IBM Plus Cognos: Enhancing Information on Demand

IBM’s acquisition of Cognos was explained in greater detail last week; we explore the impact for BI practitioners

Like many in the industry, you were probably surprised by IBM Corp.'s acquisition late last year of Cognos Inc, given the company's focus on middleware and information integration, not applications themselves.

Even allowing for IBM's liberal definition of what constitutes middleware (such as its DB2 database), the Cognos buy was a move into client-facing applications. Cognos' enterprise reporting, planning and forecasting solutions, and query and analysis client tools are as far from middleware as Big Blue has ever ventured in the business intelligence (BI) and performance management (PM) markets.

Cognos' BI and PM technologies will, like the DB2 database itself, simply come to be accepted as consistent with Big Blue's middleware-centric vision.

IBM touted a number of new Cognos bundling or packaging arrangements that emphasize the complementary nature of Cognos' BI or PM tools and its own integration middleware technologies. Big Blue unveiled six pre-integrated IBM-Cognos business intelligence offerings, including a new Cognos 8 BI "starter pack" for Big Blue's InfoSphere Warehouse as well as a new packaging arrangement whereby InfoSphere Warehouse will be distributed with Cognos 8.

In addition, IBM announced pre-integration of Cognos 8 with its IBM Information Server platform; pre-configured templates for integrating Cognos 8 BI with its FileNet platform; pre-integration and bundling of an IBM Dashboard Accelerator "starter kit" with Cognos 8 (which the company says lets customers quickly build and deploy portal-based dashboards). Big Blue's Dashboard Accelerator will also bundle a Cognos 8 BI "starter pack" as well as a new Cognos builder. The latter offering is said to make it easier for users to create portal and dashboard components that include Cognos reports or analytics.

IBM has confirmed that Cognos 8 will be bundled with its C-Class Balanced Warehouse offerings, which are geared toward small- and medium-sized businesses (see

Making Its Case for Cognos

IBM's acquisition of Cognos was unprecedented, to be sure, according to many industry veterans we consulted.

"For years, IBM representatives have stressed that the products the Information Management group builds and buys are focused on the infrastructure level, despite an occasional foray into applications or tools that resemble applications," said Philip Russom, senior manager at TDWI Research, at the time. "The Cognos acquisition clearly steps across the line in a big way, so it begs the question: Is this an exception to the infrastructure rule or is this a whole new rule? If it's a new rule, the list of possible acquisitions we can expect from IBM just got a whole lot longer."

At its Information-on-Demand gala, held recently in New York, IBM tried to address such objections. The company linked the Cognos acquisition to its overall information-on-demand effort, claiming that Cognos' BI and PM technologies -- much like its explicit information integration tools -- give customers a means to "unlock" isolated or siloed data sources.

At the same time, IBM officials said, customers can tap Cognos' BI and PM technologies -- in tandem with its information integration middleware glue -- to revamp business processes and better address changing business needs.

"Cognos … brings an enormous amount of capability around business decision-making, business optimization. [W]e think [the acquisition] helps position us to not only have a tremendous amount of underlying technology in support of this Information-on-Demand strategy, but provides us with some very unique capabilities as we go out and present this value proposition not just to the IT professionals, but to the business professionals who are more focused on decision-making and business outcomes than they are on infrastructure," said Steve Mills, senior vice-president and group executive with IBM's Software Group, during last week's press conference.

One upshot of this was that Mills and IBM tried to shift the focus away from the specificity of Cognos' BI and PM assets (i.e., they're a mix of front-end client tools and back-end enabling technologies, and the front-end is a stretch of sorts for IBM) and more toward how the Cognos technologies fit into the overall information delivery and consumption lifecycle.

What IBM is marketing, Mills said, isn't information integration snake oil, but an information-on-demand vision that puts the right information (including analytic insights) in the dashboards, reports, or pie charts of business decision makers. IBM plans to do that by yoking the Cognos BI and PM technologies to its more explicit middleware assets, offering decision makers what Mills touted as a "complete end-to-end set of capabilities."

According to Mills and IBM, this isn't so much classic business intelligence or PM -- deploying dedicated BI or PM performance management tools as a means to gain more insight into what's going on -- as the next wave: business optimization, in which BI and PM technologies (e.g., embedded in new applications or called from existing applications) can permeate business processes.

"The faster-growing part of the IT market going forward has to do with business optimization," he said. "[Executives are] focused now on 'How do I make better decisions, more effective decisions, faster decisions?' [Information on Demand] touches on automation insofar as businesses around the world want to instrument their processes and capture more data about what's happening in real-time, and then they want to be able to analyze that and make forward-looking decisions to better compete in the marketplace."

About the Author

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