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IBM Puts a Business Intelligence Foot in the Door at Midsize Companies

Performance management and analytic strengths challenge Microsoft, SAP BusinessObjects and QlikTech offerings for firms with 100 to 1,000 employees.

Launching a low-priced product suite with an emphasis on ease of installation and ease of use, IBM today stepped up its efforts to sell business intelligence and performance management capabilities to midsize companies with 100 to 1,000 employees. Priced starting at $12,500 (with five named users) for each of three products for reporting, analysis and planning, respectively, the new IBM Cognos Express line is an attempt to compete head to head with Microsoft in the fastest-growing segment of the BI market. The launch follows in the footsteps of SAP BusinessObjects, which introduced its midmarket-focused Edge series of products in 2007. Both companies have a lot riding on their entry-level products.

"IBM Cognos and SAP BusinessObjects executives realize that unless they can capture the hearts and minds of midsize businesses, they'll have lost the opportunity to serve them as they grow into larger businesses," says Robert Anderson, vice president of SMB Research at Gartner DataQuest. "When it comes to BI and performance management, IBM Cognos and SAP BusinessObjects have the credibility and the assets to compete in the midmarket, so shame on them if they give it up to Microsoft."

The three new IBM Cognos Express products are designed to either stand alone or complement each other as part of a complete BI portfolio. IBM Cognos Express Reporter is aimed at core query and reporting needs and mainstream use among business users, with drag-and-drop report authoring capabilities. IBM Cognos Express Advisor provides "what if" analysis and forecasting capabilities built on in-memory technology; it's aimed primarily at finance and business analysts. IBM Cognos Express Xcelerator is also built on in-memory technology, but it is aimed at multidimensional analysis, planning, budgeting and forecasting. These are core performance management capabilities for finance and line-of-business types with hands-on budget responsibility.

IBM says all three products are designed with the limited IT resources of midsize companies in mind. The software can be downloaded from the Web and then configured and administered by as few as one or two people. Data access and integration technologies are built into the software, and the building of reports, dashboards and analyses is said to be easily handled by untrained users in a self-service fashion.

"Unlike a lot of the enterprise products, these products are self contained: the security is there, the portals are there, the databases are there, the interfaces get laid down and there's not a bunch of configuration you have to go through," says Ben Plummer, director of the IBM Cognos midmarket business unit.

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