MicroStrategy Review

Writeback enables our users to see instantly refreshed data on their mobile dashboards


What is our primary use case?

Primary use case would be for mobile apps, exposing mobile data to people who need data at the right time and the right location, and MicroStrategy does that. 

It does so extremely well. They have one of the best mobile BI apps available. They've the got the whole power of the MicroStrategy ecosystem, and they just expose it through the app. It's a stand-alone mobile development app that you don't even have to do business intelligence on. You can just use it to build apps. It's pretty cool.

How has it helped my organization?

In the old days - which is not long ago, about 10 years ago - before iPhones, you literally had to go back to your desk to run a report, and your report could take an hour to run. 

Now, you can run that same report, you can access it from Starbucks, or wherever, to your mobile device, and you've got access to information. The decision makers within your company have access to the information wherever they want it, whenever they want it.

What is most valuable?

Building apps is easy. You just drag in your data, and then you drag in all the elements that you want on your app. It's drag and drop design, and then you can customize your visuals. They make it all easy with plug and play widgets. That just makes it too easy. Don't tell my employers.

We use Writeback mainly for regular database transaction tables. It's just a feedback loop, back into the mobile dashboards. You can type into those and then writeback whatever you wrote in, back to a database. And then, when you refresh your dashboard, everybody can see your input refreshed, instantly. It's an instant feedback loop, we don't writeback to any source systems. It's just for MicroStrategy's circle of functionality, an "interloop."

What needs improvement?

Since I'm a "mobile-dashboardy" guy, I would like to see more capabilities on the mobile side to bring it on par with apps that you see in the App Store, like Uber or Facebook. They've got all the bells and whistles - well, maybe not Facebook. The interface you can design in MicroStrategy is great, but I feel it needs to be refreshed, add a bit more functionality. As a developer in 2018, at least I have features that we're seeing in other apps in the App Store. I feel like we're a few years behind with our features, but still pretty excellent features.

For how long have I used the solution?

More than five years.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

We haven't really had issues with stability. 

Well, in the old days, say a few years ago, upgrades only came out once every year and they were more stable. But MicroStrategy has moved to a quarterly release, so they've got a lot more new features in there, which means there's an opportunity for bugs to slip through. So, occasionally, the Mobile Server does crash, but it instantly recovers and users typically don't even notice it. 

If the disconnect happens when they're on a screen, at least their data is there, and because there are local device caches holding the data, there's a certain offline capability that is just built-in naturally, so you don't need a connection all the time. By the time the Mobile Server comes back, they didn't even notice. Typically, downtimes are very limited.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

On our mobile solution you can deploy up to 100,000 users. In our case, we're up to about 10,000 active users, and MicroStrategy's server technology behind the scenes, the Intelligence Server and the Mobile Servers, are very robust and they can handle the workload, which is impressive.

How is customer service and technical support?

I've learned by trial and error, but I've been working in it for about 10 years, so I've seen everything. We do use support occasionally in our company, for the bugs that we can't find a solution for.

They have different levels of support. The front-line support is okay resolving problems. I couldn't put a percentage on it, but once it escalates up to the next it usually gets resolved.

They've got a robust knowledge base that's open to the public, in the Community. You can literally search any problems there and somebody else has usually encountered it. You can fix a lot of problems yourself using the knowledge base, or talk to service. They usually fix the problems pretty fast.

How was the initial setup?

Regarding upgrades, for version 10, which is the latest version, the upgrades are more robust. There aren't as many issues as in the previous version, version 9. There were definitely issues upgrading from 9 to 10 because it's a huge upgrade, but typically it's the same issues that you're going to encounter. 

Unfortunately, MicroStrategy is known for upgrade pain, so a lot of companies don't upgrade. You will encounter problems, and when you have major enterprises that can't run some reports for days or weeks on end, that's not acceptable. But that happens rarely. 

Version 10, I've noticed that in the upgrade process I have not encountered any problems, so there something has changed in the upgrade process for the better.

What other advice do I have?

We are embedding multimedia content in our apps. Last week, I did a for-fun dashboard. It was all about Star Wars and Return of the Last Jedi. I had some active video in there that I started streaming from Vimeo. You can do that, you can embed streaming video from websites, or you can host the video files on your internal media servers. The video is clear, absolutely.

We are also distributing personalized alerts using native mobile push ads, for IOS and Android. It's pretty easy on MicroStrategy. There is a bit of configuration involved, so you definitely need to have a technical administrator help you get it set up, and your Apple developer to get all the certificates. There are a lot of moving parts, but once you get it set up, the alerts are great. You have to manage them, because you don't want an alert, the same alert, coming to the same person every 10 seconds because they will get annoyed and they will stop using your app. So, there's a fine line between too much information and too little.

We have configured our mobile apps to work offline to a certain extent, but most of ours do not work offline because there are some limitations involved with the offline modes, the performance issues, and sometimes performance is more important. There are tradeoffs. In some cases, we need offline data sets, but most of our clients use WiFi in the stores where they can launch their mobile app, and they're always connected. So they don't need offline. It depends on the use case. In our case, it doesn't really apply.

What I appreciate most in a vendor would be transparency, that they're being upfront with me. I would like to be able to purchase a piece of software that I know is going to cost me a lot of money, but I want them to be giving me their best price and not trying to give me a higher price and then I have to haggle with them to get a lower price. It would be nice if there was a sticker price that says, "This software costs this amount of money." But I think that's just indicative of all software vendors. A lot of people are in it to make money, commissions, so it's just the nature of the business. But I would like to see more transparency, more equality, on pricing. Some people get better deals than others, I think.

From my perspective as a mobile-focused, dashboard kind of guy, looking at how the business intelligence solution looks, I would rate it, capability-wise, an eight out of 10. It is dragging behind other tools on the self-service visualizations, like Tableau. I would rate Tableau as a 10. For the same visualizations, I would say MicroStrategy is an eight, maybe nine. They're still behind on the self-service visualizations, but on mobile visualizations I would give them a nine or even a ten. It depends on what part of the tool you use. Some parts are older and haven't had any "love" in the past, and some areas, like Dossiers, are getting all the love right now and they look modern. From my point of view, I would rate them pretty high, overall.

Think about how many people and how much money it's going to cost to implement a solution. It's not just buying the software, which is pricey. You have to think about all the servers - you need multiple servers. You need a lot of people, you need an administrator, an architect, you need developers, mobile developers. I was talking to one guy, he has a team of 40 people, and this is just building reports. So that's a hidden cost there, if you want to crank out a lot of work, you're going to have to have a lot of people. It's not just for a small company. It's just too much.

Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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