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August 10, 2011

‘We’re pushing the accelerator to the floor’: Q&A with Michael Saylor, CEO of MicroStrategy

Jason Stamper talks to Michael Saylor, chairman, president and CEO of MicroStrategy, the BI firm he co-founded in 1989 and which suffered a setback in 2000 when it had to restate certain financials. But with record license revenue, a new release of its core platform and a growing presence in the mobile BI space, it is a force to be reckoned with

By Jason Stamper

Michael Saylor, MicroStrategy

Have you been surprised by how rapidly mobile business intelligence has caught people’s attention?
I don’t think we were surprised. I’ve been enthusiastic since really the iPhone 3. I think it was an inflection point because it was really the first smartphone with the full power of a computer that could start to run software applications that otherwise you’d have gone on to the web for. Since that point we’ve seen a progressive transformation and migration from computation on the desktop in the Windows API to computation in the mobile API, with iOS [from Apple] being the most successful but with Android following.

What are the other trends you are seeing impacting BI?
I think there are three electric waves, if not tsunamis, that are striking the technology world right now, and they’re remaking everything. One of them is the mobile network transformation, the second is the cloud network transformation, and the third is the social network transformation.

If you try to abstract what they really mean in conceptual terms, the mobile transformation is the migration of client software activity from the desktop into the mobile device. The significance of the cloud network tsunami is that we’re seeing incredible, almost unlimited computing power being unleashed into the cloud where it can be accessed on demand in real time, in an ad hoc fashion by any random person. Another way to say that is that the locus of server-side processing is moving from the data centre out into the cloud where you can bring it to bear for a variety of tasks that weren’t structured before.

The social network is significant because Facebook is now the most powerful customer database in the history of the world. And it’s such a good database that it’s obsolesced thousands of customer databases that we built back in the ’90s and over the past decade.

What is the combined effect of putting these three trends together – mobile, cloud and social?
Our company’s reaction is to push the accelerator to the floor. We’ve aggressively increased our software development rate. We’ve created an application development division to create applications that integrate the social and cloud networks back into our customers’ applications and also our own, like Wisdom. There are three more coming this summer: Usher, Alert and Emma. We’ve created a Cloud Intelligence division and we hired the former CIO of Lowes Hardware, a $50bn company, to go ahead and put in place our own backbone.

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We want to make sure that when four intelligent guys create the next application to help you choose your doctor, or choose where you’re going to go or how you’re going to live, they can deploy it out to 100,000 or a million people without having to establish a 100-person IT department.

But what precise role do you want your company to have in the era of cloud?
We’re currently deploying a cloud intelligence offering that is a worldwide set of data centres. We’ve just set up one here in London to serve the EU, we’ve set up one in the States and we’ll set up one in Asia shortly.

We’ve laid in place optimal configurations of hardware, database licenses, software and IT professionals so that we’re standing ready to host any application built on our platform anywhere in the world.

Is MicroStrategy big enough to compete with the deep pockets of your BI rivals?
Absolutely. When we went public in 1998 there were 50 companies in this industry. By 2008 we were down to four or so, then Business Objects, Hyperion and Cognos all got bought up.

That left us as the largest independent publicly traded company in the market place [SAS is larger, but privately held, though Saylor says they don’t tend to compete directly with SAS]. In our last two quarters top line grew north of 30% and license revenue grew north of 50%, and they’re two of the best quarters we’ve had in the last decade.

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