A New Analytics Tool from MicroStrategy

Being the analysis geek that I am, I’m always on the lookout for anything new in the data analysis and visualization space. New insights, techniques, people, datasets, tools, etc. always intrigue me and help keep things fresh. Any time I come across something new makes it a rewarding day, especially when it leads to something that can help me with my baseball analysis.

So today was one of those days where I stumbled across a new tool, courtesy of a new blog I also stumbled upon. The new tool comes courtesy of MicroStrategy, one of the mainline Business Intelligence (BI) players in the industry, and is called Analytics Desktop, and quite remarkably is a free tool (as in $0.00!). So of course I had to evaluate the latest (released October 2013) addition to this interesting space.

My previous impression of MicroStrategy was tepid at best, given my familiarity with their large scale BI installations for major corporations, including one I had previously used in the corporate world. It was highly structured, felt inflexible, and churned out canned reports that took too long to run. In short, I saw it as a dinosaur app, even several years ago, competing with the likes of Cognos and other major BI players in the world of operational reporting.

The new tool is clearly designed to compete with Tableau and other nimble, visually-oriented BI vendors who understand that the business analysis space has evolved (far) beyond applications that are controlled by the IT folks. Many of the old apps wind up gathering dust or are used to generate dull reports that shed little insight into the needs of the business. Good analysts have been bypassing those tools for years by dropping ad hoc data into Excel or (more recently) Tableau, where they can at least create some decent charts and tables without having to wage battles with unfriendly BI servers.

Enough of the background – what’s the early verdict? In a word, impressive! I’m only a couple hours in, but have managed to complete the installation, configure the connection to my databases, and begin playing with data. The user interface is easy to navigate, the charts are clean and nicely styled, and the ability to work with filters, pages, sorting, and more appears to make this a very powerful app. While some of my favorite chart types are not here – horizon charts, bullet charts, and a couple others – my first impressions are hugely favorable.

I’m going to give a more complete review soon, after I’ve had time to work through some of the ideas I had been intending for Excel. In the meantime, here’s a quick look at a dashboard I created using team level data.

Pretty sweet, isn’t it? The ability to combine multiple chart and data elements into a dashboard is one of the strengths of Analytics Desktop, and one that I expect to tap into in the coming weeks. Much more to come on this one.

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Ken Cherven is the Founder and Curator of the Visual-Baseball.com website. He loves to merge baseball data with all sorts of visualization methods - charts, network graphs, maps, etc. to provide greater insight into underlying data patterns. Ken also authors books about baseball and visualization, and loves to listen to jazz while drinking some wine, craft beer, or bourbon.