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Big Blue Introduces Joint IBM-Cognos Products, Plans for Analytics

First step: Offer integrations and bundles for data warehousing, information integration and BPM. Second step: Deliver IBM analytics through Cognos software.
At this week's post-Cognos-acquisition press and analyst conference, IBM introduced 10 vertical-industry solutions and six product offerings combining IBM and Cognos technology, but perhaps most interesting, the company signaled that it will exploit IBM's unheralded expertise in the area of analytics, a market dominated by (still-independent) SAS and a handful of smaller vendors.

On the product front, IBM unveiled six "pre-integrations" of IBM and Cognos technology, with the short list including notable data warehouse, information management and process management combinations:

-- Cognos 8 BI "starter pack" for IBM InfoSphere Warehouse and a distribution of InfoSphere Warehouse with Cognos 8 BI solutions — combinations aimed at rapid deployment.

-- Cognos 8 BI bundling with IBM's C-Class Balanced Warehouse offerings — Business Objects already has an "Edge Series" midsize-business-oriented BI bundling with this data warehouse appliance offering, so now Cognos gets in on the act. this small- and mid-sized business appliance-style warehouse offering.

-- Pre-integration of Cognos 8 with the IBM Information Server software platform — teaming Cognos BI with IBM's data integration, data quality, and metadata integration technology for data lineage tracking.

-- Pre-configured templates for integrating Cognos 8 BI with IBM FileNet Business Process Management (BPM) software — FileNet already uses the Celequest/Cognos Now technology for dashboarding, but the templates tie in Cognos 8 BI reports and analytics to support in-process decisions. As for analytics, IBM's Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive, IBM Software Group, declared, "We've not been seen as a company that was doing business intelligence [before acquiring Cognos]... but IBM has been a leader in delivering unique, sophisticated analytic capabilities."

IBM has had a computational mathematics department for decades, but its analytics work to date has largely been in one-off, consultative projects in transportation, supply chain, retail and bioresearch. In the airline industry, for example, IBM has helped airlines such as Southwest and US Airways with complex problems around scheduling flights, crew changes and maintenance. In has worked on promotions management in retail and forecasting in the supply chain arena.

"We now have the ability, through the Cognos technology, to deliver the visualization as well as a dramatic increase in our capacity to pull through literally decades of some of the deepest, most sophisticated algorithmic solutions to complex customer problems in the market place," Mill asserted.

But to what degree can IBM hope to deliver analytics to the broad Cognos customer base? With some 200 employees, the research group now charged with beefing up Cognos analytic offerings currently handles roughly 15 client projects and 10-15 internal engagements per year, according to Brenda Dietrich, vice president of Business Analytics and Mathematical Sciences. That pales in comparison with the tens of thousands of customers using software from 10,000-employee SAS and 1,200-employee SPSS, but Dietrich said her group will bring to Cognos broadly applicable, pre-built analytic models rather than tools and software aimed at PhDs.

"If you can solve the biggest, hardest problems and you've seen three instances of it, you can extract the general problem and build it in a way that can be more broadly deployed," Dietrich explained. "A lot of companies don't have PhDs on staff, so the trick is going to be to figure out where that line between the highly customized projects needed by large and unique companies and what can be standardized enough to be used broadly by the small- to mid-sized general businesses."

Dietrich said IBM has already deployed — and Cognos is likely to gain — repeatable analytics in areas such as workforece management and supply chain (including demand forecasting, production scheduling, and procurement optimization)," but she added that "we'll continue to do one-off projects because there will be advantage for companies that can do things better by exploiting their own unique business models."

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