Customers Trust MicroStrategy's Independence

With consolidation at a fever pitch in the enterprise business intelligence (BI) market, it would be understandable if MicroStrategy customers felt nervous, given that the vendor remains as one of the market's few independents.

After all, Business Objects now has the support of new parent company SAP, thanks to a US$6.7 billion acquisition, while Hyperion is now part of Oracle, which spent $3.3 billion to buy it. Meanwhile, IBM is expected to soon finalize its $5 billion purchase of Cognos.

Yet, MicroStrategy customers interviewed at the company's MicroStrategy World 2008 conference in Miami expressed confidence in the vendor and said its independent status gives it certain advantages over Business Objects, SAP and Cognos.

In particular, several customers said they like that MicroStrategy will remain free of pressures stemming from having to prioritize supporting complementary products from a parent company and, conversely, diluting support for similar products from competing companies.

Lindsey Aubuchon, MIS director at W.E. Aubuchon Co., which operates hardware stores in New England, said her company likes to have flexibility to mix and match IT products as it sees fit, creating multi-vendor environments to achieve its desired implementations. "My company likes to have openness to choose what they want," said Aubuchon, whose employer has been a MicroStrategy customer for about seven years.

Consequently, she nodded in agreement when MicroStrategy's CEO Michael Saylor said in his keynote at the event that the vendor strives to be agnostic and neutral with respect to making its products work with complementary wares from other vendors.

"Our view is to be Switzerland in this business, and to make sure we protect your investment when we give you the ability to tap into lots of different vendors and technology architectures to achieve your goal," Saylor said.

He predicted that Cognos, Business Objects and Hyperion will see their product roadmaps re-routed based on competitive considerations handed down by their new parent companies.

As an independent, MicroStrategy will continue to support a wide variety of complementary, third-party products, such as Web browsers, operating systems, processors, databases and application servers, based on the needs of its customers and on market dynamics, Saylor said. "The market needs a vendor that provides the flexibility we can provide," he said.

Phillip Julian, sales operations and senior data management analyst at Inspire Pharmaceuticals in Durham, North Carolina, is all for product agnosticism and flexibility in IT vendors. The company recently acquired the MicroStrategy software to generate better, more interactive and visually appealing reports, he said. Until now, Inspire had been analyzing data with SAS Institute data-mining software and creating reports with Microsoft's Excel.

"We're doing it so we get into really good technology that would help us grow," Julian said. "I want to move us into another generation [of reporting software] where we're looking at something that's more graphical, more visual. We need to have something that the VP of sales and the sales force can understand."

Similar expectations led Robeks, a chain of fruit juice establishments, to make a hefty investment in the MicroStrategy platform, which it is in the process of implementing. With most of its presence in the U.S. West Coast, Manhattan Beach, California-based Robeks is looking to grow significantly in other parts of the U.S. and the world in the coming years, and, to support those efforts, it needs better reporting and analysis tools than the in-house ones it currently uses.

"Being able to analyze [sales and marketing] data more accurately will help us grow the business. We're in a very quick growth mode right now," said IS Director Pete Carvajal.

As a new customer, he was interested in hearing Saylor address the recent wave of market consolidation to find out what MicroStrategy's position is. "Them emphasizing that they're one of the players in the market that's not in the middle of all the turmoil of all the consolidation was good to hear and to understand what the future is," he said.

"It's important for them to come out and indicate the whys and whens of their business model moving forward. This is a huge investment for my company, and the last thing I want to do is spend all this time and money in an application that gets absorbed by a bigger company and maybe disappears," Carvajal said.

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