MicroStrategy’s Klein: Enterprise analytics base confers mobile edge

Jonathan Klein, president and chief legal officer of business intelligence company MicroStrategy, talks to Computer Weekly

Jonathan Klein (pictured) is the president and chief legal officer of business intelligence (BI) company MicroStrategy. He joined the company in 1997 as corporate counsel, after being an appellate litigator with the United States Department of Justice.

In the wake of the company’s user conference in Barcelona, he briefed Computer Weekly on MicroStrategy’s strategy. Among the company’s enterprise customers are Shell, Bayer and Adidas, and he contends their experiences illustrate the evolution of cloud and mobile BI. What follows is an edited version of that interview.

Q. What are the top strategic issues for MicroStrategy today?

A. I would say the top strategic initiatives for us are continuing to build out technology that is making the lives of our customers better. 

You can often get caught up in the theoretical value of your technology, but when you see it in the hands of your customers and how they're using it, as well as the impact and difference it's making on their operations, that's what's really interesting for us.

Our new pricing and packaging might seem a mundane matter. However, the truth is when you make it easier for your customers to appreciate the full richness of your platform, you've shown a way that's easy to license and easy to deploy, as well as eliminating what otherwise might have been impediments to broad-scale users in deployment.

It's taking the assets we've spent so much time creating, and put so much of our heart and soul into bringing to market, and putting them in the hands of more customers and more users. We feel that's a very strategic initiative on our part.

Other strategic areas we are continuing to extend our leadership in are mobile and cloud. Those are the two areas in which we think we've got a big lead on the competitors, and we really do believe that both of those enable applications to be brought to market in a much quicker and less expensive way.

Q. Now with MicroStrategy’s identity management system Usher, I guess you would say enterprise analytics and security have to go hand in hand. Would you say that?

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A. You need to be really good at data and analytics to have a true mobile identity platform. We have 25 years of experience there. Further, you need to be great at mobile – where we were first to market. Fundamentally, you also need to have – at the core of your DNA – an understanding and appreciation of enterprise security. 

Having run some of the most mission-critical applications for customers from Bank of America, Citigroup and Facebook, it is part of who we are.

Q. Do you think you have an advantage over the traditional infosecurity players?

A. I definitely think we've come to it with a fresh set of eyes, and that's an advantage. But the other sources of competitive advantage we have are that we've been investing in the area now for more than two years, and have a very significant number of technologists and engineers that are focused intently on this.

Second, we're a publicly traded enterprise software company. If you can, as we do, enter into a relationship with the likes of Northrop Grumman or Honeywell as a business that has proven itself successful at delivering enterprise software systems that go out to tens of thousands of people, then you have a sense of credibility that maybe a Silicon Valley startup wouldn't have.

Q. Who is using Usher?

A. There are quite a number of customers now who are in the process of deploying it – two of the largest banks in the world, major insurance companies and quite a number of our government agencies.

We're working closely with Northrop Grumman, one of the largest military defence contractors in the world. They found us because they were searching for an identity platform system to partner with their bid for the $20bn Department of Commerce project called FirstNet Solution – a nationwide first-responder network.

There's a project in the UK which is very similar to FirstNet – it's a nationwide first-responder network in the United Kingdom. Northrop Grumman is involved in bidding for that project, and they've asked us to partner with them there as well.

Q. There has been been a lot of development in the traditional business intelligence (BI) market in the past few years, and there is the big data phenomenon. How do you see the BI market landscape now? On the one hand you've got your traditional foes that are part of the mega suppliers, and on the other you've got the data discovery players like Qlik and Tableau, as well as cloud BI, in which Birst figures. How do you see it?

A. The industry analysts will tell you the winners in the market will be those who serve the needs of their customers across all metrics, and so those with the ability to deploy agilely – from departmental work all the way up to enterprise class deployment of very large data sets – will win. We believe we are well positioned there.

Q. One of the customer presentations I attended at MicroStrategy World was Shell’s, and it was interesting they had chosen MicroStrategy over SAP for their mobile analytics system. They chose MicroStrategy over SAP to work with Hana. Are you seeing a lot of that?

We have been in business since 1989, and actually that's a source of pride for us because if you look at the landscape of enterprise BI companies who have come and gone in that time, the numbers are legion

Jonathan Klein, MicroStrategy

A. We made early investments in supporting the Hana architecture, and we've been very pleased with the number of customers that may even be SAP shops through and through who still select MicroStrategy for analytics on top of Hana.

Q. What would you say to a view that you're part of the old guard of BI, as opposed to some of the newer players? How do you react to that characterisation of MicroStrategy as part of a first wave of BI that's not delivered what it promised?

A. We have been in business since 1989, and actually that's a source of pride for us because if you look at the landscape of enterprise BI companies who have come and gone in that time, the numbers are legion.

And if you look at the customers who are selecting us today, they are the most technologically forward-thinking companies that have their choice of any technology sources. So whether it's eBay, Facebook or Amazon, these are organisations that are very sophisticated when it comes to technology choice. 

They're well aware we've been in business for some time, but they view that as a source of strength because we've been around long enough to understand what's important, and we're there to make those investments to continue their success.

So, we wouldn't describe ourselves as old guard. We describe ourselves as having the experience and maturity to continue to remain a leader in this space.

Q. How do you see the role of corporate IT changing with respect to what you have to offer? Quite often suppliers say to me their big interest now is reaching line of business and not getting too bogged down in conversations with corporate IT. How do you position MicroStrategy with respect to that shift from corporate IT to business?

A. We have historically had very strong relationships with the corporate IT department, and we would expect that to continue in the future. There's no question that line of business has a lot of decision power and budgetary authority is shifting over to line of business, and that's why we're enthusiastic about the product offerings and the messaging we have for line of business decision makers.

But at the same time, we – or others who are interested in being successful – would be remiss if we did not always keep in mind the ease of use and deployability of our products is very important, and we believe our suite is a very powerful enabler for the corporate IT department as well.

Q. But it's not an index of success that your conversational needle is shifting away from corporate IT towards more senior management?

A. That profile has been raised, and we will remain focused on delivering great systems that are useful and beneficial to the owners of the business lines, all the way up to the executives running the company. 

So that's a focus and priority of ours, but I wouldn't say it's to the detriment of the IT department. We feel if you deliver systems that are easy to use and easy to deploy, and provide great short-term returns on investments, it makes the IT departments look great too.

Q. How significant is cloud BI to MicroStrategy?

A. It's highly significant. Both the MicroStrategy cloud and the MicroStrategy offering in Amazon cloud are highly significant because they offer the ability to our customers – current and prospects – to deploy applications so much more quickly and ensure they always have the latest version of the software running.

Q. Is cloud BI more important than mobile BI?

A. It's sort of like asking you to pick which one of your children you like best. Mobile and cloud are two enormous strategic areas for us. In fact, they're very complementary. When you deploy in a cloud, it makes it much easier to then quickly roll out the mobile solution to all your constituents. 

Mobile's very important to us. We've got a great relationship with Apple, and mobile is obviously at the core of what we're doing with identity as well. Mobile's very important, but the cloud is as well. I'd say they're two extremely strategic priorities for us.

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