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IBM Cognos Insight: Data Visualization For Less

Bringing its TM1 technology to the desktop, IBM Cognos answers QlikTech and Tableau with a low-cost data-exploration tool.

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In-memory analysis and interactive data visualization are all the rage in analytics and business intelligence (BI) these days, so it's no surprise that IBM Cognos is upping the ante with a low-cost desktop tool called IBM Cognos Insight. The product is already available, but it was spotlighted with a formal launch event Wednesday.

Combining an in-memory analysis engine with intuitive data-visualization capabilities, Insight gives casual business users a simple tool through which they can combine data from corporate servers and their personal desktops with external sources to do a bit of exploration and what-if analysis. And if they find an analysis to be particularly valuable, they can share it with others by publishing it to a central server.

That's how IBM Cognos Insight is used at DirecTV, where some 50 planners have been using the tool for more than a year--starting as a beta customer and recently moving into production. The satellite TV service provider's planners explore historical data about customer segments, geographic penetration, service bundles, pay-per-view programming, and other aspects of operations.

Most of that data is pulled from a data warehouse and centralized Cognos servers, but Insight lets planners do fresh desktop analyses and add external data about the geo-specific trends and competitor promotions and programs. The result is more accurate forecasting on new subscribers and demand for conventional or DVR-equipped set-top boxes, according to Jack Purvis, DirecTV's director of business intelligence and performance management.

[ Want more on BI trends? Read 5 Resolutions For Better BI in 2012. ]

"Insight lets users click on different data dimensions, narrow down results, and effectively do modeling without being a programmer," Purvis told InformationWeek.

Demand for fast, in-memory-analysis has been growing for years. Ground-floor pioneers included QlikTech, Tibco Spotfire, and SAP with its Business Warehouse Accelerator technology that has since morphed into Hana. IBM Cognos was early to the game as well with its 2007 acquisition of Applix, which developed TM1, a server-based system DirecTV started using two years ago.

In-memory is now old hat, so the latest push is on data visualization. That's where Tableau Software and Tibco Spotfire still shine, but SAP BusinessObjects, Oracle (with Exalytics), and others have added upgrades and all-new data-exploration interfaces in recent months. On Tuesday Microsoft did the same by introducing Power View, the new data-visualization component of SQL Server 2012.

Insight is the IBM Cognos stab at data visualization, but at $500 per user, it's far less expensive than the Tableau and Spotfire desktop alternatives. What's more, IBM Cognos Insight is pre-integrated with server-based IBM Cognos TM1, IBM Cognos Express (for departments and workgroups), and IBM Cognos Enterprise. That makes it a low-cost client option that might go a long way toward that old problem of making BI accessible to the average business user.

At DirecTV, Insight is now the de facto choice for casual TM1 users, and it will also be an option for those interested in more conventional BI reporting out of Cognos Enterprise. "The cool thing is that my TM1 license covers Insight, and on the BI side, advanced authors are covered [for use of Insight] under the same license," Purvis said.

DirecTV has more than 1,000 BI users of corporate-standard IBM Cognos deployment. The company has experimented with lots of other products, according to Purvis, but now that Insight is available, it will choose that tool whenever casual users need data exploration, visualization and planning capabilities, he said. That's exactly the niche IBM was hoping to fill.

Predictive IT analytics can provide invaluable insight--vital if a private cloud is in your future. Find out how in the new, all-digital Predictive IT Analytics issue of InformationWeek. Also in this issue: Randy Mott named CIO of General Motors, how Dell is pushing into the enterprise data center, and eight key features in Windows 8. (Free registration required.)

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