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Cindi Howson
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IBM Readies Data Visualization Play

Cognos release could disrupt market dominated by specialty vendors QlikTech and Tableau.

Visual discovery and analysis capabilities were the most exciting developments previewed at an IBM analyst summit held last week in Ottawa, Canada.

The summit provided an update on IBM's business intelligence strategy and a sneak peak at things to come in the Cognos product line. As I predicted earlier this year , visual exploration of data is proving to be a hot category, with Tableau Software and QlikTech growing at a breathtaking pace (the latter at 44% in the last quarter), Tibco Spotfire releasing a new version of its software, and MicroStrategy releasing a Visual Insight module.

IBM Cognos looks poised to disrupt what has largely been a niche market. The company will support visual analysis in both stand-alone deployments and as an extension of the Cognos 10 platform. In-memory database Cognos TM1 will power the new visualization tool. I can't get into product names, release dates, or pricing due to nondisclosure agreements.

As part of its education and marketing efforts around business analytics, IBM has released a tool for companies to assess their Analytic Quotient. It's a fairly simplistic maturity model with four levels: novice, builder, leader, master. I like IBM's categories better than those used in the TDWI maturity model (does anyone want to be called an "infant" or "teenager"?), but the TDWI maturity model is more comprehensive.

The real value in IBM's model is that it raises the awareness of the importance of BI and analytics for both strategic and operational business decisions. Few companies have yet to unleash the full potential of BI. Early indications from this year's Successful BI survey (take the survey here) again show that only a minority of companies say BI has delivered significant business impact, whether in terms of boosting revenue, controlling costs, or streamlining operations.

Six customers shared their Analytic Quotient assessments and Cognos experiences at last week's event. "If we relied on the IT department to innovate, we'd still be playing on a Commodore," declared John Lucas, director of operations at the Cincinnati Zoo. Lucas' opinion that "IT is not wired to innovate" reflects the ongoing disconnect between business and IT. The zoo relied on a Cognos partner to implement the software.

Lucas' comments drew chuckles and nods of sympathy, but I do think (hope?) this aspect of BI success is improving. Indeed, in the wake of the economic downturn, many IT departments not aligned with the business have been outsourced or severely cut.

A number of customers touted improved performance and integration with TM1 as a key reason for upgrading to Cognos 10, which was released last October. The other impetus for upgrading was the product's improved user interface and workflow, supported by Business Insight and Business Insight Advanced (see my just-published, in-depth review ).

Business Insight is the interface for user-assembled dashboards. Business Insight Advanced combines the capabilities of Query Studio and Analysis Studio in a single interface. A few customers appearing on a panel said the upgrade went smoothly, but none of these customers had large user bases or thousands of reports to migrate. An executive at a large media company that has thousands of users decided to run Cognos 10 in parallel with its older Cognos 8 deployment for now.

IBM celebrates its 100 anniversary on June 16. It wasn't part of the formal presentations last week, but one employee shared how IBM has asked its workers to mark the event: by contributing back to the community in volunteer work that day. Employees can recruit workers to help at their favorite charity or service organization. It seems a positive way that IBM can not only build a "smarter planet," but a better one.

Cindi Howson is the founder of BI Scorecard , an independent analyst firm that advises companies on BI tool strategies and offers in-depth business intelligence product reviews.

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