Cognos Delivers Next-Gen BI Suite

IBM's acquisition of Cognos may not change much in the short term, but will it dampen user enthusiasm for the new Cognos 8.3 release?

It might seem a bit anti-climactic, given its acquisition just two months ago by IBM Corp., but Cognos this week officially unveiled the next major revision of its business intelligence (BI) suite—Cognos 8.3.

It's an interesting time of the company. After a somewhat rocky 2006, Cognos righted itself in 2007, acquiring the former Celequest (a dashboard and performance management specialist) and Applix (an OLAP powerhouse) before itself being acquired by IBM in December.

For many (if not most) Cognos customers, the IBM acquisition shouldn't change much—at least in the short-term—nor is it likely to dampen user enthusiasm for C8.3. According to most industry watchers, there's little overlap between the Cognos and IBM lines. Thanks in part to Big Blue's middleware-heavy focus, IBM has kept out of the end user applications space. IBM won't cultivate all of the Cognos assets, of course, but it has a strong track record of doing right by legacy customers.

"People forget that Cognos still maintains its original, non-BI product called PowerHouse, which by now is a hoary and warted legacy, along with recent BI legacies like Impromptu and PowerPlay," observed Philip Russom, senior manager at TDWI Research, in the immediate aftermath of the acquisition. "A few more legacies shouldn't be a problem for IBM, which has long experience maintaining an elephant graveyard of products. Just look at the legacy databases IBM got by acquiring Informix in 2001, and, of course, the mainframe is one of the largest annuity businesses in the world of computing."

Cognos officials reject the idea that the IBM acquisition will have a chilling effect on C8.3 adoption. For one thing, says Harriet Fryman, senior director of product marketing for Cognos, there's the absence of overlap, which TDWI's Russom himself flagged. Second, and just as important, is the lengthy history of collaboration between Cognos and Big Blue, according to Fryman. IBM already resells (and markets support services for) an optimized version of the Cognos BI stack for its System p RISC/Unix platform.

"We have many customers today from our 15 year partnership with IBM that have IBM and Cognos technologies in-house," she says. "A great example of that is Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Tennessee, which actually uses us as their information analysis platform, as well as IBM's Information Server to fuel us with information. There's a natural synergy here that benefits joint customers, for one thing, but shouldn't deter non-IBM customers, either."

What's New

There are plenty of new features in Cognos 8.3. The revamped BI suite delivers a bevy of administrative enhancements—including a new administrative console that centralizes the monitoring and management of Cognos 8 deployments—an upgraded version of Cognos Transformer (which manages the creation of PowerCubes); and enhancements to Cognos Framework Manager.

Administration, Fryman stresses, is a key focus in C8.3. In this respect, she continues, the administrative amenities Cognos is delivering as part of the update are consistent with (and enlarge upon) its overall emphasis on improved manageability. She cites her company's recent partnership with IT performance management specialist Appfluent as a case-in-point (see http://www.tdwi.org/News/display.aspx?id=8507).

Appfluent markets usage and workload analytics software for BI and data warehousing scenarios. Last summer, Cognos -- which already had an existing partnership with that company -- tapped AppFluent to deliver capacity planning, capacity management, growth assessment, and other analytic capabilities for enterprise IT teams. (Interestingly, Big Blue notched a similar accord with AppFluent late last year.)

"As people really standardize on performance management and start building their centers of excellence around that technology, IT teams need to be empowered to measure and monitor PM for the enterprise," she argues. "Performance management is moving from departmental deployments to more enterprise-wide deployments. As such, IT has to be sure [it] can really meet the service level agreements of a much larger user base. That's where [the new C8.3 administrative amenities] come into play."

The C8.3 enhancements aren't confined to the back end. The revamped suite boasts several end-user (or user-focused) improvements, too—including a new Express Authoring mode that lets users quickly create and publish crosstabs and statement-style reports. Cognos officials say that C8.3 delivers a raft of reporting improvements—including, for example, support for horizontal pagination and improved navigation in multi-page reports. There are also a few portal improvements, including a global filtering capability, new metrics portlets, personal report subscriptions, and watch rules.

The new C8.3 reporting improvements, which are more in the line of user self-service capabilities, should get a warm reception from both business power users and the IT teams that struggle to support them.

"For the financial or business analyst, they typically want to create role statement-type reports -- they have spaces, they have underlines, they have calculations (such as interest growth) -- that are very familiar to those financial-type users," she explains. "What [a capability like] Express Authoring does is enable those users to self-serve and build those reports without having to go to IT to have them build them for them, so it takes a lot of the pressure off of IT and also empowers these users to build their own [reports]."

About the Author

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