Monthly Archives: January, 2014

Blurred Lines: A Tale of Two Dashboard (Contests)

Readers:

This is an important read for anyone who works in the data visualization profession. I ask you to be reflective as you read this. I use myself as an example of what not to do.

For the past two years (2013 and 2014), I have submitted an entry into the MicroStrategy World Dashboard Contest. In both years, I was named one of the winners of this competition. I have written about my work and about the competition on this blog. But I did not tell the whole story. I did not mention that my entries were reproductions of the original ideas and designs of other people. I took liberties that, at the time, seemed innocent. As an academic pursuit, I attempted to recreate these originals using a different tool set (in these two cases, MicroStrategy Report Services and the Visualization SDK) to see if it could be done. I spent time trying to develop methods to allow me to recreate the original visualizations almost exactly as their authors had idealize and developed them. I meant no harm, but what I did was wrong.

There are lines and sometimes we cross them. There are lines and sometimes we don’t see them. There are lines that are bold and there are lines that are blurry. The line that I crossed appears bold in retrospect but was blurred at the time. I had spent a considerable amount of time developing these visualizations. It is quite possible that I spent more time trying to recreate the original than the author spent developing the original.

I know now that this does not matter.

I took the ideas and content and submitted it as my own. I am sorry for this and I have learned a great deal as a result. I now want to use this discussion as an example for others.

2013 MicroStrategy Dashboard Contest

My entry in the 2013 Dashboard Contest was a Student Performance Dashboard, which was based on portions of the top three entries in Stephen Few’s Dashboard Design Contest that was held in late 2012. The majority of my dashboard was based on the original design of the first place winner, Jason Lockwood, who had developed his dashboard in Photoshop.

At work, several of us were talking about Jason’s winning entry and how you could probably develop it fairly easily in Tableau, but probably not so easily in MicroStrategy. Being a strong proponent of MicroStrategy, I argued that I could develop that exact dashboard using MicroStrategy’s Report Services and their Visualization SDK. My co-workers challenged me to try it and I began my mission. Unexpectedly, MicroStrategy soon announced their 2013 Dashboard Contest and I thought this would provide me additional motivation by developing the dashboard for their contest.

Back to Stephen’s contest. Back in August of 2012, Stephen Few, data visualization evangelist and author of the seminal book, Information Dashboard Design, announced a contest to design a dashboard following best practices and principles. The contest required participants to design the dashboard using student performance and assessment data that Stephen provided. Any graphic design tool (e.g., Photoshop, InDesign and Excel) or BI tool could be used to create the dashboard.

The winners were announced in October of that year. There were 91 entries. The contest focused more on innovative dashboard design principles rather than the use of BI tools. The winners and the tool they used are:

1st Place:           Jason Lockwood     Photoshop 2nd Place:          Shamik Sharma      Excel 2010 3rd Place:          Joey Cherdarchuk   Excel 2010

To the best of my knowledge (and Stephen’s), none of the 91 participants in the contest used MicroStrategy to create their dashboard. A few of the participants did use Tableau and SAS. This fact alone made me want to create an innovative dashboard to demonstrate the capabilities of MicroStrategy.

Below are examples of the first, second and third place winners entries.

Jason’s entry (first place)

Jason - First Place

Shamik’s entry (second place)

Shamik - Second Place

Joey’s entry (third place)

Joey - Third Place

Below is a screenshot of my entry developed using MicroStrategy and Stephen’s sample data.

Michael - MicroStrategy Version 2013

As you can see by comparing my dashboard to Jason’s. I tried to follow Jason’s entry very closely since my goal was to reproduce his entry as close as possible using MicroStrategy.

I have emphasized the word “reproduce” because in my goal to prove the capabilities and functionalities of MicroStrategy, I now realize, in retrospect, that I crossed a line in using Jason’s original idea, design and work to create my dashboard. Now, if I was doing this in my basement for my own edification and learning, that probably would have been o.k. since it was not being viewed by a public audience. However, when I entered the dashboard in MicroStrategy’s contest, albeit developed using my own skills in MicroStrategy, I was presenting someone else’s original ideas and design work without their permission. This, I now understand, was wrong.

I have had several e-mail conversations with Professor Alberto Cairo about this. Alberto is considered by many (including me) to be one of the industry’s leading experts on infographics and a person I respect and view as a mentor. I was seeing grey areas in what I had done where Alberto was correctly seeing things more in black and white.

Below are some of Alberto’s thoughts on what I did and some analogies he made. I have included his comments completely in quotes to indicate these are his thoughts and have not been modified by me at all.

“There are not really clear-cut rules about plagiarism in visualization in infographics, which is a shame. It’s an area in which a lot of thinking and writing needs to be done.

But when doing ethical reasoning you can always use analogies. When in doubt, imagine that your graphic is a news article or a research paper. Would it be appropriate if anyone took what you wrote and then just make it interactive without getting permission from the author (you) first? Would it be enough to mention you in a description of what was done? It wouldn’t. Quoting a few lines from someone (in between quotation marks) is fine. Copying and pasting paragraph after paragraph is not, if it’s not without proper permission.

In visualization, things get really tricky sometimes. For instance, if someone creates a simple bar graph based on ten data points, do I need to get permission to create a similar graph? Probably not if a) the graphic form is so common, b) I can have access to the underlying data. But when you copy an entire layout, or an unusual graphic form, then things become problematic. Again, going back to my analogy before, it’d be equal to copying an article, a newspaper story, or a blog post. Even if you mention the source, it’s not something you can do without asking for permission. It would be a clear case of plagiarism, and it could even get you into legal trouble.”

Now, I take full responsibility for what I did and apologize to Jason, Shamik, and Joey. I do need to say, my primary purpose was to create recreate cool dashboards or infographics I had seen, in my tool of choice which is MicroStrategy. The key thing I was trying to do was show clients and business partners that I could create the same thing they see in Tableau and Qlikview using the MicroStrategy platform.

 To continue with Alberto’s thoughts on this, I again include an exact quote of what he said.

“I understand it, but copying the layout, the structure, the content, and even the headline and intro copy (on top of everything else) is not the only issue, but also submitting the results to contests with no permission from the original authors, and without mentioning them.

Again, analogy: Imagine that I take one of the wonderful posts you have written about historical visualizations –some of them are indeed great,– and I reproduce it with no permission from you, but I casually attribute it to you once: “Hey, I’ve just found this great post in Michael’s website; I’m building on top of it, adding some pictures, and making it interactive.” You’d certainly feel uncomfortable if I didn’t contact you first. And you’ll probably get really upset if, besides that, I get a writing award thanks to that post (without mentioning you,) to which I just added a few visual elements, and interaction.”

Alberto is correct. I would be upset too.

2014 MicroStrategy Dashboard Contest

My entry in the 2014 Dashboard Contest was An Exploration of Tax Data. It was based on an original idea, text and design by Jim Uden, one of my classmates in Professor Cairo’s MOOC course on Data Visualization and Infographics.

I really liked the An Exploration of Tax Data visualization created by Jim. I liked it so much in fact, that I wanted to make a working example for our development team at work using MicroStrategy. I create a lot of dashboard “templates” for our development team in MicroStrategy, which is our enterprise standard BI tool.

So, using Jim’s data, text and format exactly, I created a dashboard in MicroStrategy with some tweaks to it.

Below is a screenshot of Jim’s original work.

Jim - Taxation

Below is my version created using MicroStrategy Report Services and their Visualization SDK.

Michael - MicroStrategy Version 2014

I used horizontal stacked bar charts instead so that the viewer can visually see how social security and income tax rate add up to the total and explains visually why the countries are ordered the way they are on the dashboard. I also separated out $100K and $300K percentages into separate visuals.

In addition, I added the flags of the countries.

Now, you don’t see any numbers on the data points in this dashboard. The reason you don’t see them is because they appear when you mouse over a bar where you then see the country, category and the percent value as a tooltip.

However, by using Jim’s data, text and design exactly from his original, and without getting his permission first, I again crossed the line. I have emphasized the word “exactly” because in my goal to prove the capabilities and functionalities of MicroStrategy, I now realize again in retrospect, that I crossed a line in using Jim’s original idea, data, text, design and work to create my dashboard.

I also discussed this with Alberto and his comments were,

“If this were just a class project for the MOOC, you should have asked for permission from Jim Uden, but I don’t consider it a huge ethical problem. After all, when you submitted it to the forums, you mentioned that it was an interactive version of Jim’s project, and you thanked him publicly in your message. You didn’t let him know about this directly, by contacting him (which is, again, the appropriate thing to do,) but you were transparent when you credited “Jim Uden” for the original idea. The true ethical problem arises when you didn’t do the same in your post about the exercise in your blog, and when you submitted it to a contest.”

I again take full responsibility for what I did and apologize to Jim.

I approached Professor Cairo again with another question: What are the ground rules for the use of another person’s materials. For instance, a lot of blogs (including mine) will post an infographic they have seen in a magazine or on a site like visual.ly and discuss it. Are we plagiarizing if we cite the author, magazine, etc.?

Professor Cairo responded,

“As for (this) point, there’s something called “fair use” in US copyright legislation. It’s quite fuzzy and controversial, but it basically says that if you reproduce a piece of art just to comment on it or to review it (not to build on it or to change it, not to get profit from it, etc.), you are fine. Academics and bloggers do this all the time. However, some media organizations are known for having asked bloggers to withdraw images of graphics in the past. They have the right to do so, although I think that it’s a bit silly.”

In Summary

I feel this was an important topic for me to discuss and clear my conscience. I would not be honest if I did not say this was very difficult and embarrassing to write. Professor Cairo reminded me it takes courage to do this. Maybe so, but I don’t feel very courageous at the moment.

Next year, if MicroStrategy has another Dashboard contest, I plan to create the entire thing from scratch. Data, text, design, colors, fonts, etc. It will be from my vision only. However, over the next year, I think this is an important topic to discuss in our data visualization community with social media like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, Tumblr, etc. growing in use every day. At what point have we crossed the line? Or are they blurred lines?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this and opinions. I may not like what I will hear, but I will hear and reflect on what you have to say.

Thank you for reading this very long post. I hope you see the value in it as much as I do.

Best Regards,

Michael

Michael Saylor’s MicroStrategy World 2014 Keynote Presentation

Click on image to watch presentationClick on image to watch presentation

Some Interesting MicroStrategy World 2014 Swag

A trip to MicroStrategy World 2014 would not be complete without a trip to the Vendor’s Room. You walk in empty-handed but walk out with your arms completely filled with all kind of tchotchkes. Footballs, foam balls, flash drives, yo-yos, pens, flashlights, travel cups, mugs, tee shirts, candy, cookies, etc.

This year was no exception.  Unfortunately, I arrived today and only had a short time to peruse the Vendor’s Room before it closed at 2:30pm. However, I did pick up a few interesting items that I wanted to show you.

MicroStrategy Cloud Cookies (Vendor: MicroStrategy, Inc.)

O.K., How cool is this! Not only do I get to hear a representative from MicroStrategy tell me about all of the new features and functionality of MicroStrategy Cloud, but he provides food too.IMG_1639

The Mobile Wave in Paperback (Vendor: MicroStrategy, Inc.)

I was given a hardcover copy of Mike’s book when it first came out by our Account Representative. However, a nice bit of swag for those who have not read it yet.

I recommend you talk to your Account Executive and get a free copy. A must read for any MicroStrategy user who wants to better understand how Michael Saylor thinks.

IMG_1640

Guide Books (Vendor: Lancet)

I grabbed copies of these over the past few years and given them to co-workers and clients. Lancet is very good at taking the “difficult to explain” and boiling it down to an easy read. If you missed picking these up, I recommend you go to Lancet’s web site and request a copy.

IMG_1642

Cloudera Tee Shirt (Vendor: Cloudera)

I love this phrase! “Data is the New Bacon.” If you are crazy about bacon and lots of data, this is the shirt for you.

IMG_1641

PRIME: MicroStrategy Announces Release of Cloud Based, In-Memory Analytics Service, Running at Multi-Terabyte Scale

MicroStrategy Cloud’s New Parallel Relational In-Memory Engine (PRIME) Provides High Performance On Big Data Allowing Companies to Build High-Scale, Easy-to-Use Information Driven Apps

Las Vegas, NV, January 28, 2014 – MicroStrategy® Incorporated (Nasdaq: MSTR), a leading worldwide provider of enterprise software platforms, today announced the availability of its new Parallel Relational In-Memory Engine (PRIME) option for the MicroStrategy Cloud™ at its annual user conference, MicroStrategy World 2014, in Las Vegas. MicroStrategy PRIME™ is a massively scalable, cloud-based, in-memory analytics service designed to deliver extremely high performance for complex analytical applications that have the largest data sets and highest user concurrency. Facebook has successfully built high value information-driven applications with the technology that powers MicroStrategy PRIME.

“Rising data volumes are fueling demand for compelling, easy-to-use analytical applications with the power to revolutionize existing business processes for thousands or tens of thousands of employees, customers, or partners,” said Michael Saylor, CEO, MicroStrategy Incorporated. “MicroStrategy PRIME has been built from the ground up to support the engineering challenges associated with development of these powerful new information-driven apps. This innovative service will allow organizations to derive maximum value from their information by making their Big Data assets actionable.”

Most organizations struggle to harness the value of the information in their Big Data stores due to poor performance. Big Data technologies can store large amounts of information, but distributing that information in an interactive manner to thousands of users with existing commercially available technologies is a huge challenge, often resulting in risky, multi-year projects. MicroStrategy PRIME breaks new ground by tightly coupling a state-of-the art visualization and dashboarding engine with an innovative massively parallel in-memory data store. This architecture allows companies to build highly interactive applications that deliver responses to hundreds of thousands of users in a fraction of the time and cost of other approaches. MicroStrategy PRIME acts as a performance accelerator, opening up the data in databases to a much larger user population, driving new demand for information.

MicroStrategy PRIME combines:

  • Massively parallel, distributed, in-memory architecture for extreme scale. MicroStrategy PRIME is built on an in-memory, highly distributed, massively parallel architecture, designed to run on cost effective commodity hardware. Complex analytics problems can be partitioned across hundreds of CPU cores and nodes to achieve unprecedented performance. MicroStrategy has worked closely with leading hardware vendors to take full advantage of today’s multi-core, high memory servers.
  • Tightly integrated dashboard engine for beautiful, easy-to-use applications. MicroStrategy PRIME includes a state-of-the-art dashboard and data exploration engine, built on the MicroStrategy Analytics Platform™. The visualization engine includes hundreds of optimizations designed specifically for the in-memory data store. This engine enables customers to build complete, immersive applications that deliver high-speed response.
  • Cloud-based delivery for rapid deployment. MicroStrategy PRIME is available as a service on MicroStrategy Cloud, MicroStrategy’s world-class Cloud Analytics platform. MicroStrategy Cloud offers a complete service, including the infrastructure, people and processes to enable customers to quickly and easily develop and deploy high-scale, information-driven applications.

About MicroStrategy Incorporated

Founded in 1989, MicroStrategy (Nasdaq: MSTR) is a leading worldwide provider of enterprise software platforms. The Company’s mission is to provide the most flexible, powerful, scalable and user-friendly platforms for analytics, mobile, identity and loyalty, offered either on premises or in the cloud.

The MicroStrategy Analytics Platform™ enables leading organizations to analyze vast amounts of data and distribute actionable business insight throughout the enterprise. Our analytics platform delivers reports and dashboards, and enables users to conduct ad hoc analysis and share their insights anywhere, anytime. MicroStrategy Mobile™ lets organizations rapidly build information-rich applications that combine multimedia, transactions, analytics, and custom workflows. The MicroStrategy Identity Platform™ (branded as MicroStrategy Usher™) provides organizations the ability to develop a secure mobile app for identity and credentials. The MicroStrategy Loyalty Platform™ (branded as MicroStrategy Alert) is a next-generation, mobile customer loyalty and engagement solution. To learn more about MicroStrategy, visit www.microstrategy.com and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

MicroStrategy, MicroStrategy Analytics Platform, MicroStrategy Mobile, MicroStrategy Identity Platform, MicroStrategy Loyalty Platform, MicroStrategy Usher, MicroStrategy Cloud and MicroStrategy PRIME are either trademarks or registered trademarks of MicroStrategy Incorporated in the United States and certain other countries. Other product and company names mentioned herein may be the trademarks of their respective owners.

Welcome – Part 2

MichaelWelcome to my MicroStrategy Tips & Tricks blog. I have been kicking around the idea of creating a MicroStrategy-specific blog for a few years now. With Bryan Brandow not being as prolific these days with his excellent MicroStrategy blog, http://www.bryanbrandow.com, I thought I would make an attempt to try to fill that void (personally, I think Bryan is not replaceable).

I will try to focus mostly on providing interesting and useful tips and tricks related to the entire MicroStrategy platform. That is soup to nuts or Intelligence Server to Mobile, so to speak.

Right now, my main areas of main interest are in developing interactive, dynamic reports for Web and Mobile (most notably iPad). I have a strong passion for data visualization and have a sister site you can visit at http://www.datavizblog.com.

My company is called Data Archaeology, but I am not currently actively seeing business or employment. I am working a fairly long-term contract in retail and hope I will be able to continue to do so as time progresses.

I have decided not to allow sponsorship of my site so I can be objective about MicroStrategy as well as all the third-party vendors who provide goods and services related to MicroStrategy. You will not see me beating up on the MicroStrategy platform or any of its executive leadership (well, maybe some scolding). I have met Michael Saylor, Founder and CEO of MicroStrategy, many times over the years and I agree with him sometimes and sometimes I don’t. But it is his company and vision and I need to respect that. Michael is very focused on Mobile and Security right now, but I will gently remind him here that a lot of us are still doing enterprise reporting with MicroStrategy and to not take his eye of that ball too.

I have met Paul Zolfaghari,  President of MicroStrategy, several times and think he is perfect for that position. Paul is affable, accessible, and truly wants his customers to be happy.

I am a Principal MicroStrategy Consultant with Data Archaeology (consider this blog and my data visualization blog my Web Data Archaeology, Inc.site). My mantra that I  preach to everyone (or anyone who will listen) is to get our business partners or clients excited about their data. Now the way to do that could come in many different forms: great data visualization, self-service BI, data on multiple devices, properly organized data that is easy to access, ask questions, and provide actionable insights.

If you want to contact me directly, please drop me an e-mail at michael@dataarchaeology.net.

For you folks who will be at MicroStrategy World this week, I will be there Wednesday and Thursday. See if you can match my avatar to my face and stop me and say “Hi!”

Thanks for visiting and I hope to see you often.

Best regards,

Michael

Tips & Tricks #1: How to filter more than one substring in the Find search box when selecting a long list of elements from a dynamic prompt list

There are cases in which a dynamic prompt is used to qualify attributes selected to be part of a report, but the attribute list is very long.

Attributes like ‘Street Address’ may contain keywords like ‘St’, ‘Ave’, ‘Dr’ that can be used to reduce the list of selected elements.

It is possible to filter the list using the find box and to include one or more substrings that can be logically ‘ORed’ (Will be included if any of the substrings is found) or logically ‘ANDed’ (Will be included if all substrings).

Pattern delimiters are ‘ ‘ (space), ‘%’ and ‘_ ‘

Space or blank  = will be used for logical ‘OR’

‘%’  =  Will be used for logical ‘AND’  usually in pairs (begin-end of string)

‘_’   =  Will be used as wildcard in lieu of space (blank)

 CASE 1: Filter all attributes that contains ‘z’ or ‘x’ strings:

Case1

In this example, all listed addresses contains string ‘z’ OR string ‘x’ in any position of the description.

CASE 2: Filter all attributes that contains first the string ‘Old’ AND then ‘Hwy':

Case2

Observe that substring ‘Old’ and ‘Hwy’ can be part of other string and can start in any position.  However, using %Hwy%%Old% will produce a different result.

In this example, this filter will produce an empty list as there is no address that have substring ‘Hwy’ before ‘Old’.

CASE 3: Filter all attributes that contains the substring ‘Old Hwy':

Case3

Special character  ‘_’ should be used to represent a single space. Cannot be duplicated for representing multiple space.

In this example, if the filter were ‘_Old_Hwy’, the last two elements will not be shown as they do not begin with spaces.

NOTE: Examples shown in MicroStrategy Desktop, but it apply also to the Web interface when using the find box in dynamic prompts.

Has MicroStrategy Toppled Tableau as the Analytics King?

MicroStrategy Analytics

In a recent TDWI article titled Analysis: MicroStrategy’s Would-Be Analytics King, Stephen Swoyer, who is a technology writer based in Nashville, TN, stated that business intelligence (BI) stalwart MicroStrategy Inc. pulled off arguably the biggest coup at Teradata Corp.’s recent Partners User Group (Partners) conference, announcing a rebranded, reorganized, and — to some extent — revamped product line-up.

One particular announcement drew great interest: MicroStrategy’s free version of its discovery tool — Visual Insight — which it packages as part of a new standalone BI offering: MicroStrategy Analytics Desktop.

With Analytics Desktop, MicroStrategy takes dead aim at insurgent BI offerings from QlikTech Inc., Tibco Spotfire, and — most particularly — Tableau Software Inc.

MicroStrategy rebranded its products into three distinct groups: the MicroStrategy Analytics Platform (consisting of MicroStrategy Analytics Enterprise version 9.4 — an updated version of its v9.3.1 BI suite); MicroStrategy Express (its cloud platform available in both software- and platform-as-a-service  subscription options; and MicroStrategy Analytics Desktop (a single-user, BI discovery solution). MicroStrategy Analytics Enterprise takes a page from Tableau’s book via support for data blendinga technique that Tableau helped to popularize.

“We’re giving the business user the tools to join data in an ad hoc sort of environment, on the fly. That’s a big enhancement for us. The architectural work that we did to make that enhancement work resulted in some big performance improvements [in MicroStrategy Analytics Enterprise]: we improved our query performance for self-service analytics by 40 to 50 percent,” said Kevin Spurway, senior vice president of marketing with MicroStrategy.

Spurway — who, as an interesting aside, has a JD from Harvard Law School — said MicroStrategy implements data blending in much the same way that Tableau does: i.e., by doing it in-memory. Previous versions of MicroStrategy BI employed an interstitial in-memory layer, Spurway said; the performance improvements in MicroStrategy Analytics Enterprise result from shifting to an integrated in-memory design, he explained.

“It’s a function of just our in-memory [implementation]. Primarily it has to do with the way the architecture on our end works: we used to have kind of a middle in-memory layer that we’ve removed.”

Spurway described MicroStrategy Desktop Analytics as a kind of trump card: a standalone, desktop-oriented version of the MicroStrategy BI suite — anchored by its Visual Insight tool and designed to address the BI discovery use case. Desktop Analytics can extract data from any ODBC-compliant data source. Like Enterprise Analytics, it’s powered by an integrated in-memory engine.

In other words: a Tableau-killer.

“That [Visual Insight] product has been out there but has always been kind of locked up in our Enterprise product,” he said, acknowledging that MicroStrategy offered Visual Insight as part of its cloud stack, too. “You had to be a MicroStrategy customer who obviously has implemented the enterprise solution, or you could get it through Express, [which is] great for some people, but not everybody wants a cloud-based solution. With [MicroStrategy Desktop Analytics], you go to our website, download and install it, and you’re off and running — and we’ve made it completely free.”

The company’s strategy is that many users will, as Spurway put it, “need more.” He breaks the broader BI market into two distinct segments — with a distinct, Venn-diagram-like area of overlap.

“There’s a visual analytics market. It’s a hot market, which is primarily being driven by business-user demand. Then there’s the traditional business intelligence market, and that market has been there for 20 years. It’s not growing as quickly, and there’s some overlap between the two,” he explained.

“The BI market is IT-driven. For business users, they need speed, they need better ways to analyze their data than Excel provides; they don’t want impediments, they need quick time to value. The IT organization cares about … things … [such as] traditional reporting [and] information-driven applications. Those are apps that are traditionally delivered at large scale and they have to rely on data that’s trusted, that’s modeled.”

If or when users “need more,” they can “step up” to MicroStrategy’s on-premises (Enterprise Analytics) or cloud (Express) offerings, Spurway pointed out. “The IT organization has to support the business users, but they also need to support the operationalization of analytics,” he argued, citing the goal of embedding analytics into the business process. “That can mean a variety of things. It can mean a very simple report or dashboard that’s being delivered every day to a store manager in a Starbucks. They’re not going to need Visual Insight for something like that — they’re not going to need Tableau. They need something that’s simplified for everyday usage.”

MicroStrategy Analytics Powerful

Something More, Something Else

Many in the industry view self-service visual discovery as the culmination of traditional BI.

One popular narrative holds that QlikTech, Tableau, and Spotfire helped establish and popularize visual discovery as an (insurgent) alternative to traditional BI. Spurway sought to turn this view on its head, however: Visual discovery, he claimed, “is a starting point. It draws you in. The key thing that we bring to the table is the capability to bridge the gap between traditional model, single-version-of-the-truth business intelligence and fast, easy, self-service business analytics.”

In Spurway’s view, the usefulness or efficacy of BI technologies shouldn’t be plotted on a linear time-line, e.g., anchored by greenbar reports on the extreme left and culminating in visual discovery on the far right. Visual discovery doesn’t complete or supplant traditional BI, he argued, and it isn’t inconceivable that QlikTech, Tableau, and Spotfire — much like MicroStrategy and all of the other traditional BI powers that now offer visual discovery tools as part of their BI suite — might augment their products with BI-like accoutrements.

Instead of a culmination, Spurway sees a circle — or, better still, a möbius strip: regardless of where you begin with BI, at some point — in a large enough organization — you’re going to traverse the circle or (as with a möbius strip) come out the other side.

There might be something to this. From the perspective of the typical Tableau enthusiast, for example, the expo floor at last year’s Tableau Customer Conference (TCC), held just outside of Washington, D.C. in early September, probably offered a mix of the familiar, the new, and the plumb off-putting. For example, Tableau users tend to take a dim view of traditional BI, to say nothing of the data integration (DI) or middleware plumbing that’s associated with it: “Just let me work already!” is the familiar cry of the Tableau devotee. However, TCC 2013 played host to several old-guard exhibitors — including IBM Corp., Informatica Corp., SyncSort Inc., and Teradata Corp. — as well as upstart players such as WhereScape Inc. and REST connectivity specialist SnapLogic Inc.

These vendors weren’t just exhibiting, either. As a case in point, Informatica and Tableau teamed up at TCC 2013 to trumpet a new “strategic collaboration.” As part of this accord, Informatica promised to certify its PowerCenter Data Virtualization Edition and Informatica Data Services products for use with Tableau. In an on-site interview, Ash Parikh, senior director of emerging technologies with Informatica, anticipated MicroStrategy’s Spurway by arguing that organizations “need something more.” MicroStrategy’s “something more” is traditional BI reporting and analysis; Informatica’s and Tableau’s is visual analytic discovery.

“Traditional business intelligence alone does not cut it. You need something more. The business user is demanding faster access to information that he wants, but [this] information needs to be trustworthy,” Parikh argued. “This doesn’t mean people who have been doing traditional business intelligence have been doing something wrong; it’s just that they have to complement their existing approaches to business intelligence,” he continued, stressing that Tableau needs to complement — and, to some extent, accommodate — enterprise BI, too.

“From a Tableau customer perspective, Tableau is a leader in self-service business intelligence, but Tableau [the company] is very aware of the fact that if they want to become the standard within an enterprise, the reporting standard, they need to be a trusted source of information,” he said.

Among vendor exhibitors at TCC 2013, this term — “trusted information” or some variation — was a surprisingly common refrain. If Tableau wants to be taken seriously as an enterprisewide player, said Rich Dill, a solutions engineer with SnapLogic, it must be able to accommodate the diversity of enterprise applications, services, and information resources. More to the point, Dill maintained, it must do so in a way that comports with corporate governance and regulatory strictures.

“[Tableau is] starting to get into industries where audit trails are an issue. I’ve seen a lot of financial services and healthcare and insurance businesses here [i.e., at TCC] that have to comply with audit trails, auditability, and logging,” he said. In this context, Dill argued, “If you can’t justify in your document where that number came from, why should I believe it? The data you’re making these decisions on came from these sources, but are these sources trusted?”

Mark Budzinski, vice president and general manager with WhereScape, offered a similar — and, to be sure, similarly self-serving — assessment. Tableau, he argued, has “grown their business by appealing to the frustrated business user who’s hungry for data and analytics anyway they can get it,” he said, citing Tableau’s pioneering use of data blending, which he said “isn’t workable [as a basis for decision-making] across the enterprise. You’re blending data from all of these sources, and before you know it, the problem that the data’s not managed in the proper place starts to rear its ugly head.”

Budzinski’s and WhereScape’s pitch — like those of IBM and Teradata — had a traditional DM angle. “There’s no notion of historical data in these blends and there’s no consistency: you’re embedding business rules at the desktop, [but] who’s to say that this rule is the same as the [rule used by the] guy in the next unit. How do you ensure integrity of the data and [ensure that] the right decisions were made? The only way to do that is in some data warehouse-, data mart-[like] thing.”

Stephen Swoyer can be reached at stephen.swoyer@spinkle.net.

MicroStrategy to focus on customers, not ‘PowerPoint slides,’ at MicroStrategy World conference

Source: Chris Kanaracus, IDG News Service, PCWorld, Business & Finance Software

Paul Zolfaghari President, MicroStrategy

While some vendor conferences can end up mired in technical minutiae, MicroStrategy believes it’s better to show, not tell customers how its BI (business intelligence) software works, according to its president, Paul Zolfaghari.

”More than 50 MicroStrategy customers will deliver presentations at the event, which has about 130 sessions planned in total, according to a statement. They include BMC Software, Flextronics, Nielsen, Panda Restaurant Group and Publicis Touchpoint Solutions.

Scheduled for keynotes are Facebook CIO Tim Campos and Gucci CIO Simone Pacciarini, who will discuss their use of Microstrategy technology.When it does discuss products at the event, Microstrategy plans to showcase its recently released Analytics Desktop, a self-service BI tool that is available at no charge, as well as its push into mobile BI, Zolfaghari said.

Mobility has transformed the BI market, in Zolfaghari’s view. Five or six years ago, companies largely ran some internal reports and rolled the results up the corporate food chain, he said. “What’s happened is BI has now moved massively outside of HQ.”

It’s also likely MicroStrategy will discuss the massively parallel in-memory computing architecture it’s been working on with Facebook. The technology should be commercially available from MicroStrategy later this year, showing up first in MicroStrategy’s cloud BI offering, according to Zolfaghari.

The conference comes as MicroStrategy, the industry’s last remaining large pure BI vendor, faces ever-stiffer competition from platform companies such as Oracle and SAP, as well as upstarts like Tableau and Birst.

But MicroStrategy is keeping an edge thanks to a number of key strategic decisions, according to a recently released Forrester Research report on the BI market.

”MicroStrategy has grown organically and architected its entire suite as a single platform,” analyst Boris Evelson wrote. “Forrester clients find that, after making the initial investment and effort in MicroStrategy, the reusability of all objects and the relational OLAP engine with drill-anywhere capability often result in a lower long-term total cost of ownership.”

Forrester clients are also having success rolling out mobile BI based on MicroStrategy’s platform, Evelson said.

But there’s some cause for concern over MicroStrategy’s “high reliance on a largely disappearing network of partners, many of which have been acquired,” for architectural components such as ETL (extract, transform and load), data quality and MDM (master data management), Evelson added.

Zolfaghari downplayed the impact of its partners being acquired, noting that Informatica, a major provider of such tools, remains independent. MicroStrategy also maintains “robust relationships” with companies such as IBM, SAP and Oracle, he said.

MicroStrategy World runs from Jan. 27-30.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for the IDG News Service. More by

Data Archaeology Selected as One of the 2014 MicroStrategy World Dashboard Contest Winners

Click here to learn more about MicroStrategy World 2014

Hello Readers:

Data Archaeology, Inc.I recently found out I am one of the 2014 winners of the MicroStrategy World Dashboard Contest. I was also one of the winners last year.

I get a free pass to MicroStrategy World in Las Vegas which is the last week of this month. Last year, they gave us awards too. Not sure yet if they will do the same this year.

An Exploration of Tax Data

My dashboard is an exploration of tax data. It explores taxes rates for the top ten counties in terms of GDP.

I used horizontal stacked bar charts instead so that the viewer can visually see how social security and income tax rate add up to the total and explains visually why the countries are ordered the way they are on the dashboard. I also separated out $100K and $300K percentages into separate visuals.

In addition, I added the flags of the countries. Yes, I know, chart junk!

Now, you don’t see any numbers on the data points in this dashboard. The reason you don’t see them is because they appear when you mouse over a bar where you then see the country, category and the percent value as a tooltip.

Here is a screenshot of my entry. It was written with MicroStrategy v9.3.1, Report Services and the Visualization SDK.

Best regards,

Michael

Click on image to enlarge

DA_An_Exploration_of_Tax_Data

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