Business intelligence used to be the purview of a small number of highly trained marketeers and product specialists. These people planned the number of crisp packets on a supermarket shelf, or emailed customers with what they hoped would be a profile-matching service.
Products that supported those activities were hideously expensive and did not reach the mass of people that might benefit from the technology.
Microstrategy plans to change that.
In 1997, Microstrategy developed broadcaster technology. This allowed the company to deliver business intelligence information to people with pagers and through email, rather than at the desktop.
The idea is that if enterprises can analyse far more information about their customers in exchange for a personalised service, then end users will be more likely to remain loyal to the service.
At its recent user conference, World 99, Michael Saylor, Microstrategy's chief executive, explained how he sees intelligent e-business developing over time.
"Convenience is about extending the personalised store front all the way to the pina colada hut on the beach," he said.
Uppermost in Saylor's vision is the notion that people will be willing to trade information for convenience.
Citing the example of an aircraft departure delay, Saylor said people want to be notified of the delay before they arrive at the airport check-in desk, and be provided with options about how that situation can be managed.
"I want my pager or phone to call me and tell me I can make an overnight reservation, go back to the office or have a rescheduled flight," he said.
Saylor plans to achieve that through a new set of technologies that build on Microstrategy's existing business intelligence suite, adding telecasting and an e-business enabled transaction engine to existing technology. The idea is to bypass complex business process integration by simply attaching to the Web page of a target site and then reading through that site to obtain the information needed for a particular application.
This is an ambitious strategy that has already consumed four years? development time for the next major product release, due mid-2000.
Despite Saylor's enthusiasm, a number of problems remain. Microstrategy has been successful in achieving high value deals with product that appeals to the large enterprise.
In its second quarter this year, for example, it closed three deals in excess of $5 million. Smaller enterprises will not pay that amount, regardless of the commercial threat, so Microstrategy has to find new business models that will allow customers a realistic entry point.
Another issue concerning customer acceptance relates to the current state of technology in the company?s chosen markets.
In the past, it has derived significant revenue from retail organisations, a trend it says is likely to continue though not to the exclusion of its other key markets: finance, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications and utilities.
But while this plays well in America, for many in Europe it is early days. Jonathan Summerfield, IT projects manager at Marks & Spencer, acknowledged that to do all the things Microstrategy envisages requires a huge investment in infrastructure.
M&S has been developing a single warehouse since 1996 and believes it will be mid-2000 before it completes a project designed to run a single data warehouse accessible to 50 buying departments.
"You have to get the infrastructure right before anything else can happen," said Summerfield. He hopes that by then, the project will be sufficiently advanced that M&S can take advantage of the personalisation capabilities in Microstrategy 7 that will allow it to create a profitable online store.
Does Microstrategy have it right? Saylor agreed he?s been lucky: "Sure, our technology put us in the right place at the right time."
Now, the company needs to execute strongly against the e-business message. That will require delivery of the new version on time and a market ready to exploit the features Microsstrategy expects to provide.
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