Services: The Next Frontier for the BI Pure Plays?

Cognos is no stranger to professional services, having collaborated with an ecosystem of partners for some time, but last week’s announcements marked its most ambitious foray into the services game yet. Some analysts say Cognos’ move has the makings of a proverbial double-edged sword.

What’s the next frontier for income-hungry business intelligence (BI) vendors? With relational database stalwarts IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp., and Oracle Corp. angling in to core BI markets from one direction, and ERP powers Oracle and SAP AG converging from still another, it could be just a matter of time before the BI powers-that-be start experiencing revenue squeezes. So, some savvy BI players are starting to expand their own offerings in another, relatively untapped direction—that of BI and business performance management (BPM) services.

Take Cognos Inc., which last week expanded its presence in the services-scape, announcing a new Cognos Business Intelligence Competency Center Service (BICC), designed to help organizations develop and implement their own BICC visions; a Cognos Conversion Service (designed to help organizations switch to Cognos-based BI or BPM solutions); and a Cognos Migration Service—designed to help existing Cognos 7 customers make the move to Cognos 8 BI. Cognos is no stranger to professional services, having collaborated with an ecosystem of services partners for years, but last week’s Cognos Forum announcements marked its most ambitious foray into professional services yet. In this respect, some analysts say, Cognos’ move has the makings of a double-edged sword.

Cognos and other vendors have already been pushing “competency centers” for BI, performance management, data integration, and other practices. Company officials say that Cognos’ new BICC service gives prospective BICC adopters a blueprint—complete with implementation roadmap and hands-on professional services—to design, deploy and operate their own BICCs. Cognos says its BICC service can even help companies that have already established BICCs by optimizing existing competency center practices.

Cognos’ new BICC service is designed for current users of the company’s Cognos 8 BI suite. Its new Conversion Service, on the other hand, was conceived with a very different kind of customer in mind. Officials hope to entice users of competitive BI solutions by giving them almost everything they’ll need—including estimation, auditing, and, of course, implementation services—to make the switch to Cognos 8 BI.

The Cognos Conversion Service has a roadmap component, dubbed the Conversion Implementation Roadmap, which incorporates intellectual property (best practices, methodologies and so on) from long-time Cognos partner Niteo Partners. It includes a free Conversion Estimate services component, as well as pay-for-use Audit services (to help prospective adopters define a detailed conversion plan) and Implementation Services.

Right now, Cognos plans to give customers two conversion options: 'Lift and Shift'—a rapid implementation scheme that promises to move (i.e., lift and shift) an organization’s existing reporting practice without changing its structure or processes; and 'Compress and Optimize,' a gradual implementation strategy that promises to improve overall BI performance by identifying specific areas in which Cognos 8 can enhance or consolidate existing BI assets.

Cognos announced its Series 8 BI suite almost a year ago. Uptake has been brisk, officials stress, but many customers are still sitting pretty on Series 7. Enter Cognos’ new Migration Service, a what-are-you-waiting-for bundle of services and best practices that officials hope will entice some fence-sitting Series7 customers to make the move to Cognos 8. Migration Service includes auditing and implementation components.

Analysts say Cognos’ expansion of its professional services efforts is generally a good thing—especially for the company’s customers. The BI giant’s move isn’t without risk, however—at least when it comes to potentially alienating many of the company’s long-time technology partners.

“Cognos’ announcement was a necessity for the vendor to deepen its penetration into existing accounts and to hold onto those accounts in the increasingly competitive BI [and] CPM marketplace,” writes James Kobielus, a principal analyst for data management with Current Analysis Inc. “From a strategic standpoint, Cognos needs customers to migrate to its current generation platform—Cognos 8 BI—as soon as possible. To that end, Cognos has rolled out a well-thought-out set of migration services, customer training, and tools to help customers move from its legacy platforms—Cognos Series 7 and Cognos ReportNet—to its latest generation.”

For its newest foray into professional services, Cognos tapped the expertise of existing partners BearingPoint and Niteo Partners. This is all well and good, Kobielus says, but Cognos must walk a fine line here to avoid alienating other partners with which it has enjoyed long and often fruitful relationships.

“To the extent that Cognos’ new Business Intelligence Competency Center … conversion, migration, and training [and] certification offerings crowd partner offerings out of the BI/CPM professional services market, it risks weakening the industry ecosystem that has sustained it so well,” he notes. The new BICC service, especially, might also strike some Cognos customers as cherry-picking, Kobielus says: “Also, Cognos’ BICC Service may strike some customers as a thinly veiled attempt to sell them more Cognos products.”

Finally, Cognos said it’s making its Proven Practices portal available to both customers and partners. Proven Practices provides in-depth product and technology resources across a range of different categories (including development, infrastructure, modeling, performance, report design, and security), and incorporates not just Cognos’ own in-house expertise, but the field-tested experiences of customers, too. “The Cognos Proven Practices are a collection of product and technology guidelines and recommendations,” said Dave Achtemichuk, vice president of customer success and support for Cognos, in a statement. “They are a new and invaluable resource for Cognos customers and partners that go way beyond specific product documentation.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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