If companies were judged solely on the basis of how optimistic and enthusiastic their employees are about attaining success, MicroStrategy Inc. of Vienna, Va., would certainly be near the top.
Built around the vision of "a crystal ball on every desktop," this developer of relational online analytical processing tools and solutions is growing fast and gearing up to become a major player in the computer software industry.
MicroStrategy is currently partnering with systems integrators such as Andersen Consulting, Chicago, and Computer Sciences Corp., El Segundo, Calif., which package the ROLAP tools in systems they design for their customers. Those tools are used for database modeling, very large database optimization and decision support software applications.
It is also teaming with value-added resellers such as ACNielsen Corp., Schaumburg, Ill., and Intrepid Systems, Alameda, Calif. They are taking MicroStrategy's engine and adding components for retail businesses and other applications.
MicroStrategy's ROLAP applications offer businesses the ability to tap into huge vaults of information about where their products are being purchased and by whom. With clients such as American Express Co., New York; K-Mart Corp., Troy, Mich.; Woolworth Corp., New York; and Xerox Corp., Stamford, Conn., it's clear ROLAP is being recognized throughout Fortune 1000 boardrooms worldwide.
The company has also forged relationships with a number of telcos, including AT&T, Basking Ridge, N.J.; MCI Communications Corp., Washington; Nynex Corp., New York; and Sprint Corp., Kansas City, Mo. Micro-Strategy trades its software designed to query databases with these information giants in return for access to their large demographic databases.
MicroStrategy's vision comes from founder Michael Saylor, its president and CEO. A 1987 graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass., Saylor formed the company in 1989 when he was 24. His presence is felt in many conversations echoing the halls of his brainchild - which has grown by 100 percent in revenues and personnel for eight consecutive years.
Much in the way that employees of Microsoft Corp., Redmond, Wash., view their leader in a down-to-earth light, almost any discussion by employees of MicroStrategy leads back to the man behind their business, known simply as "Michael."
"This company isn't just about making money," said Manish Acharya, marketing director. "Michael wants to change the way that people work. People have been engaged in the business of putting information into computers for 30 years. We want to set that information free," he said.
MicroStrategy's technology grew out of an application Saylor built for McDonald's Corp., Oak Brook, Ill., to determine where the fast food giant's marketing tactics were most effective. He did this while working as a decision support software venture manager for DuPont Co., Wilmington, Del.
"We built this company with no outside venture
capital (DuPont sponsored the company's start-up) and a grassroots approach," Saylor said. "Our success has been built on the basis of three critical principals: character, vision and competitiveness. A key factor has been our ability to envision the impact of technology," he said.
MicroStrategy might be the self-proclaimed inventor of
ROLAP but it is by no means the only company working on the technology right now. Oracle Corp., Redwood Shores, Calif.; Platinum Technology Inc., Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.; and Information Advantage Inc., Minneapolis, are all developing their own tools. An issue that will gain importance as more companies build ROLAP tools is competition for access to large-scale databases.
Industry analyst Brian Murphy of the Yankee Group, Boston, said that it is unclear whether ROLAP will remain an industry unto itself.
"MicroStrategy has elevated the rise of data warehousing and made a significant contribution to
ROLAP," said Murphy. "What remains to be seen is whether the industry can survive on its own," he said.
He noted that Oracle is coming out with a database product next month, one that it claims will do what ROLAP does internally. "MicroStrategy has got a real business going on but they are not sufficiently in a white-hot space. To pretend that other technologies could not arise and outdate
ROLAP to a certain extent would be unrealistic. The market has yet to be assured," Murphy said.
Saylor and the rest of his company want to use their jump on the competition to put a crystal ball on every desk before the competition has had time to catch up.
The company rolled out its Internet application in February 1996, DSS Web - ROLAP's killer application in the eyes of many MicroStrategy employees. Companies that own a database can use DSS Web to set up a Web site permitting users to query their information stores. This gives businesses the ability to look at demographics previously available only to those companies that could afford to pay for the creation of their own information storage systems or database searching solutions.
The DSS Web product offers users advanced multidimensional analysis from any Web browser. At this point, companies using the tool are considering different methods of charging for the service. Approaches now being tried include charging a monthly subscription fee for unlimited access or charging by the query.
"The early days of decision
support technology were given over to providing users access to information," said Sid Banerjee, MicroStrategy's director of consulting.
"What companies are looking for today is intelligent technology. They want the applications tailored to tell what information they should be looking for. In order
for us to stay on top of the current wave, we will need to work on the Web applications," he said.
Banerjee describes the DSS Web product as the bridge that connects the different technologies of the Web and data warehousing. An enhancement of the technology now being developed is "recommended actions dashboards," which highlight trends that are pertinent to a user's business.
The limitations of today's databases exposed by ROLAP must also be corrected, according to Banerjee. As the technology has developed, MicroStrategy has been working with database manufacturers to improve the performance of their machines. The company's so-called "microstrategists" are working developers at Oracle Corp.; IBM Corp., Armonk, N.Y.; and Informix Software Inc., Menlo Park, Calif., to improve the quality of their databases.