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At its annual MicroStrategy World conference, this provider of analytics and business intelligence systems for business and IT introduced a new version of its flagship product, MicroStrategy 9s. Among many advances it adds enterprise grade security with MicroStrategy Usher as part of the maintenance update to its 9.4.1 release. Security is increasingly critical for analytics and BI. Technologies that work intensively with data, including reporting, business intelligence, analytics and data preparation, have access to a range of applications and databases and could leave gaps in access controls and security of essential business data. Already in 2015 the data breach at Anthem put more than 80 million medical records at risk. Our benchmark research in big data analytics finds that integration into security and user access frameworks is a very important capability to 37 percent of organizations.
MicroStrategy has spent years and significant investment of resources on MicroStrategy Usher. On the company’s mobile platform Usher provides multifactor authentication that includes fingerprinting for biometrics, unique identification through smartphone verification and a mobile device pass code to ensure secure access. Further identification security is offered through geo-fencing, which requires a user to be within range of a specified access point such as a building or a computer, by permitting access only during a specific time window or using QR code scanning to rapidly match the individual with authorized access. At the conference MicroStrategy demonstrated these security techniques along with AES-128 GCM encryption of data on devices and in transit.
Ventana Research recognized MicroStrategy Usher with a Technology Innovation Award in 2014 for using mobile technology to provide secure access to applications, information and even physical locations; in the last case it has partnered with building companies such as Honeywell. Organizations should realize the risk of having only single sign-on through insecure passwords, which can expose access to all their systems. Usher is available as part of MicroStrategy 9s or as a stand-alone product.
On another advanced technology front, MicroStrategy has advanced its cloud computing offering to embrace Amazon Web Services (AWS). This partnership can provide flexibility for its customers while reducing the effort it must put into building out its own data centers to support its products. Here also the company is addressing security of information and systems. MicroStrategy Secure Cloud includes enterprise security capabilities to ensure authenticated access. This is an important feature: Our big data integration benchmark research finds that security concerns are the most common barrier (in 54% of organizations) to using big data through cloud computing. Many buyers want to reduce the amount of software they have to license and install, but they must have confidence that their data is safe in on-demand cloud systems. Keeping it simple but secure for cloud computing is critical, and our research finds room for improvement here across the technology industry.
Regarding big data MicroStrategy has advanced its computing power through PRIME, its in-memory and parallel processing technology. Our research in big data analytics finds that in-memory systems are the most sought-after innovation in half of organizations seeking to enhance analysis. That research also shows that the number and dispersal of data sources is a major issue. More than one-third (36%) of organizations have six to 15 sources and one-fourth (26%) have 16 or more information sources that need to be integrated for optimum access. And blending data from so many sources raises security concerns; in our research in big data integration security is the fourth-most important data activity, cited by 61 percent of organizations. MicroStrategy continues its efforts to help organizations get access to any data sources. For example, it now supports the Oracle Database 12c with in-memory and databases releases and has embedded its BI software in Oracle appliances that become big data machines. In addition MicroStrategy has embraced Apache Spark to maximize compute potential across Hadoop, NoSQL and RDBMSs and expands its database support every quarter. Earlier in 2014 MicroStrategy announced support for MarkLogic 7 NoSQL technology, which is becoming more relevant in the analytics and BI market. MicroStrategy also has been continuing its efforts to support data preparation tasks performed by analysts rather than administrators as some other vendors do. Our big data analytics research finds that in creating and deploying information and using analytics, almost half (47%) of organizations spend the largest portion of time in data preparation; this is true across customer service, finance, HR and other operational areas.
Like many others MicroStrategy discovered painfully in 2014 that overall the IT market for purchasing software to deploy on-premises has slowed down and specifically that the BI market has reached a saturation point in organizations that have more than US$10 billion in revenue. Even so the company exceeded $579 million in total revenue for 2014. Its investments in cloud computing over the last several years have helped it through this transition. To adjust to the market changes it has brought in new executives including CTO Tim Lang, who has decades of experience dating back to Holistic Systems and Crystal Software, and CMO Mark Gambill who has over 18 years’ experience leading marketing teams; these two are streamlining their respective areas to make them more efficient. MicroStrategy continues to get brand-name customers on board with its mobile and analytic offerings, and its focus on security in 2015 should help in these efforts. In the past several years demand has been strong for visualization-related discovery and analytics tools among the lines of business and analysts, and now MicroStrategy has caught up and matched these capabilities. Visualization and presentation of analytics and data remain very important, according to our research: Half (49%) of organizations said it helps those who have the right skills perform analytics faster. Our research also finds that the majority of businesses want analytics to be simpler and easier to understand and available quickly on their mobile devices.
In our 2014 Value Index on Mobile BI, MicroStrategy earned the Hot Vendor rating for its mobile business intelligence technology across device platforms, primarily for Apple and Android support. But MicroStrategy will have to ante up its support for Microsoft who is making inroads with smartphones and even more so with its Surface 3 tablets and also with new generations of notebooks using Windows Touch, which enables the use of gestures in Windows; Microsoft is finding opportunities in businesses that are phasing out older desktop and laptop computers with new ones running Windows Touch technology. MicroStrategy in 2014 simplified packaging and pricing of MicroStrategy Mobile and its Web products that operate on its MicroStrategy Server platform. MicroStrategy is building on a solid year of technology advancement as I pointed out in 2014 and is poised for innovation. It provided a sneak peek at MicroStrategy World of MicroStrategy 10 (now in beta and early release), which will up the ante with the next generation of in-memory analytics and simpler administration. Developments include further support of Apple Mac OS and iOS and advancing visualization and sophistication of analytics, which may be available fairly early in 2015.
I believe that MicroStrategy should do more with search and collaborative capabilities, which our research finds to be a priority for business professionals (less so for IT). All BI vendors must be careful to listen to all audiences and stop paying attention only to IT. They will need to make sure that those in the lines of business understand how they can use analytics within the context of solving problems and opportunities, and make it as easy as possible for them do so on their own. Vendors also must understand their purchasers’ own business priorities. For instance, our next-generation customer analytics benchmark research shows that improving the customer experience and customer service strategy are the top drivers in this analytics segment. The release of MicroStrategy 9s and the upcoming MicroStrategy 10 continue this company’s prominence as an enterprise-class provider. We advise organizations to assess its evolving portfolio to identify missing elements in their existing BI and analytics deployments, with an eye on mobile platforms and security of data.
CEO and Chief Research Officer
Most people in business management admit that sales is more an art than a science. Organizations have long struggled to find the right mix to improve its effectiveness, and few get the most out of available technology. For many the default is still to use sales force automation (SFA) and spreadsheets to manage processes and try to increase the productivity of sales staff. In our view they should take a holistic approach to sales processes from contact to close and support everything from sales forecasting to pipeline management to compensation with applications designed for these purposes. Those in sales operations need to apply analytics to understand and fine-tune sales activities. Those in sales management need applications that can help recruit, engage and retain the best talent. Even more than elsewhere in business, in sales people matter, and the organizations that most empower their teams are likely to get the best results. Optimizing people and processes requires a balance of information and technology to support the various needs of the sales organization.
Our research in this critical area of business during 2015 will examine applications designed to provide effective execution in sales processes. These applications cover a strikingly wide range of areas including deal management, forecasting, quota and territory, compensation and commissions, product information management, planning and tracking, learning and competency, coaching and objectives, contract automation and configure-price-quote. All rely on information and thus on technology to help people learn from and act on it. In today’s digital world the consistency and quality of product information is more critical than ever and more complex as digital assets such as images and video can make the difference in proposing and closing a sale. Analytics software can increase insights to improve sales execution and outcomes. Sophisticated techniques such as predictive analytics and data discovery can exploit the ever growing volumes now classified as big data. This trend has driven us to engage in new benchmark research for 2015 on next-generation sales analytics to advance knowledge of best practices and methods being adopted by innovative organizations. It will investigate new methods for using analytics to advance modeling and planning that can help sales groups recognize and respond to fast-changing trends and realize their potential. The need for improvement is clear in our next-generation business planning research, in which fewer than half of organizations said they are satisfied with their sales and operations planning (43%) and sales forecasting (47%).
Our research in sales compensation management explores the motivation and impact of commissions and rewards on sales performance. Sales compensation is very important to almost three-quarters (73%) of organizations, but more than one-third have impediments that are motivating management to consider further investments in sales compensation. Leading the list are inconsistent execution in sales, cited by three out of five organizations, and lack of sales effectiveness in almost half of organizations. These and other issues can be addressed by adopting dedicated applications for sales compensation, especially to replace spreadsheets, which almost two-thirds that use them said make it difficult to manage sales commissions efficiently. Managing sales compensation effectively also requires commitment, as I have written, and investing in capable software should be part of that commitment. Used properly it can provide a return in terms of the resources and time saved and improvement in the sales process. Our research finds other benefits of a dedicated sales compensation approach, most often aligning the sales force to business strategy and goals and increasing confidence in achieving the forecast.
Our recent benchmark research on recurring revenue reveals advantages in automatically billing for subscriptions for products and services on a repeating basis. However, the recurring revenue model requires the ability to manage a variety of services that customers can change at short notice and be billed for correctly and promptly. Managing recurring revenue is easier with a dedicated application that links the complete order-to-cash process. These applications also support not just the transactions but the full cycle of interactions with customers, which is the largest challenge for 55 percent of organizations, according to this research.
There also are new tools to help sales professionals improve their own campaigns using demand generation techniques that previously were available only in marketing. They can target prospects, schedule interactions and provide information that matters to prospects. This directly empowers individual sales reps to develop leads for the sales pipeline to achieve their quotas, which in turn can improve the accuracy of the sales forecast. The tools also can be used by teams. Half (53%) of participants in our sales forecasting research said that the forecast is a collaborative and team effort; that even more (57%) said the forecasting process is unreliable shows the need for improvement.
Another technology that can make a difference for sales people and processes is mobile technology, which can facilitate completion of tasks through smartphones and tablets. These portable tools can provide information and updates to sales people on the go. Our research in sales finds adoption booming; for example, tablets are now being used in 43 percent of sales organizations, and almost another one-third (31%) plan to deploy more or plan to start using them. Improvement in mobile applications designed for sales should drive growth even faster.
Mobile technology also can boost another innovative technology – collaboration, which is a natural part of the sales process. New methods for social collaboration are going beyond mimicking consumer social media to relevance in sales. For instance, using collaboration for coaching or gamification for earning badges and awards can spur sales people to compete and improve; these methods are being evaluated or planned for use in one-third and one-quarter of organizations, respectively, according to our sales compensation research. In the end collaboration is about improving the relevance of actions and the quality of decision-making. Collaboration can help improve the execution of any sales activity.
The nature and means of sales are changing, and sales organizations must change with them or be left behind. In pursuit of innovation they must make investments in technology to help them adapt. Cloud computing makes it simpler and more affordable for sales groups to onboard and use applications rapidly. In 2015 Ventana Research will explore further the use of all these innovative technologies in the context of what Sales needs to be successful. In addition we will undertake new research on the next generation of product information management and how it can empower sales through digital commerce by providing complete, consistent product information at all interaction points.
Sales organizations must face the realization that old processes such as merely managing accounts, contacts and opportunities and general-purpose tools such as sales force automation are not sufficient to optimize the execution and efficiency of sales activities. Better tools and processes can shift the focus from manual chores to value-adding work. For example, contract automation can save significant time every week that can be devoted to pursuing more deals. Sales departments must find ways to elevate the level of customer engagement and satisfaction that in turn drive more sales. In 2015 all involved in sales, from the front lines to operations to executives, must step up their game. Analytics can help them measure sales performance in various ways, from quota and revenue attainment (important in almost two-thirds of organizations) to building processes for continuous and sustainable improvement. We should not forget that sales is a team sport that requires leadership and coaching as well as finding and motivating talent.
Our Sales Research Agenda for 2015 will span the areas that matter most to the in-person and digital selling of products and services. We will provide insights and best practices that can help organizations select technology investments and gain fast time to value from them. Please follow as we strive to bring you information and guidance that can make the difference in your sales efforts.
CEO and Chief Research Officer