Cognos: ReportNet Takes Center Stage

Tool combines production reporting and ad hoc reporting into a single product; Query Studio eases report development

Cognos Inc. yesterday unveiled its long-awaited ReportNet enterprise reporting tool. As a full-featured, thin-client tool that can support both operational and ad hoc reporting, Cognos officials claim that ReportNet is the company’s most important product release ever.

ReportNet debuts at an interesting time. The enterprise reporting landscape has changed drastically over the last two months, after all, largely as a result of acquisitions that saw two of its biggest players—Crystal Decisions and Brio Software—gobbled up by business intelligence powers Business Objects SA and Hyperion Solutions Corp.

Hyperion picked up Brio largely to flesh out its business performance management strategy, but Business Objects’ Crystal acquisition was seen by some analysts as a pre-emptive shot across Cognos’ bow (see (

Wayne Eckerson, director of The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI), notes that 2003 "is the year of production reporting. All of Cognos’ main BI competitors—Business Objects, Hyperion, MicroStrategy—have made moves this year to bolster their reporting capabilities. But Cognos beat them all to the punch.”

Crystal and Brio shipped respected production reporting tools, but ReportNet promises to go them each one better, says Michael Branchaud, director of product marketing for Cognos. “ReportNet can handle all of the different report types a company may need. It offers the world of ad hoc and production reporting from one tool, and that has not been possible up to until now,” he claims. “Production reporting has largely been a separate tool from an ad hoc reporting product, but with ReportNet you can do both with the same tool.”

Cognos claims a raft of other benefits for ReportNet as well, starting with its thin client interface—its default UI is a Web browser, and company officials say that it’s accessible without applets or plug-ins—and its Web services foundation.

Perhaps most important, says Branchaud, are ReportNet features that promise to demystify the task of report authoring, such as Query Studio, a rapid report creation environment that business authors—and not just report developers—can use. “It’s going to drive greater uptake of people who can do an ad-hoc report, and that’s going to [take some of the load off of] IT. That’s going to take away the pain that the business consumer has waiting around to change a report or deliver a new report, because they usually have to go through IT first.”

ReportNet also features a rapid report creation and authoring tool for report developers and other advanced users.

On the usability front, ReportNet boasts on-the-fly report formatting and multi-lingual support. “Reports are dynamically generated, so depending on the format of the viewer, it can dynamically handle the layout, whether it’s PDF, HTML or whatever, so that the report author doesn’t need to concern himself with those issues,” Branchaud explains. “They don’t have to worry about things like what’s the resolution of the screen, what’s the browser space, or if I want to view this in PDF, that’s a different layout. ReportNet takes care of everything for them.”

ReportNet can present report views in any of several dozen languages. Views can be tailored to the needs of a specific end user, such that when authenticated to the ReportNet portal, the user is automatically presented with the reports in the language of choice. “In any other reporting solution, they’d have to re-layout this entire report for the language that they want to present it in,” Branchaud claims.

During the ReportNet launch festivities, Cognos played up its strengths as a reporting front-end to SAP Business Warehouse (BW) from ERP powerhouse SAP AG. “One of the great capabilities of ReportNet is going to be its ability to work with SAP BW. SAP BW is going to be a very, very compelling solution for SAP customers, but up to now, it hasn’t had a useful reporting solution.”

Cognos says that ReportNet is SAP BAPI-certified to interoperate with SAP BW and SAP Portal. ReportNet also communicates with SAP BW by means of SAP’s implementation of the MDX standard instead of SQL, which Branchaud says enhances its interoperability with the SAP warehouse.

There’s also good news for users of Cognos’ existing Impromptu and Query reporting products. Branchaud says Cognos will support both products for “many, many years,” and acknowledges that it will also continue to sell both products to existing customers. “”We’re going to be enhancing Impromptu with future releases, so there is a Series 7 version 3 already scheduled for next year, and it will be maintained for many, many years. We don’t have a timeframe [for dropping support], the customers that are using it today, if they’re pleased with the product, we encourage them to add to the product. If they need to add licenses, they can do so. If they want to migrate to ReportNet, we’ll have utilities and services, we already have those today.”

At the same time, Cognos won’t be actively marketing Impromptu or Cognos Query to new customers. “Both will continue to be actively proposed and supported to existing customers, so if a customer is an existing QC customer and is looking to grow the number of users on that, they’ll be encouraged to grow that on Cognos Query.”

TDWI’s Eckerson expects that if ReportNet’s as good in practice as it looks during a demo, then it gives Cognos a leg up on its competitors. “From initial observations, ReportNet will give Cognos a huge boost and put other BI players on the defensive,” he says.

In particular, Eckerson says, ReportNet gives Cognos a full-featured product to sell to customers even as Business Objects and Hyperion attempt to integrate Crystal and Brio technologies into their product lines. “So, while Business Objects is integrating Crystal Reports and Hyperion is integrating Brio, Cognos will be selling ReportNet. Cognos will undoubtedly target existing customers of Cognos Query and Impromptu. But I suspect that ReportNet will win Cognos new business as well,” he notes.

It’s not an automatic slam dunk for Cognos, however. ReportNet is based on Cognos Series 8 architecture, which means the company must migrate other products to Series 8 while at the same time retaining backward compatibility with Series 7 products. So Cognos, like Business Objects and Hyperion, has some integration work of its own to perform.

Nevertheless, speculates Eckerson, if Cognos executes effectively, ReportNet could become its most important product. “In the end, users really want interactive reports, not free-form navigation through relational or multidimensional databases,” he points out. “So while PowerPlay has always been Cognos' flagship product, ReportNet—if it is as good as it looks—could take over that slot and be the product that drives sales of all other Cognos products.”

About the Author

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