9.3 Feature Roundup

MicroStrategy has just released a major update in the form of 9.3 that’s packed with some very exciting features.  Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to spend as much time with this release as I have in past, but I did get a little look at it and below I’ll highlight the features I’m most excited about.

Search
The headlining feature of this release is the new Search interface!  This thing is very sweet and works just how you would expect.  It can become the default starting screen you see when opening a project, and it gives you a Google-style search box to find any report just by starting to type it’s name.  The typeahead drop down starts to autofill with matches before you’ve finished a word and initial results start to flow on the page below, similar to Google Instant.
The Search integration is deeper than just finding reports though.  From a Blank Report, instead of browsing for objects and dragging them on, you can now simply click on the columns/rows and start typing the name of the Attribute/Metric you want and find them much faster.  It starts to resemble creating a report by describing it instead of locating all of the building blocks.  Curiously, the search applies to the Page-by section as well, but not the Report Filter, so it kind of breaks the spell when you’ve quickly typed out all of your objects and then need to browse for a filter.  The search magic returns for drilling from any grid by simply hovering your mouse in the gap between two columns, and a little search box will pop up for you to type in.
Web
  • Dynamic Metric Aliasing is a feature everyone has wanted at one time or another.  It basically lets you put certain macros directly into your Metric aliases so that the column names can contain context specific values for display.  For example, if you choose “2012” in a report prompt, you can now have a column labeled “2012 Revenue”.
  • Derived Elements are now supported in all reports, not just View Reports.  I feel that this will add tremendous value and greatly help with report flexibility since previously we would have had to rely on Consolidations or Custom Groups.  Consolidations always have the problem of being difficult to maintain while Custom Groups generally cause poor performance.  With Derived Elements, you get easy maintenance and fast in-memory processing.


Intelligence Server

  • Parallel SQL Execution will allow independent passes in a multisource report run at the same time instead of sequentially.  This is especially useful with multisource reports so that you can leverage multiple databases running simultaneously instead of waiting for one to finish before the next can start.
  • Installation files are replaced by compartmentalized installed per product.  This means if you need to install Desktop on a user’s machine, you don’t have to send them 3gb of files.


Visual Insight
VI saw a huge upgrade in this release with lots of commonly requested features added including combining multiple visualizations in a single view, support for selectors, multiple datasets, themes, new export modes and overall a 30% speed improvement.  It’s interesting to me to see how much VI is borrowing and loaning features to the core product and I wonder if it’s a matter of time before the two merge and this becomes the standard UI across all of MicroStrategy (just my conjecture).

Data Import
Enhancements include automatic aggregation for Date and Geography dimensions.  If your data only provides a Date or Zip Code, MicroStrategy can automatically provide Week/Month/Quarter/Year and City/State/Country attributes as well.

Dashboards

  • Searchbox Selector is the feature that excites me the most.  It’s basically a list box style selector, except instead of giving you a long, endlessly scrolling list of options, it gives you a simple search box that updates live as you type.  This will let you build a cleaner UI but still provide the user the flexibility to explore the data on the fly.
  • Filter Panels are a new type of object with some pretty cool special properties.  This special type of Panel Stack can only contain Selectors and allows you to collapse the controls leaving a short summary of the current view. 
  • Synchronized Drilling allows you to have multiple grids/graphs on a Dashboard, and drilling on one will cause the other linked ones to drill.  This is not the same as a Selector which always allowed you to target multiple objects, but actually drilling inside a grid or graph.
  • Google Maps integration gets a really cool feature called Density Maps, which are basically Geo Heat Maps and will allow you to create some really cool looking maps in your Dashboards.

Distribution Services
Narrowcast has had one foot in the grave since 9.0 saw the release of Distribution Services, and the second foot may be coming down now with two key features appearing in 9.3:
  • Bursting allows you to subscribe to a single report but slice it’s pages out into separate files.  While Narrowcast also supports using this method to send emails, it appears that Distribution Services is only supporting file exports for now, but at least the foundation is there.
  • Dynamic Recipient Lists were a life saving feature in Narrowcast if you ever needed it, and now it makes a welcome appearance in Distribution Services.  This allows you to maintain a list of recipients in a database table instead of manually creating all of the subscriptions.
System Manager
This is a new administration tool that allows you to automate workflows for tasks.  While mostly intended for OEM distributions and Cloud management, it also provides some handy automation for larger tasks in an environment ranging from installations to configurations.  In a large, high availability environment, this tool would allow you to basically script out the upgrade.  This means you could test your script in different QA environments before applying a fully automated upgrade to production, greatly reducing those weekend/late night upgrade projects.  System Manager integrates with all of the existing administration tools including Enterprise Manager, Command Manager, Object Manager and Integrity Manager.
Command Manager
Command Manager has learned a bunch of new tricks (too many to list), but one I’ve desperately been waiting for is the ability to create Subscriptions and provide Prompt Answers.  Basically every subscription I’ve ever needed to create involved prompt answers, and now that creation can be automated.  
Data Mining Services
The dark horse of MicroStrategy gains some really cool new features.
  • R is a fast growing statistical programming language that now gets direct integration into MicroStrategy.  This enables an analyst to quickly feed analyses from R directly into MicroStrategy Reports.  You can grab the plugin from codeplex.
  • R generated graphs can be displayed directly in Dashboards.
  • A Network Visualization Widget was added to the visualization library and it allows you to visualize relationships between lots of elements in Flash.
Even More
There’s tons of other features, mostly bringing more parity between the ever growing number of platforms that MicroStrategy supports (Desktop/Web/VI/iPhone/Android).

Full Readme and Release Notes

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