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In Focus: Process Management Meets Business Intelligence

Cognos says its new platform, Cognos 8, will help users of BPM systems from

When Cognos announced its next-generation business intelligence (BI) platform in mid-September, one detail that seemed to get lost in the fanfare was the plan to bring BI and business process management (BPM) closer together. Through collaboration with EMC, FileNet, IBM and Savvion, Cognos said its new platform, Cognos 8, will help users of BPM systems from those vendors monitor, invoke and modifying processes with the aid of event management functionality.

"Companies are clearly making an investment in automating their business processes," says Christopher Dziekan, Cognos' vice president of platform strategy and market development. "We need to work hand-in-hand with those process engines so we can pass context to them to automate changes in processes. Likewise, they can expose events to us and initiate and leverage BI along pathways defined in their processes."

Most coverage of Cognos' September 14 announcement focused on the vendor's consolidation of all BI functionality, including analysis, dashboarding and scorecarding, into the services-oriented architecture (SOA) behind its Web-based ReportNet reporting environment, which was introduced nearly two years ago. The Cognos 8 platform, which is set for release in November, will also include a new Event Management feature that will monitor and notify users or systems to changes in the status of events via e-mail or Web-based RSS channels. The partnerships with BPM vendors have focused on two-way integration of events via Cognos' Partner Readiness Program.

The potential for stronger ties between BPM and BI is promising, yet as we found in this summer's review of nine BPM suites, vendors have hardly scratched the surface. Most BPM products offer simple reporting and analytics capabilities, but all too often those tools are limited to observations about the process itself—not larger business issues. In some cases, systems can expose process data or even OLAP cubes to third-party reporting or analytic tools, but Cognos and its partners are pointing to deeper interaction between BI and BPM.

"Cognos can already interrogate our OLAP environment, but any BPM system should be able to do that," says Chris Preston, FileNet's director of product marketing. "What has not been addressed is taking in the value of both systems together—delivering the right information at a step in the process where it's required."

One area where BI will make a big difference is in aiding human decision points within processes that might not conform to explicit rules. Fraud detection, compliance and eligibility are good examples, says Preston. "Knowledge workers may need critical info from a dashboard or report in Cognos," he says. "If we can tap into that, it's going to mean better, faster decision making and improved productivity."

Events in Cognos 8 could also improve responsiveness by initiating processes automatically. If BI is used to monitor key performance indicators tied to service level agreements, for example, Cognos 8's Event Manager could fire off appropriate exception-handling or inquiry processes as soon as thresholds are exceeded—potentially easing service snags before they become real problems.