MicroStrategy Follows On Cloud, Pioneers Social Insight - InformationWeek

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MicroStrategy Follows On Cloud, Pioneers Social Insight

The independent business intelligence and analytics vendor trails IBM and SAP on cloud deployment, but it appears to be blazing its own trail on social network analysis.

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MicroStrategy on Tuesday jumped on the bandwagon of companies introducing cloud computing and social media capabilities. The business intelligence and analytics vendor is a follower on the cloud front, but it appears to be taking a unique approach where social analysis is concerned.

MicroStrategy's social announcement, made at the company's European user conference in Monte Carlo, is Gateway for Facebook, a cloud-based service that will enable companies to tap in Facebook's Social Graph API and convert that information into a relational format. Facebook holds a veritable treasure trove of information about consumers that far surpasses what most companies hold in their CRM databases.

Gateway for Facebook, which is currently in beta, provides a way to unlock data from Facebook without resorting to tedious and repetitive data calls. For example, if you're trying to figure out which Facebook fans are frequent communicators and influencers with attentive fans, you might have to make hundreds of calls to the Facebook API.

"Gateway provides ways to combine lots of calls into single calls through automated routines that pull data from Facebook and populate a relational database," explained Mark LaRow, a vice president at MicroStrategy.

The only catch is that companies have to have permission from their Facebook fans (in the form of tokens) in order to tap into their information. But as many marketers can attest, promises of discounts and coupons, early product news, sweepstakes entries, and other offers are proven inducements to granting permission.

Competitors including SAP Business Objects, SAS, and IBM Cognos/SPSS are well along in understanding customers by way of sentiment analysis and text mining technologies. But MicroStrategy is taking a different tack, exploring the potential to work with Facebook data more directly by focusing on the company fan base.

For now, MicroStrategy is talking up the potential to blend Gateway-derived data with customer databases and other applications, but the company has plans to apply its own BI and analysis capabilities to the data. The company stopped short of laying out its entire enterprise strategy this week, but there's more to come. The company has already launched consumer-oriented Alert and Wisdom tools that will ultimately be mirrored by enterprise services aimed at analyzing a brand's Facebook fans.

The second big announcement from Monte Carlo this week is MicroStrategy Cloud, an infrastructure service that will enable customers to spin up test-and-development deployments, departmental or business-unit deployments, or large-scale BI systems on infrastructure running in the company's data centers. Licensing and costs were not detailed, but Sanju Bansal, MicroStrategy's executive VP and chief operating officer, said customers will be able to rent capacity as needed with about 48-hours' notice.

The company has built out its own data center at its headquarters in Virginia and by the end of the summer will launch a second for European customers in the vicinity of London, Bansal said. A backup facility in the Midwest and another data center in the Asia Pacific region are in the works, he said.

MicroStrategy is not a database vendor, so it has partnered with IBM Netezza and independent database vendor ParAccel to run high-scale data marts within the MicroStrategy Cloud. Informatica also is a partner, and it will contribute on-premises-to-cloud data-integration capabilities. If customers so choose, they can keep their data on premises; Bansal said secure VPNs can be used to make the connection to cloud-based BI systems and applications.

MicroStrategy will have plenty of competition when it comes to cloud-hosted business intelligence and analytics. In April, IBM announced SmartCloud Enterprise , part of a larger cloud strategy that IBM expects to drive $7 billion in revenue by 2015. IBM Cognos BI software is just one of many IBM software offerings deployable within SmartCloud Enterprise, with other options including database, data integration, master data management, and data quality offerings.

In May, SAP announced at its Sapphire user conference that BusinessObjects will be deployable in the cloud by way of Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), though licensing, subscription, support services, and exact dates of availability had yet to be worked out. SAP has had a software-as-a-service-based BI OnDemand offering for several years.

SAS has offered services-based analytics for years, but it follows the conventional application-hosting model, with long-term licensing at predetermined capacity levels rather than the cloud-oriented approach of elastic, rent-as-needed services.

MicroStrategy also used this week's European user conference to highlight recent mobile enhancements to the MicroStrategy 9.2.1 platform. Upgrades include a Transaction Services feature that Starbucks Coffee is now testing as a way to enable managers to order supplies and set staffing levels directly from BI dashboards.

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