After Leading on Platform, Cognos Catches Up On Details

IBM Cognos 8.4 upgrades include Flash-based dashboards, improved BI search, location-aware mobile delivery and new data lineage capabilities. Viewpoint interface lets business users manage hierarchies and dimensions.
IBM Cognos announced more than half a dozen enhancements to its core BI platform today with the release of Cognos 8 version 4. In most respects the upgrades bring Cognos in line with state-of-the art functionality, though on a platform that puts the complete BI portfolio on a unified architecture — a contrast with competitors including Business Objects.

"I give Cognos a lot of credit for taking the time, a few years ago, to rewrite the entire platform, but with that effort they fell somewhat behind on bells and whistles," says Forrester Research analyst Boris Evelson. "With 8.4, Cognos is filling out many of the pieces that competitors have provided over the years."

Perhaps the most significant enhancement in Cognos 8 v4 is Business Viewpoint, a workflow-oriented, collaborative tool designed to let financial analysts, brand managers, data modelers and other business users structure their data hierarchies and dimension. The tool lets authorized users align data management and BI with the latest view of the business.

"For too long the information supply chain has been a one-way street from IT," says Harriet Fryman, product marketing manager. "Business users want to be able to collaborate with each other and align the information with the way they view and run the business."

As an example, Fryman says Business Viewpoint will enable a sales manager to reflect a new sales organization, a marketing manager to capture a new attribute of 'the customer,' or a financial analyst to reflect changes in cost centers by allowing them to define and redefine hierarchies. While Business Viewpoint is entirely new to Cognos, the functionality has been seen before.

"This is one of Kalido's core strengths, and Microsoft acquired a company called Stratature that also had this capability," Evelson points out.

Cognos has updated its Go! family of business-user-accessible interfaces in three ways. Go!Dashboards is a new Adobe Flash-based dashboarding tool that lets users visualize information in drag-and-drop fashion. Already offered by competitors including Microstrategy and Business Objects, Flash-based dashboards have a slick appearance and support dynamic interaction, so visualizations change as you move sliders and drill down on data. Go!Dashboards gives Cognos a self-service option for creating personalized dashboards; this complements the IT-authored, centrally distributed dashboard capabilities already available in Cognos 8.

Cognos Go!Search is the vendor's blending of Internet-style search with BI, but in its previous incarnation, the product was limited to searching preexisting Cognos reports. With the Cognos 8.4 update, Go!Search delivers original query results, as well as cubes and unstructured (Word and PDF) documents alongside existing reports. The software works with enterprise search applications including IBM OmniFind Enterprise Edition, Google, Yahoo and Autonomy.

The 8.4 upgrades appear to put Go!Search on an equal footing with pioneers including FAST (Radar), Endeca, Business Objects (Polestar) and Attivio, thought the entire BI-Search combos category has yet to see even modest adoption. "These solutions are suffering from the chicken-and-egg syndrome," Evelson says. "There's no uptake because customers aren't really aware of them, but I think they'll eventually be quite popular because no matter how much you train, casual users will always find it difficult to translate queries into facts and dimensions."

The third Go! upgrade is to Go!Mobile, which has gained location intelligence and query capabilities as well as the ability to deliver prompted, scheduled and bursted reports. The new location intelligence capabilities take advantage of GPS information available from Blackberry, Symbian and Windows mobile devices. This information is used to call up location-relevant information. For example, a travelling sales executive could quickly call up accounts based on his current location or a police officer could call up outstanding warrants in his or her patrol area. The new query capabilities better support search terms such as "customer name" and "product name" that are often buried in metadata rather than appearing in report titles. Queries will also uncover unstructured information including report annotations.

Tackling the critical data quality challenge, Cognos has added business glossary, data lineage and annotation capabilities in Cognos 8.4. The glossary, provided through integration with the IBM InfoSphere Business Glossary, lets users simply right click to find agreed-upon definitions and descriptions of terms such as "gross margin" and "customer." The Data Lineage capability lets users trace back to the original source of data. Lineage is supported through integration with IBM's InfoSphere Metadata Workbench and an open API to third-party metadata repositories. Annotation let's users attach PostIT-note-like electronic comments to reports so they can share their thoughts and action items with fellow users.

Cognos also introduced today new financial performance applications with pre-build connectors to Oracle E-Business Suite and J.D. Edwards as well as a new planning client. The new performance management products are available immediately while Cognos 8.4, with its many upgrades, is expected to ship in the fourth quarter.

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