Cognos Updates ReportNet

New charting capabilities and improved performance are among the changes in version 1.1.

Yesterday, Cognos Inc. unveiled a version 1.1 update for its ReportNet enterprise reporting product featuring new charting capabilities, improved performance, and enhanced multilingual support.

Cognos first announced ReportNet 1.0, slated as a replacement for its Cognos Impromptu and Cognos Query reporting tools, last September (see http://www.tdwi.org/research/display.asp?id=6800&t=y). The company positioned ReportNet as a full-featured, thin-client tool that can support both operational and ad hoc reporting. At the time, Cognos officials described ReportNet as the company’s most important product release ever.

If that’s true, then ReportNet 1.1 may be Cognos’ most important ever product update. The enhanced charting capabilities that it provides, for example, ratchet up integration with Microsoft Corp.’s ubiquitous Excel spreadsheet, which analysts say is a prerequisite for financial reporting, among other uses.

“This really hones [in] on our capability to export report output in Microsoft Excel,” says Anil Dilawri, Cognos product marketing manager. “It’s not your standard ‘Let's see your report in a spreadsheet format’—we’re supporting the formatting capabilities and the charting capabilities you see in an Excel spreadsheet [natively in ReportNet].”

The result, says Cindi Howson, a principal with consultancy Analytic Solutions Know-How (ASK), is that ReportNet is one of just two products that lets users export charts in native Excel format, and not simply as chart data or as a graphic. In this respect, she observes, it’s a dramatic improvement over ReportNet 1.0. “The only thing they had in 1.0 was an export to CSV format, and you really could only export the most basic of reports. So if you had a complex report, you couldn’t [even] export it to CSV,” Howson explains. “With 1.1, they have complete exporting directly to native Excel, and they export the chart in the native Excel format. The only other vendor to do that is Business Objects.”

Cognos has long maintained that ReportNet can scale to support tens or even hundreds of thousands of users. The BI powerhouse has not, as of yet, been able to identify a customer account that is using ReportNet to support more than a few thousand users, however. There are a lot of reasons for this, says ASK’s Howson, starting with the fact that ReportNet is a tougher sell to Cognos’ existing customer base than it is to new accounts. “With ReportNet, if you take existing customers, they really have to start over, and I think that’s the biggest hurdle for Cognos,” she suggests, noting that she’s unaware of a ReportNet account amounting to more than several hundred users. “For existing customers, it’s tough. For new customers, it’s a different story. It’s an easier choice.”

With this in mind, Cognos touted new benchmark results which purport to demonstrate that ReportNet can support nearly 200,000 named users. “When we initially released the product, we really touted its performance and scalability. We made the bold claim that this product could support hundreds of thousands of users, and we’ve proven that with some testing we’ve done with IBM,” confirms Dilawri, explaining that Cognos conducted its tests in tandem with IBM’s SPC Lab in San Mateo, Calif. “In that testing, there was a range of named users on a realistic piece of hardware—a Windows machine—where we got average response times of less than two seconds.”

ReportNet 1.0 was Unicode-compliant from day one; in ReportNet 1.1, Cognos now natively supports 10 different languages, and officials say that reports can be consumed in more than 25 languages. “In the initial release, we had four main languages supported with this product. With this release, we’ve increased the number of supported languages to 10,” Dilawri says.

Wayne Eckerson, director of The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI), says that Cognos is delivering several usability improvements in ReportNet 1.1, but cautions that because the product is just over six months old, it’s not yet possible to determine how it’s faring in large customer deployments.

“[ReportNet] 1.1 addresses some obvious 1.0 problems, such as lack of Excel integration, user interactivity within reports, [and] full information delivery services,” he points out, noting that ReportNet 1.0 shipped with a lightweight version of NoticeCast. “The scalability benchmark is trying to position the product as a mature, scalable BI environment and overcome questions about the performance of its Web Services … architecture. While the benchmark is impressive, it remains to be seen how it does in live customer implementations.”

Which areas of ReportNet should Cognos look to improve in future versions of the product? According to ASK’s Howson, the BI powerhouse must do more to improve integration between ReportNet and its PowerPlay OLAP reporting tool. “They say it’s integrated, but from an IT perspective, I would say it’s not integrated. You don’t use ReportNet to access a PowerPlay cube, or [Hyperion] Essbase, or Microsoft Analysis Services—you would use PowerPlay Web to access those things,” she points out, acknowledging that Business Objects is dealing with the same issue: “Business Objects, they have some integrated OLAP with their microcube architecture, but when you start talking Essbase and Analysis Services, it’s almost a different module.”

About the Author

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