MicroStrategy Unveils Next-Generation Report Services

The combined operational and production reporting suite remedies its reporting shortcomings, integrates with the company's BI suite at an architectural level.

MicroStrategy chief operating officer Sanju Bansal thinks he knows why there’s been a torrent of activity in the enterprise reporting market during the last four months.

“It’s relatively clear that reporting is taking on kind of a new front-and-center position in BI,” he says. “Customers are now having good success with BI, and they have aspirations to deliver 50 or 100 different applications over time, but the reporting tools that they’re using now are holding them back.”

What’s more, Bansal concedes, MicroStrategy’s own reporting tools haven’t exactly been up to snuff. “We thought that we did [reporting] reasonably well, but we also felt that we had some deficiencies,” he admits. “Previously, we were very good for straightforward classic business reports that had graphs and grids. But in order to develop scorecards and dashboards, these banded reports, typically our customers were doing a bit of customization using ASP coding.”

Yesterday, MicroStrategy unveiled its long-awaited MicroStrategy Report Services, a combined operational and production reporting suite the company says will do much to remedy its reporting shortcomings.

On top of that, MicroStrategy officials say, Report Services could also forge inroads into new accounts at the expense of competitors such as Cognos Inc. and Business Objects SA. ““We think that this is going to have a dramatic impact not just on our existing customers, but also in terms of our ability to attract new customers,” he asserts. “Fully two-thirds of the people coming to the launch event are non-MicroStrategy customers, and I think this speaks to the primary role of reporting in BI today.”

Report Services looks to be a fairly complete offering, with support for user-defined Web reporting, so-called “pixel-perfect” printing, high-throughput production reporting and—perhaps most significantly—tight integration with MicroStrategy’s service-oriented BI architecture.

Bansal says user-defined Web reporting lets users tailor the presentation of reports to their own needs: “That would be not only the data in the report, but also the metrics that they’re seeing—like the column, the metrics definition, the content, the language—would all be definable at run time by the end user.”

Similarly, users who want great looking reports are ill-served by reporting tools that clip or rescale reports when they’re printed, Bansal claims. “None of the report writers on the market … present the data in as clean a format as you might get out of [Adobe] Illustrator or PageMaker, so we’ve gone and incorporated a lot of the desktop publishing techniques [into Report Services],” he says.

Report Services is designed to handle the throughput requirements of even very large environments. For example, MicroStrategy officials say the product can use a variety of different delivery channels—including the Web, networked printers, e-mail, file servers, and portals—to distribute up to 72,000 reports an hour. For developers, Report Service features drag-and-drop authoring features that can eliminate a lot of the programming and redundancy associated with building prompts into reports. “You can define one prompt and associate it with 100 different reports, therefore you don’t have to recreate every single time the prompting engine and the prompting code,” he says.

The new product’s biggest selling point is almost certainly its integration, at an architectural level, with MicroStrategy’s BI suite. After all, several of this summer’s biggest acquisitions were in fact made by vendors—i.e., Business Objects and Hyperion Solutions Corp.—that sought to complement their end-to-end BI suites with powerful reporting components.

In this regard, Bansal argues, MicroStrategy now fields a reporting suite that enables users to switch seamlessly between reporting and analysis. “[Report Services] plugs into our own service-oriented architecture, but with our competitors, you’re having to go from product to product [to do this],” he claims.

Wayne Eckerson, research director at The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI), cautions that he hasn’t yet had a chance to put Report Services through its paces, but suggests that the new product will probably plug a significant hole in MicroStrategy’s BI suite.

“Today, [MicroStrategy] has the least-appealing interface—it's basically a grid interface that is ideal for navigating through large data sets in an intuitive fashion, using crosstabs and drill-anywhere capabilities,” he points out, noting that MicroStrategy’s existing tool also doesn’t print grids very well. “Basically, the interface is optimized for on-screen analysis, not reporting, and especially not pixel-perfect formatted reports.”

If Report Services works as good in practice as it looks on a PowerPoint slide, Eckerson says that its tight integration with MicroStrategy’s service-oriented BI architecture could help give it a leg up over some of its version 1.0 competitors, including Cognos’ ReportNet and Microsoft’s forthcoming SQL Server Reporting Services. “[MicroStrategy] has one of the best BI architectures in the market—very open, scalable, and manageable,” he comments. “It's also very componentized, which made it easy for [MicroStrategy], once it designed the product, to simply ‘plug’ it into its existing architecture. Voila, the reporting services leverage all the robust architectural features available to its other products—clustering, caching, security, administration, and so forth.”

What about customers that aren’t using MicroStrategy’s software? Will the upfront buy-in of a Report Services suite that’s tightly coupled with MicroStrategy’s BI architecture prove too costly or complex for many customers? Eckerson agrees that Report Services isn’t an inexpensive proposition, but says there’s a chance it could actually save companies money.

“It's less expensive in the long run than having to support multiple different BI tools,” he observes.

About the Author

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