Q&A: Scaling Reports Across the Enterprise

Cognos says ReportNet can support hundreds of thousands of users

If you’re frustrated by the limitations of your existing enterprise reporting solution, Cognos Inc. says it has the solution.

Cognos is prepping a new reporting tool called ReportNet, that it says can scale to support hundreds of thousands of users in a variety of different languages. The company says ReportNet exploits Web services standards—such as XML and SOAP—to interface with your existing CRM, ERP, and SCM solutions, and can also make nice with your existing BI infrastructure. As a matter of fact, ReportNet isn’t even a rip-and-replace proposition: In many cases, it can complement your existing reporting solution and expose its reports to a wider variety of users.

On the other hand, Cognos is a vendor better known for its breadth of BI offerings than for the depth of its reporting tool, Cognos Impromptu.

So why should you take a chance on ReportNet when several vendors—such as Crystal Decisions and Brio—offer market leading solutions? We sat down recently with Michael Branchaud, director of product marketing, and Anil Dilawri, product marketing manager, to discuss ReportNet, which is slated to ship by early October.

Why should customers think that ReportNet is different from other enterprise reporting tools?

[Michael] There are three broad values that we talk about when we talk about ReportNet. For the first time, there’s a product that will be in the market and will be in the market as of mid-July that will cover the complete enterprise reporting spectrum, everything from a static, bursted production report that could be an invoice or some kind of bill…all the way up to a very sophisticated business power user, perhaps even a professional author. So the whole gamut of report types and consumers of the reports is covered with one solution.

But don’t other vendors—Brio and Crystal Decisions, to name only two—offer the same reporting flexibility?

[Michael] This is something that we believe is unique in the marketplace.

Why?

[Michael] ReportNet is designed to specifically streamline the reporting application lifecycle. What this means is that for every type of reporting solution that a company deploys, they typically go through a very well-defined process.

First, a business user has a need for info, they go to it, get a reporting tool, and begin building reports. Two, they need to deploy it, they need to schedule [and] deliver this report to whatever group of users need[s] the information in whatever format is appropriate for the group. Third, and possibly most painful, is the modification of that cycle. As soon as users get familiar with it, they immediately become opinionated on that cycle—and they start demanding changes.

What the product does, because of its real breakthroughs on how users author reports, we’ve streamlined that process. The whole process of creating reports has been dramatically improved in terms of usability and ease-of-use, so that the time it takes to create a report, even a simple one, has been dramatically decreased.

To what extent do these usability and ease-of-use improvements help to create a product that allows business users—and not just systems analysts or report developers—to create their own reports?

[Michael] I would say that this product, more than any product on the market, will help move report writing (or at least modification) to that level. The interface has been designed to allow people to gradually exploit that function as it makes sense.

We recognize that a report user, or an executive, or an analyst, will get familiar with the product at his own pace. But as users become more comfortable with [ReportNet], many of them will feel comfortable enough to do this [build their own reports]. This goes right to the heart of offloading what IT historically had to be involved in at every step of the process.

In addition to the greater freedom that you’re saying ReportNet will bring to users, what advantages over your existing reporting tool [Cognos Impromptu] does the new product bring to the table?

[Michael] Well, one big thing is scalability. We built this product to address the scalability and the performance needed to be an enterprise product. This product is designed to scale to hundreds of thousands of users. This is paramount in the minds of IT departments.

Another thing is that the product is Unicode through and through, so the ability to author a report in any language, and deploy to multiple users in the language of their choice, is unprecedented. The meta data layer does need to be translated, but that’s true of any company trying to do a multilingual report, but in the old days, you had to replicate that data into the native language and then create the reports in the language that that report is being prepared in.

[Anil] This product also has the ability to integrate with other applications, to leverage the existing environment that a customer already has. If I’d spent millions of dollars on a CRM system, and now I need some reporting off of my CRM system, ReportNet is the kind of tool that can be plugged into the openness of that environment, or ERP, or the supply chain, too.

What about coexistence with other commercial BI tools, or with home-grown BI solutions?

[Anil] The only thing limiting that scenario is the old technology. ReportNet supports open industry standards—XML, SOAP, WSDL—so if it’s an existing Web application, we’ll probably be able to coexist with it. If it’s a legacy application, we’re definitely not saying no: If that old technology has the ability to live with ReportNet, that will happen.

Almost all large enterprises already have reporting tools in-house. ReportNet sounds like a great opportunity for existing Impromptu users, but what about users of other reporting and BI tools?

[Michael] For non-Cognos customers, if the customer is looking for a good reporting solution for a particular need, this product absolutely is best in class in its capabilities to deliver that.

[Anil] It is true that the majority of large organizations, which is what we target, do have some kind of reporting tools in-house, but the question is are their needs being met by their current reporting tools? Say they have [a] Business Objects [reporting solution], in an environment where Business Objects is there and a customer has reached their limit with Business Objects in terms of a reporting tool, we not only can do that [reporting], but we can leverage the meta data investment that they’ve made with [their Business Objects reporting tool] and actually feed that data into the product.

Where is Cognos at with ReportNet right now?

[Michael] It’s been in a number of test-market accounts for a number of months. These customers are moving solutions from their test environments into production. These are Fortune 500 customers. One’s a German automobile manufacturer, and we also have a financial services firm that’s using it customer billing. Several Japanese customers have it in test environment.

When will ReportNet officially be released?

[Michael] We’ve been shooting for early October, and it looks like we’re going to make that deadline.

About the Author

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