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I recently returned from Sweden, where QlikTech International hosted its annual analyst “unsummit.” Much of the information I was exposed to was under NDA, so I cannot talk about it here. What I can discuss, and what in many ways may be more interesting and more important, is the company’s focus on culture and philosophy.

Arguably, culture and company philosophy can provide a company competitive advantage by providing its employees, customer and partners a vision and a sense of engagement with the product and the company itself. Engagement and software usability have become important topics as companies such as Tableau and QlikTech have brought user-friendly, visual and iterative analysis to software that has heretofore been the domain of a few tool-oriented analysts. As such tools continue to gain traction in the organization I anticipate that these discussions around culture, engagement and the consumer-oriented idea of brand intimacy will become more important. In particular, I see two trends driving this: the consumerization of business technologies, which I discussed in a recent blog post, and demographic workforce shifts, which my colleague Robert Kugel discussed.

QlikTech CEO Lars Bjork gave us the initial chat regarding the company.  He spoke of the origins of the company and how the Swedish government gives favorable terms to Swedish startups, but then extracts high interest after a few years. He used this story to show how his company was able to overcome early stage difficulties in repayment of the loan, and how the Swedish government listened to its needs and worked to resolve the issues in a mutually beneficial way. Eventually it turned out that QlikTech became the most successful venture in which the Swedish government had ever engaged.

Bjork used this story as a jumping-off point to discuss the cultural backbone of the company, which is its Swedish heritage.  Sweden, he suggested, is interesting in two ways. The first is its design principles of simplicity and sophistication. The second is the consensus decision-making models in which its population engages.

Simplicity and sophistication are readily evident in Swedish architecture, and furniture. QlikTech and its user base make a strong argument that this is the underpinning of its software as well. (Interestingly, two of the new breed of BI software vendors were born and grew up in Sweden – Spotfire in the north and QlikTech in the south.) QlikTech uses a simple but powerful color-oriented approach to help users understand data.  Values in a data set can be highlighted in green, linked values are white, and excluded values are gray. This approach provides users an exploratory environment in which to iterate and visualize data. This approach was inspired by spreadsheet environments, where color coding is often used for analysis and alerting on differentiated variables. While QlikTech has advanced significantly from its spreadsheet roots, the color design principles remain intact and usability remains a key tenet of its strategy.

Perhaps the more interesting cultural aspect of Sweden is its societal and political culture. It is a democracy with a measure of shared responsibility in government and society that isn’t really found in the United States. The US is much more aligned with Teddy Roosevelt’s idea of “rugged individualism” and of the self-made men. In business, this American mindset tends to create a chain-of-command culture in which decision-making is pushed up the organizational pyramid, and once a decision is made, it is then disseminated through the organization. European business, and Swedish organizations, it can be argued are less hierarchical in nature.

This discussion of Sweden and its culture naturally flows into how business intelligence is becoming more collaborative by nature and how decisions are being pushed down through the organization. It also brings to light the different philosophies of locking down data and controlling data versus the ideas of openness and information sharing. As our benchmark study around next-generation business intelligence shows, these are key points for the future of business intelligence. As cultures become more open with mobility and collaboration, and decisions are moved down through organizations, employees become more empowered.

vr_ngbi_br_benefits_realized_from_collaborative_biThe entire premise, however, revolves around openness toward information sharing and a balance of controls within the organization. The idea of democratizing analytics makes a lot of sense, though democratization pushed to the extreme leads to anarchy. Much like Sweden, QlikTech intends to walk that fine line inspired by democratic ideals and consensus governance in its quest to bring analytics to the organizational masses. At the end of the day this may just may be the secret sauce the appeals to the millennial generation and beyond.

Regards,

Tony Cosentino

VP & Research Director

Tableau Software is growing fast. Tableau has taken a “land and expand” strategy that drives what they call the democratization of analytics within organizations. Tableau has enjoyed first mover advantage in the area of exploratory analytics called visual discovery, a growing type of business analytics that allows companies to easily visualize data in a descriptive manner, but the company is facing competition as deep-pocket companies such as IBM, SAP and others become more aggressive in the space.

Tableau’s big advantages are that its software is easy to use, can access many data sources, and lacks the complexity of a traditional OLAP cube, which necessitates predefined schemas, materialized views and pre-aggregation of data. Our next-generation business intelligence benchmark research finds that usability is the most critical criterion in the choice of next-generation BI tools, and in usability, Tableau is an industry juggernaut. The company’s VizQL technology obviates the need for an analyst to understand technologies like SQL, and instead lets users explore data from multiple sources using drag-and-drop, point-and-click and pinch-and-tap techniques. No code, no complexity.

With Tableau’s 8.0 release, code-named the Kraken, currently in beta, the story gets more compelling. The Kraken takes the software beyond the business user and into the IT department –  the home of BI giants. New ease–of-use features such as better infographics, text justification and rich text formatting got applause at Tableau’s customer conference in San Diego earlier this month, where Tableau announced three specific features that help equip it for battle with traditional BI vendors.

The first is the ability to author, customize and share reports through a browser interface. This brings much of the functionality that was available only on Tableau Desktop to the Tableau Server environment. It gives users anywhere, anytime access, and increases manageability within the environment. Visualizations can be shared through a link, then picked up by another author in an iterative and collaborative process. Administrators can make sure dashboard proliferation doesn’t overwhelm users.

One big advancement is Tableau’s ability to embed its software in other companies’ portals or web applications through a JavaScript API. Many companies should pick up on this advancement to partner with Tableau to embed analytics into their applications. Our research shows that the market has yet to decide how next-generation BI will be delivered, with approximately even splits between those expecting it to go through a BI application (38%), end-user application (34%) and office productivity suite (36%). Anecdotally, we are seeing an uptick in embedded BI arrangements, such as Workday embedding Datameer and Kronos embedding MicroStrategy. Given Tableau’s visualization sophistication, I anticipate it will get a lot of traction here.

Tableau announced support for Salesforce.com and Google Analytics at the conference. The Google move was soon extended to include Google’s BigQuery, which is based on Google’s Dremel real-time distributed query technology, which works in conjunction with Google’s MapReduce. Cloudera recently announced a similar approach to big-data ad-hoc analytics with its Impala initiative, and it chose Tableau as the first company to integrate. These partnerships say a lot about Tableau’s potential partnering power, which I anticipate will become a more important part of the company’s overall strategy.

While the conference announcements were extensive, and in many ways impressive, the battle for the hearts and minds of both IT departments and business users still remains. Tableau comes from the business side, and it remains to be seen is how powerful the usability argument is in the face of the risk and compliance issues that face IT. Tableau may encounter resistance as it moves closer to the IT department in order to enable multidepartment rollouts. IT often has long-term relationships with large software providers, and these providers are now bringing their own tools to market. These include such tools as SAP’s Visual Intelligence (a.k.a. Visi), and IBM Cognos Insight, which I recently blogged about. In many ways it is easier for IT to convince business to use these tools than for business users to make that argument to IT. The outcome of the battle depends on how quickly companies like SAP and IBM can catch up. Tableau says its R&D as a percentage is much higher than that of its competitors, but the question is whether that percentage is big enough to compete with the deep pockets of competitors that surround it. My assumption is that competitors will ultimately catch up, and then its ultimate success will come down to how large a footprint Tableau has established and the loyalty of its user base.

In sum, Tableau has an impressive offering, and the 8.0 beta release is another step forward. The company is advancing a new era of interactive visual discovery of data. Its partnerships and links to multiple data sources make it difficult to ignore in the business intelligence space. The advancements mentioned above as well as Tableau’s focus on things such as cohort analytics and quasi-experimental design approaches gives the company a fair amount of runway with respect to core analytics in the organization. However, it needs to start putting more statistical prowess into the application, starting with basic descriptive statistics, including significance testing such as t-test and chi-squared tests. While it is great to have cool pictures and graphs, if users cannot find real differences in the data, the software’s value is limited. Also, in order to meet its ambition of truly democratizing analytics, it needs to build out or embed basic analytic training modules. This will be key in getting from the What of the data to the So What of the data. Addressing this skills gap, as I wrote about in a blog post earlier this year, is one of the most important areas of focus for companies and suppliers playing in the analytics space. Suppliers that focus only on the tools themselves and ignore data sources and people aspects will see diminishing returns.

Tableau is well on its way into IT departments with its latest advancements, but it still needs to better address things such as write-back, data management and higher-level analytics if it hopes to compete with broader BI portfolios. Competitors in this market are not standing still; they are beginning to morph into more operation-oriented analytical systems.

Business users and departments considering exploratory analytics tools for their companies should definitely consider Tableau. For IT departments with broader responsibility, Tableau is also worth a look. Tableau is a leader in this emerging space, and with its continued investment in R&D, its strengthening partnerships, and a singular focus on bringing analytics to the business populous, it is addressing many core analytics needs within today’s organization. Tableau is an important company to watch.

Regards,

Tony Cosentino

VP and Research Director

On the heels of the release of his new book, The Mobile Wave, Microstrategy’s CEO Michael Saylor delivered an interesting keynote at Microstrategy World in Amsterdam this past week. Unlike other keynotes we’ve seen at various supplier conferences, the presentation was not a sales pitch. There was no reference to the fact that the company was simultaneously launching MicroStrategy 9.3, a major new release of its flagship offer. The presentation focused almost entirely on the rise of mobile computing and its ability to change the world. Saylor sees the Apple iPad at the heart of the mobile revolution, and notes that BI capabilities delivered through the device are displacing paper and people within organizations. The iPad’s 10-inch screen, which can display 90 percent of printed pages, is the key for companies to unlock the shackles of the physical office environment. Between the lines, it’s easy to read that Microstrategy is betting a lot on mobile and on the iPad.

Saylor’s argument against paper is relatively straightforward. For years we’ve been talking about the paperless office, but technology has not yet allowed us to get away from paper, and executives are still using it for all types of reports and data. Business intelligence before mobile was restricted to columnar reporting, and business intelligence before device interactivity was a manual, paper-based process in which an executive asked an analyst to run a report to answer a question, then looked at the report on paper. The results often inspired other questions, sending the executive back to the analyst to run yet another report – and so on.  Finally, once the executive’s questions were answered, he could ask an employee to take action based on his conclusions.

The iPad, Saylor argues, changes all of this, since iOS and the 10-inch screen allow us to look at standard-size documents and interact with company data. Given the revolutionary capabilities of mobile BI systems, an executive can interactively and visually query multiple data sources, get answers immediately, run his own scenarios, and take action, all from the sidelines of his kid’s soccer game. The executive, now doing the job of three people, is much more productive (if a bit lonelier).

How does the Microstrategy iPad-focused BI strategy stack up in the new mobile world that also contains tablets such as Google’s Nexus 7 and Microsoft’s Surface? With his presentation and over the course of the conference, Saylor took aim at the mobile strategy of a number of industry stalwarts, including Google and Microsoft. Microsoft in particular, he suggested, alienated both its customers and its partners with its recent preannouncement of the Surface tablet computer.

The most obvious competitor currently in the enterprise environment is Google’s Android, but the Android development community is focused around the smartphone, not the tablet. Google’s Nexus 7 suggests that the company is not keen to take on the iPad directly in the enterprise market; the 7-inch screen suggests consumer ambitions. One argument that Saylor gives against the Android is that it lacks tight enough integration between the hardware and the software for delivery on a 10-inch device. I’m curious whether this argument will still hold as Google starts to produce larger form-factor devices with tighter hardware and software integration, and as improved content parsing technologies allow for more information to be consumed on different-sized devices.

The more interesting enterprise play is around Microsoft’s Surface tablet running Windows 8 on Intel chips. When it is finally introduced, the Microsoft advantages will be hard to ignore. As it moves away from ARM-based chips, Microsoft will be able to provide full access to entrenched office productivity software, tight integration with other Windows-based hardware and software, and backward compatibility.  Hewlett Packard, in signing with Intel earlier this year, signaled its own move into Windows 8 tablets. HP’s global distribution power could make this an important milestone. The challenge is whether business will engage and consider Microsoft tablet or how many folks will bring this technology into business and expect support for it with business intelligence.

Unlike Google today and Microsoft tomorrow, Apple takes a “walled garden” approach to its operating system and applications, and enterprise IT departments generally do not like this idea, especially as it relates to security. On the other hand, the developer community in this garden is huge, and the “bring your own device” (BYOD) trend is really helping drive iPhone and iPad into the corporate market. The most influential businesspeople and cultural icons in our society carry iPads, and corporations, much to the chagrin of IT departments all over the world, are being forced to deal with this phenomenon.

On a practical note, I had an opportunity to test-drive MicroStrategy’s platform for mobile applications. I built a number of interactive mobile dashboards for the iPad, the iPhone, and for my own smartphone running Android. While things worked well with the iPad and the iPhone, the Android applications had a lot of issues. I’m not sure if this was due to the lack of Microstrategy focus on Android, or to Android itself. What I do know is that Microstrategy Mobile works well on iPad; just about any user can create designs with minimal training, and not having to wait for coders is a huge advantage.

Nevertheless, an Apple-focused bet in the enterprise environment is a bit risky as new devices come onto the market. It will be interesting to look at Microstrategy’s tack in the context of our upcoming Next Generation Business Intelligence Benchmark Research, which focuses on mobile and collaboration technologies in the enterprise BI environment.

Regards,

Tony Cosentino – VP & Research Director

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