MicroStrategy Delivers Free Reporting Suite

The new MicroStrategy Reporting Suite makes its move into the small and midsize enterprise market.

Less than two months after the company's original announcement, MicroStrategy has shipped a free version of Reporting Suite targeting the small and midsize enterprise (SME) market. It's a smart move with the potential to both deepen penetration in existing accounts (especially in large shops with scattered, department-level deployments of MicroStrategy's flagship BI suite) and generate adoption in a market new to MicroStrategy. The suite is free for use by up to 100 users, which should address the reporting needs of most small- and medium-sized customers.

The MicroStrategy Reporting Suite may also be seen as the company's belated entry into an already established market segment that includes SAP AG's Crystal Reports Microsoft Corp.'s SQL Server Reporting Services, the open source BI Reporting Tool (which is sponsored by Actuate Corp.), JasperReports, and a host of other offerings.

By bundling two free licenses for the flagship MicroStrategy 9 BI suite, the company gives adoptees a taste of what full-blown MicroStategy can bring to the table. At the same time, the introduction of the MicroStrategy Reporting Suite is clearly a nod to an established market category: that of the mainstream operational reporting tool.

MicroStrategy was arguably a material participant in the rise of mainstream operational reporting. It's first-ever Report Services offering -- which shipped in late 2003 -- wasn't a mainstream play (its primary selling point was its tight -- and unprecedented -- integration with a full-fledged BI suite). MicroStrategy Report Services debuted at a propitious time. In July of 2003, for example, Business Objects SA snapped up operational reporting stalwart Crystal Decisions Inc. Less than a month later, Hyperion Solutions Corp. picked up (troubled) operational reporting player Brio Software.

Furthermore, in September of that year, Cognos Inc. shipped its next-gen operational reporting tool (ReportNet). Just months after MicroStrategy introduced Report Services, Microsoft unveiled its own bid for operational reporting dominance, SQL Server Reporting Services. Factor in the debut of BIRT in the first half of 2004 and you have a reasonably complete operational reporting picture -- with MicroStrategy squarely in the thick of things.

The new Reporting Suite offering is not Report Services, MicroStrategy officials are quick to disclaim. It's an operational reporting tool, pure and simple: it doesn't offer scorecarding or dashboarding features, ala Report Services. Officials, in fact, are loathe to ascribe even basic scorecarding or dashboarding capabilities to MicroStrategy Reporting Suite -- it offers primitive (by contemporary standards) static, non-interactive display features.

"The static and dynamic dashboards in the terms that [most people understand] them … are still within the MicroStrategy Report Services product. The Reporting Suite does not offer [these features]," confirms Jane Maruszewski, senior manager for marketing operations with MicroStrategy, and a driving force behind the new Reporting Suite product.

On the other hand, Maruszewski observes, if one is willing to relax one's understanding of "basic," the MicroStrategy Reporting Suite's charting and display capabilities might fit the bill. "There might be some people who have a different vision for dashboards … [for example,] if you have a beautiful grid and graph together, or thresholded reports, that starts feeling like a scorecard. You can even have visual indicators and you can turn them on and off. That's all there [in the Reporting Suite]," she confirms. "In pure terms, of course, we only provide [scorecarding and dashboarding] in Report Services; in this broader sense of scorecards and dashboards, you can do that with the Reporting Suite."

The MicroStrategy Reporting Suite ships with two free named licenses for the flagship MicroStrategy BI Suite (currently at version 9) -- although it doesn't fully replicate the capabilities of MicroStrategy 9. For example, the base Reporting Suite includes most of the pieces of that offering, including MicroStrategy's Web Reporter, Intelligence Server (both versions include MicroStrategy's "Universal" option), Desktop, and Architect, in addition to (and available only for two named users) MicroStrategy Web Analyst, Professional, Mobile, Office, Report Services, Distributed Services, and OLAP Services. The Reporting Suite does not include the administrative and multisourcing components (along with the SDK) that MicroStrategy delivers as part of its flagship BI offering.

Maruszewski acknowledges that the new Reporting Suite does invite comparison with other free or nominally free operational reporting packages (Crystal Reports, Reporting Services, BIRT, JasperReports, and others), but claims that -- by virtue of its BI suite underpinnings (and free two-named-user option) -- MicroStrategy offers a more credible analytic experience than any of these offerings.

"MicroStrategy Reporting Suite has premium reporting capabilities that are perfect for small to midsize organizations to quickly develop and deliver their operational and analytic reports," she argues, "but because [the Reporting Suite] is built on the MicroStrategy platform, we have that foundation for the departmental reporting application that's built using MicroStrategy Reporting Suite to take advantage of more styles of BI [and] to get migrated seamlessly into an enterprise-wide solution. We have everything that's included in the other products, except we have the opportunity for that departmental application to become [a] full-blown enterprise-wide [tool]."

Cindi Howson, a principal with BIScorecard.com, has an enthusiastic take on the new Reporting Suite. Howson, who (unlike many industry watchers) actually uses the tools whereof she writes, says she's scrutinized MicroStrategy's Reporting Suite offering, looking for the requisite catch. So far, writes Howson on her blog, she can't find one.

"Given the product capabilities, migration path, and support, it seems like a deal too good to be true," Howson indicated. "Other vendors have touted their products as 'free' and have experienced mixed degrees of success. Oracle has sometimes included Discoverer and Reports (now referred to as the standard edition) for free with the RDBMS; the newest OBI Enterprise Edition, however, is not free and is notably more robust," she says.

Meanwhile, Howson continues, Microsoft's Reporting Services offering is frequently (and misleadingly) described as "free"; it's really only a gratis offering if one has already purchased SQL Server. "I would counter, then, that [such] products are low-priced but not free," she says, adding that although open source BI is also notionally "free," it nonetheless lacks free support or maintenance. MicroStrategy even includes a (limited) support freebie: according to Maruszewski, the Reporting Suite offering includes 60 days of free e-mail-based tech support.

For these and other reasons, Howson and other industry watchers are cautiously enthusiastic. "The appealing aspect to this deal is that it provides customers with an easy entrée into BI, without that entrée being a total throw away. If customers later want to add dashboards or multi-source, for example, they don't have to start over or migrate to a new product as is often the case with many departmental BI tools," she writes.

Of course, the free Reporting Suite offering also raises the question of a down-the-road buy-in; given MicroStrategy's reputation for aggressive licensing tactics -- a tradition that it has been working to shed -- will Suite users have to pony up more cash if they decide to opt for full-blown MicroStrategy BI?

Maruszewski dismisses that possibility, stressing that MicroStrategy gives potential adopters several different -- and transparent -- mechanisms to upgrade.

"There are a few different avenues [to upgrade]. We do offer a free 60-minute consultation, for example, and we also have a live chat on our corporate site. In addition, we have our toll-free phone number," she points out. "Basically, [for someone who wants to upgrade] the next step at that would be to purchase MicroStrategy technical support, and that basically opens the gateway to everything, the capacity gets doubled, we can add more users, more products, more licenses of the existing products."