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BI Parts Become a Platform

Cognos 8 transforms separate tools into a Web-based BI platform.

Excel Integration

Cognos 8 BI can export formatted reports to Excel through a one-time export or scheduled output. Cognos Office Connection 8 was in beta at the time of this review and slated for release in late March. Like the Office Connection for ReportNet released last September, the add-in will let users query any Cognos 8 BI content from within Excel or PowerPoint. Users can bring in raw data or formatted reports.

In keeping with its Web Services architecture, Cognos Office Connection uses Microsoft's Smart Client technology, which will call a Web Service to access the reports in the Cognos 8 repository. The key benefit of the Smart Client is that customers don't need to manually maintain a thick add-in on every user's desktop; instead, users can quickly download a smaller add-in upon request.

Compared to a one-time export, the add-in approach ensures that spreadsheets don't contribute to data chaos because they maintain a link to Cognos 8 BI and can be refreshed in real time. Unfortunately, Cognos Office Connection won't support drill-down against PowerCubes or other dimensional data sources, a competitive weakness.

Conclusion

Cognos 8 brings onto one platform an integrated set of BI capabilities and is a major step forward from the Series 7 product line. It has come a long way to ensure common security, consistent metadata and access to a broad range of data sources, all over Web interfaces.

Among the product's drawbacks, limited caching is a major disadvantage from an architectural perspective. Administrators will find tasks such as configuring data sources and building dimensional models less than intuitive. For end users, the inability to interact with fixed reports will present challenges, and integration between analysis and query/reporting could be improved.

Despite these weaknesses, the breadth of Cognos 8, which includes scorecards, scheduling and event notification as well as the capabilities and commonality of Framework Manager packages, makes it a powerful platform. It's a major leap forward for existing Cognos customers and a strong contender for those who are new to BI and corporate performance management.

Cognos 8 BI modules are priced according to user roles. Cognos does not publish its pricing.

Cindi Howson is the president of ASK, a BI consultancy. She teaches The Data Warehousing Institute's "Evaluating BI Toolsets" and publishes more in-depth reviews at BIScorecard.com. Write her at [email protected] biscorecard.com.

The author would like to thank Steve Dine of Datasource Consulting for providing invaluable insight for this review.