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9/12/2009
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IBM's Cognos Express Brings BI To The Midmarket

IBM's new Cognos Express -- introduced along with LotusLive Mobile and the IBM Mashup Center -- uses a modular approach to make it easier and less expensive for midsize companies to take advantage of business intelligence.

Are midsize companies really ready to invest in business intelligence?With the release of Cognos Express, IBM is banking on it.

The new business intelligence system for midsize businesses is part of IBM's Express Advantage fall launch with LotusLive Mobile and the IBM Mashup Center. This year, at least, Express Advantage is focused on the value of business intelligence to midmarket companies -- backed up by new data on the needs of CIOs at midsize companies which was pulled from IBM's annual Global CIO study.

Defining The Midmarket
Targeted at the 600,000 companies with between 100 and 1,000 employees, Cognos Express was "purpose built and priced for mid-sized companies," said Caroline Seymour, IBM program director for midmarket strategies for the business intelligence and performance management segment.

Seymour said that while 83% of midmarket executives ranked “business intelligence and analytics” as a top priority, only about a third of midsized companies worldwide have actually implemented business intelligence solutions. She cited specific inhibitors to BI that include tight budgets, but also lack of other resources, such as a lack of of IT staffers and the limited skill sets of the IT folks they do have. In addition, many midmarket companies don't have right infrastructure in place to support business intelligence solutions.

"Less-mature midsize companies still rely on spreadsheets for planning," Seymour said, and key data is often segregated into silos, so decisions are often made by "gut feel." That's increasingly dangerous, she added. In today's economy, "small companies can't afford to make a wrong move."

To help smaller companies get started, Cognos Express is divided into three linked modules -- Express Reporter, Express Advisor, and Express Xcelerator -- that share a centralized Web-based admin console. The idea, Seymour said, is to let companies start small with one module, get "quick business wins in key pain points," and then add other modules later without having to build new infrastructure or learn new interfaces.

Dashboard - final The Cognos Express dashboard lets SMBs focus on KPIs.

Installation is "simple," Seymour said, and companies can "get up and running within an hour" using walk-throughs to build out the system's in-memory analytics store. "It makes it more of a manageable chunk," she added.

Pricing for a single module begins at $12,000 (or with financing, $25 per user per month) and includes all required software along with installation and integration. "You get everything," Seymour said, "no hidden costs." Cognos Express is designed to plug into a company's existing infrastructure with minimal installation, maintenance, and training requirements, she added, and claimed that business users can perform many tasks on a self-service basis with no IT involvement.

But Seymour wouldn't say what a full-blown system for a typical 500-person company might cost, citing variations from case to case. And that $12,000 doesn't cover vertical industry expertise from IBM's partners who can help companies identify the key business metrics.

And while Seymour stressed the importance of integrating reporting, analysis and planning, it's not clear how companies starting with a single module will get that benefit.

But Wait, There's More!
The IBM Mashup Center, which had been in beta but is now "certified Midmarket Ready," lets customers pull together pieces of data from multiple applications (Cognos, Web sites, spreadsheets, etc.) to create custom, graphical, views of key data on a single screen. Abrams said the process is "almost as simple as drag and drop," and doesn't require IT assistance. A 20-user Mashup Center license costs $2,600.

The beta of LotusLive Mobile, meanwhile, lets mobile users access LotusLive Engage's cloud-delivered collaboration service. It works with BlackBerrys, iPhones, and other smartphones, Abrams said. LotusLive Engage starts at $15 per user per month.

Midmarket Insights
The Express Advantage launch was accompanied by the release a midmarket cut of IBM's annual Global CIO study encompassing some 160 CIOs from companies with fewer than 1,000 employees. Abrams says the survey reveals that midsize CIO are being forced to adapt to changing business models that are forcing them to drive out fixed costs and capital expenditures in any way possible. Abrams cited four key areas:

  1. Business intelligence, where better insight into their business can be a competitive advantage in a static market
  2. Virtualization, as a precursor to cloud computing
  3. Risk management
  4. Collaboration, across the company and with supply chain and other partners.

One key difference is that half of midmarket CIOs are actively involved with developing new business strategies, while only a third of enterprise CIOs are doing so.

On the other hand, while two-thirds of midmarket CIOs want to find better ways to use information, that's not appreciably higher than the enterprise percentage. On the other hand, that convergence is a dramatic shift from previous studies, Abrams noted. "It's long been a priority in the enterprise, but it's newer in the midmarket." Similarly, about half of all CIOs expect to have a virtual infrastructure in place within 5 years

Still, the real issue isn't whether midmarket companies want and need better insight into their businesses. Right now, the critical question is whether they have the money and resources to invest in business intelligence systems designed to give that insight. Making it cheaper and easier will certainly help, but the planning horizon for many smaller company's these days may not extend much beyond next month.


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