Microstrategy takes aim at self-service BI

A new tool, Visual Insight, allows business users to visually explore data

Microstrategy is joining the trend toward self-service BI (business intelligence) with a new tool called Visual Insight that ships with the latest release of its platform, the company announced Tuesday.

Visual Insight, which is part of Microstrategy 9.2, allows business users to dig into and analyze various data sources without the help of IT staff, who would ordinarily be asked to develop specific reports.

Users can create "insight dashboards" with the tool and share them with co-workers, while Microstrategy's security measures block individuals from seeing data they aren't authorized to view, according to the company.

In a video posted to Microstrategy's website, the company demonstrated how a worker could use Visual Insight to analyze on-time performance of airports in the U.S. Latitude and longitude coordinates of airports were dragged onto a Google map, where they showed up as location pins.

The demonstration then shows how the airport pins could be color-coded based on their on-time percentages. It goes on to crunch the data down further, segmenting the airports by state and the number of flights, and also shows how the same data can be viewed in other forms, such as a graph index or "heat map."

Visual Insight can tap data in a few different ways, including directly through Microstrategy's ROLAP (Relational Online Analytic Processing) engine. It's also compatible with the company's MDX (multidimensional expression) engine, allowing users to analyze cubes in other platforms such as Oracle's Essbase and SAP's BW.

Users can also upload data, such as from a spreadsheet or .CSV file, from their own desktops.

Microstrategy is touting the browser-based tool's ease of deployment, saying customers can deliver it as internal SaaS (software as a service).

Still, Visual Insight doesn't fully live up to the self-service notion, given that new customers would still have the considerable task of implementing a BI foundation.

It will be simplest for current Microstrategy customers to get up and running with the tool, since they will already have a variety of reports, data warehouses and cubes built. Visual Insight essentially provides them with a new way to look at that data, said Mark LaRow, senior vice president of products.

Microstrategy expects that Visual Insight will shift the usage pattern of its software away from more complex dashboards built by IT staff to much simpler, streamlined ones created by users, LaRow said.

IT shops might help kick-start the process by setting up a series of data sets and then telling users that "they only exist for visual analysis," LaRow said.

Existing Microstrategy customers will get Visual Insight as part of the 9.2 upgrade, with no separate licensing required.

Microstrategy is also hoping the introduction of Visual Insight will keep customers from adopting similar visual BI tools, such as those sold by Tableau and Tibco, he said.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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