not just report creation but report publishing and delivery, too.

We think that over time, all vendors would like to have all five styles of business intelligence in one platform, and so what you saw this summer was kind of some [vendors] trying to do that. So you have things like when Business Objects was missing a good reporting engine, they went to Crystal. But I think that is also part of this larger [industry] trend. I definitely think that there is a consolidation going on in the industry between query and OLAP tools and report-writing tools.

Business Objects, Cognos, SAS, and other vendors can credibly claim to address all five areas, too. What helps to set you apart from your competitors?

Architecturally, we’re a little bit different than these vendors. We see an integrated suite of products, and the idea there is that people buy our infrastructure and then they add the components they need, so if they want reporting, they buy that engine and they plug it into their existing infrastructure.

That’s quite distinct from Cognos, where their story is that they support a number of these styles of business intelligence but you buy them separately. The MicroStrategy story is that we support all five aspects of business intelligence, and we think an integrated platform, integrated metadata, is critical, so there’s a bit more of an infrastructrural buy with us upfront.

I want to shift gears a bit and talk about reporting, because I know that you have a new reporting product coming out soon [in November]. In a couple of months, the reporting market will get one heck of a shake up when Microsoft releases its SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services. Is this something that concerns you?

No, not at all. I can imagine that SQL Server is quite useful for departmental-level applications, but our customer base tends to be the folks that have taken their data relatively seriously. They tend to think about enterprise business intelligence instead of departmental level stuff. We have 60 percent [of our customers running] on Oracle, another 10 to 15 percent might be Teradata, another 10 to 20 percent might be DB2, and SQL server might be five percent to 10 percent max, but that’s a function of the market that we serve.

Given Microsoft’s track record, though—they’re going to release a next-gen version of SQL Server next year, and they’ll undoubtedly make enhancements to Reporting Services—do you think that there’s a point where they’ll constitute a threat?

In a year or two, we might find ourselves competing against them more often. But we don’t worry about the one- or two-year oncoming threat. Certainly, the attractiveness of the pricing from Microsoft always makes them a consideration. Even in the high-end, people would like to be able to use Microsoft databases, because they’re viewed as being price-attractive relative to Oracle. The issue is that up to now, the combination of Windows, SQL Server, and Microsoft hasn’t really been viewed as up to standard [in MicroStrategy’s customer accounts]. Just the same, we’re not sitting still with our own reporting [product].

That’s right—you’re prepping a new production reporting tool, which I’ve heard will ship later this year. [Editor’s note: MicroStrategy has announced that the new Report Services will be unveiled via Webcast on November 18th.] What can you tell us about it?

The big trend in the market that we’re certainly addressing is that we believe that the integration of reporting into business intelligence is absolutely crucial. That’s where all of the metadata, all of the security, all of the reports automatically become available in an enterprise reporting product, instead of having a stand-alone report writing, like Crystal Reports, instead having it fully integrated with each of the five aspects of BI.

How is this different from enterprise reporting suites, such as Crystal [Enterprise] or Cognos [ReportNet]?

I think there have been hundreds of reporting products on the market historically, and they’re all decent at getting information out of the database, but it’s highly critical [that] all of the work that people have done with business intelligence and metadata automatically gets presented to the user. So what we’re offering [with MicroStrategy Report Services] is consolidation of these five styles into a singular platform.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.