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Business Intelligence Tackles Ease Of Use

Cognos 8 will usher in the next generation of tools, which tout simplicity.

Cognos Inc. this week will debut its Cognos 8 all-in-one business-intelligence system, which combines reporting, analysis, scorecarding, and event-management tools into one package.

But Cognos won't have the spotlight to itself for long. The next few weeks will see a rush of competitors unveil upgrades of their own business-intelligence software. A common theme among them will be trying to make these difficult tools easier to manage and use. That's because companies increasingly want to deploy these tools to hundreds or even thousands of employees.

Competitive Intelligence, pie chartSales of business-intelligence software grew 11% to $4.3 billion last year, according to market researcher IDC. Companies once bought such tools in small numbers for specific projects or departments, but now many standardize on one or two vendors' products and deploy them companywide. From April through June, for example, Business Objects SA inked 13 software licensing deals, with each contract worth $1 million or more--up from eight such deals a year earlier.

Frost Bank, part of Cullen/Frost Bankers Inc., is moving to get analysis tools to more employees. For four years, it used Cognos reporting, ad hoc query, and scorecarding software for analytical tasks, including strategic and financial reporting and scrutinizing customer behavior. More than 300 people at all levels of the bank use the software, but the bank will deploy Cognos 8 to as many as 600 employees starting early next year.

Cognos 8, available in November, combines previously separate reporting, ad hoc query, analysis, scorecarding, event-management, dashboard, and portal tools. That should simplify deployment and administration--making the software more attractive to big companies--and better support executives and knowledge workers with wide-ranging information needs.

That's huge for Frost because this makes it easier for financial and market analysts who use Cognos' PowerPlay analysis tool to use Cognos ReportNet to communicate their findings to bank managers, says Louis Barton, the bank's data-warehousing and business-intelligence director, who's been testing Cognos 8. "It makes it easier for executives and decision makers to understand what's going on in the business," he says.

Business Objects, Cognos' archrival, is close to unveiling a new release of BusinessObjects XI, which combines query, reporting, and analysis capabilities--including the reporting tools from its 2003 Crystal Decisions acquisition--into a single package. The new software lets users ask questions in plain language without the need for a business analyst in the IT department to prepare a report.

Reducing the complexity of business intelligence is also the point of Information Object Designer, which reporting software maker Actuate Corp. is expected to unveil this week. The tool helps developers create consolidated views of complex data sets, providing thousands of employees with easy-to-understand reports.

Barton says Frost Bank's use of Cognos 8 will shorten the analytical cycle and "help the business user understand the data in their terms." Business intelligence for the masses, a longtime goal for many organizations, is creeping a few steps closer to reality.

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