Pushing Needed Data

MicroStrategy hones capabilities, but reporting still lags

With lower entry-level pricing, new querying and reporting options, and simplified implementation, MicroStrategy Inc. aims to widen its namesake suites appeal beyond its traditional high-end OLAP user base.

Strategic features such as an improved narrowcasting option, a Java-based API and an open XML (Extensible Markup Language) architecture make MicroStrategy 7.1 a comprehensive enterprise business intelligence platform, and its thin-client Web interfaces rival client/server counterparts in performance and breadth of features.

However, eWeek Labs tests show that MicroStrategy 7.1s reporting features are not up to par with its superior online analytical processing capabilities. Competitors, including Cognos Inc.s business intelligence suite, offer more versatile reporting options.

MicroStrategy Narrowcast Server, released this month, completes Version 7.1. (The core Intelligence Server and other client components were released in May.) Prices for one Intelligence Server and five user licenses start at around $20,000. Narrowcast Server 7.1 is also available separately, priced at $95 per user. This server enables companies to cut through the data noise created by disparate computer systems, pushing personalized information to employees no matter where they are.

In tests, we used the new MicroStrategy Project Builder and Architect modules to define data models and project settings in the Intelligence Servers repository. We used MicroStrategys desktop client software and a Web browser to design and execute reports. Both approaches worked well.

We used Narrowcast Server to schedule daily checks of inventory and e-mail us when stock levels were low. Narrowcast Server can also be set to provide wireless or voice output.

Like MicroStrategy, Cognos combines OLAP, querying and reporting into a single software suite. MicroStrategy and Cognos are nearly even in OLAP capabilities, although MicroStrategy will scale to larger data volumes. Cognos, however, has better report design and functionality, including a WYSIWYG report editor lacking in MicroStrategy.

MicroStrategy generates optimized SQL code for querying most popular databases. Source databases can reside on any operating platform, but MicroStrategy Intelligence Server must be installed on a Windows NT or Windows 2000 server. The desktop administration and reporting components require Windows 95 or later. Micro- Strategy supports most Web browsers running on any operating platform.

Guided by wizards

Project Builder streamlines implementation: We used the modules wizardlike interface to jump-start several projects. The tool guided us through phases of defining a data source, measures and dimensional hierarchies to support multidimensional analysis and reporting.

We used MicroStrategys client software to create reports and export them to Microsofts Excel format. When opened in Excel, the spreadsheets retained the formatting of the original report. We could also export reports in such popular formats as Microsoft Access and Word.

We used MicroStrategys new ODBO (OLE DB for OLAP) provider to connect directly to the MicroStrategy server with Excel and retrieve multi-dimensional data into pivot tables in a spreadsheet. Users of ODBO-compliant software can use their client software to conduct OLAP sessions with the MicroStrategy server.

Companies that need integration with other applications or that need to customize or automate decision- support processes can use the MicroStrategy SDK (software developer kit), available separately at $4,995 per developer. Using the SDK, developers can embed MicroStrategys capabilities into custom applications.