iPad in business: an interview with MicroStrategy Australia VP

29 September, 2010 by Macworld Australia Staff
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The iPad has been a massive success for Apple, having sold millions of the tablets in the few months that it’s been on the market. But it’s not just Apple and its fanboys who have benefited from the iPad’s success. Businesses are turning to the iPad in their droves for a whole range of benefits.

One such company is MicroStrategy, a global provider of business intelligence technology. What’s that mean exactly? Well, MicroStrategy makes software that enables organisations to report on, analyse, and monitor the data stored across their enterprise to reveal trends and gain insights for making better business decisions.

And one big business decision MicroStrategy itself has recently implemented was to provide around half of its staff with iPads. We asked MicroStrategy’s Australia and NZ vice president Patrick Elliott how the iPads are going.

AMW: What is MicroStrategy’s core business? In what ways do clients use the MicroStrategy Business Intelligence Platform?

PE: At its core, MicroStrategy is concerned with enabling companies to deliver information to decision makers, executives, task owners, clients and suppliers, in a timely, efficient and collaborative manner. Our clients come from virtually all industry verticals – retail, finance, the public sector, internet organisations, manufacturing, and many more. Businesses in just about any industry benefit from implementing BI. Overall, the solution allows organisations to create and deliver reports throughout an organisation, track and view huge amounts of data easily using dashboards, perform advanced analytics of company data, and set up alerts across an entire organisations’ user community at both internal levels (employees) and external (including clients and suppliers).

For example, implementing software like MicroStrategy’s in retail organisations allows companies to track loyalty programs and create supplier portal reports and dashboards. It also assists in loss prevention, data analysis and reporting, supply chain logistics reporting and the management of inventory. In the telecommunications industry, BI can track customer churn and revenue leakage, and perform call and network analysis. It also helps the business track product profitability, record and analyse market share statistics, and report on resource utilization and optimisation.

AMW: How much of the business does the Mobile app make up? How do iPad and iPhone app sales compare to those for BlackBerry?

PE: Although mobile solutions have been around for a few years – in fact, we’ve provided BlackBerry support for over 2 years – they’ve only truly taken off recently, with the arrival of the iPad. The extra “real estate” afforded by the iPad has made the device highly popular with senior executives, many of whom have now started to launch iPad initiatives. Once this top layer starts to receive and use dashboards and high level reports through BI, it’s only a matter of time before the software will be deployed to the levels below them – “the masses”, if you like. Since our iPad app launch a few months ago, the level of interest and activity from both existing clients and new prospects has grown to be about 40 percent of our overall local activity which is phenomenally fast and still growing! Furthermore, these initiatives are getting approved at a much quicker rate (within weeks versus months for traditional projects).

AMW: How do the salespeople use the iPads? Are they purely for demonstration, or do they work on them while out of the office? Have they replaced a need for laptops?

PE: MicroStrategy’s sales force and management use iPads for virtually every aspect of their day-to-day lives. As most of our internal systems are internet-based, this is an ideal environment for the team. They can perform demos, show client case studies and video testimonials, create quotes, follow up on client issues, and enter or approve leave applications, expense reports, and orders. They can send and receive emails, schedule and plan events and meetings in seconds, with hundreds, thousands of capabilities at their fingertips. Basically, most of our employees’ daily work tasks can be accomplished on the iPad, except perhaps for some of the more advanced document creation duties. When you combine these kinds of capabilities with the quick start up time of the iPad, employees can basically access their entire work environment anywhere, at any time, within seconds. All major consumption of information and documentation is effectively catered for by the iPad.

AMW: Has the iPad’s introduction resulted in a positive effect on sales?

PE: It’s still a bit too early to determine hard results, but sales activity around the iPad has increased by almost double since its release. We’ve also found that in long term accounts that already have a large MicroStrategy “footprint”, we’re constantly uncovering new opportunities (within both the traditional user community and new user communities) for suppliers and the mobile work force, particularly where sales people, employees checking meters, and those performing stock take in retail, are concerned.

AMW: How does use of the iPads by executives compare to that of the salespeople?

PE: Our executives lead by example and were among the first to adopt the iPad, leading to its proliferation, already over 1000 of our global 2000 employees use iPads to perform most of their daily tasks now. And the fact that iPad applications can be easily and quickly deployed (within weeks) means that more adoption is being driven across our clients’ industries.

When it comes to meetings, the iPad is making business way more fact based. When speaking to a customer, you have access to all the corporate data and facts you need, straight away. Plus, people are now tending to share their iPads to show others what they are viewing during meetings, whereas it’s rare that someone will slide a whole laptop across the boardroom table!

AMW: Do your staff use iPhones or BlackBerrys? Or a mix of both?

PE: Six months ago, we were predominantly a BlackBerry shop, whereas today we are very much an iPad and iPhone shop. We also expect great things from the upcoming Android devices and are excited to see what that will bring to our world, and how they’ll change it for the better.

AMW: Is security an issue for you or your customers when looking at iOS?

PE: iOS is very secure. Combined with our inherent security around roles and data access, security shouldn’t be a worry for MicroStrategy users on the iPhone or iPad. If a user loses their device, it can be wiped out remotely by the administrator, or by the device itself after a predetermined number of attempts. By using the “policy” feature as well we can lock down the iPad to the level that is required, allowing for extreme security without hindering accessibility to corporate data when it’s needed. This is truly an ideal combination for business on the move, and an invaluable function for all businesses who want to be moving forward.

AMW: Has the iOS success changed MicroStrategy’s long term strategies? Will there be a Mac version in the future?

PE: MicroStrategy’s long term vision has always been about getting the right information, to the right people, at the right time, in a constant and accurate manner. iOS just extends and accelerates this. With these devices, people can gain better, clearer, faster access to information, and they have the ability to create applications that are focused and specific to a particular person’s needs. Those consuming the information are able to pick and choose what they want to see, and how they see it.

As consumers of information, our expectations are changing – we now expect to be able to receive something within seconds of demanding it, from wherever we may be in the world. No longer do we accept being tethered to a desk or a terminal, and no longer do we wait to get the answers to our questions. If I can get most answers within seconds to most questions on most topics in the world via the internet, why shouldn’t I be able to get the same when it comes to my company and clients in a work environment? I think this is the birth of the “Gen i”.

You can find out more about MicroStrategy at its website, and see the iPad and iPhone apps on the App Store.

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