IBM-takeover target Cognos yesterday showed off the third generation of its SOA-based Cognos 8 business intelligence business intelligence platform, with CEO rob Ashe calling it a flagship release for enabling pervasive performance management.
The newest version, Cognos 8.3, which is available now, was unveiled at a special virtual global launch on Tuesday. It represents the third major release of the Cognos 8 BI platform which was first introduced in 2005 as an SOA re-architected and unified version of Cognos’ older and disparate query, analysis, dashboarding and reporting tools. Cognos 8 now underpins Cognos’ performance management platform and applications. Importantly Cognos 8.3 also absorbs some of Cognos old brand of product, notably ReportNet, which was the first iteration of Cognos 8, but only for relational reporting. That tool’s footprint has now been broadened. Cognos data access technology, Framework Manager, is also now an integrated tool in the 8.3 release as opposed to a separate product.
Cognos 8.3 also builds in a richer set of new and updated features that hands more relevant performance management information to a much broader constituency of enterprise users and eases deployment and administration. In other words it enables, in the words of Ashe, more pervasive performance management.
Cognos 8.3 delivers more relevant information that matters to users anywhere and anytime, said Leah MacMillan, vice product of product management at Ottawa-based Cognos.
During the virtual launch MacMillan outlined a diverse community of enterprise users that Cognos 8.3 is designed to support. For example, she outlined new features like Briefing Books that combine different styles and formats in a single multi-page report, scorecard portlets powered by Cognos Connection, a BI portal-based dashboard tool, and Cognos 8 Go Mobile extensions for Blackberry and Symbian devices that are aimed at harried executives.
The Briefing Books provide a way for executives to more easily navigate through multi-page reports, MacMillan said. They also allow systems administrators to respond quicker and more easily to requests from senior executives for specific performance information.
For line of business managers working under tighter time constraints, Cognos 8.3 provides quick and easy access to reports and analysis without having IT build it for them. These include new personalized and multi-tabbed dashboards and easy access to a common planning environment.
Cognos 8.3’s ad hoc query, open data access and common business model, empowers users to get access to a complete and consistent view of information and removes the complexity, MacMillan said.
We’re connecting finance with other line of businesses as well in a common planning portal, she added.
Meanwhile financial and business analysts – the so called power users – require flexibility and freedom to explore data for tasks such as business case and what if analyses. To support these users, Cognos 8.3 introduces brand new an analysis and authoring capabilities including a zero-footprint, web-based analysis environment as well as the ability to analyze centrally-managed data models in Microsoft Excel, which is the preferred tool of choice for many financial analysts.
Additionally, Cognos has also added a new Express self-serve authoring mode for creating and publishing cross-tabbed and statement-style reporting for profit-loss and gross-margins. Improvements to the core enterprise reporting tool include new horizontal pagination and multi-page navigation while the portal now offers enhanced filtering, watch rules and report subscription tools.
With Express authoring we’ve focused on making it easy for power users to change and add their own cross-tabs, calculations and formats styles in an interface that’s designed specifically for them, MacMillan said.
Analytic modeling has also been give a boost through an upgraded Transformer capabilities that allow groups of power users to build new OLAP cubes (PowerCubes) on the same consistent set of data. For example, one power users can build a small cube for specific line of business analysis, while another can design cube for broader needs and higher level of detail.
Plus there is a new Model Advisor tool included in Framework Manager that taps into best practices to streamline the build effort for designing and maintaining analytic models.
The final, and biggest, user constituency that Cognos 8.3 targets are the masses of casual business users which have thus far had limited interaction with BI.
One of the most important aspects of this release is the empowerment of casual users…allowing them to dictate how and when they want to see business information, MacMillan said.
Often these users don’t know how to find the right information. That’s why the new automated delivery of relevant reports via email is so important because it allows you to author [a report] once and satisfy many [users] in different locales.
MacMillan said that users can also modify views and create personalized reports and also access data through familiar enterprise search interface paradigms through integration with software from Google, IBM and FAST/Microsoft.
For IT administrators Cognos 8.3 also provides enhancements for ongoing system monitoring and management with a revamped console.
For example, IT administrators can now track critical systems metrics in real-time and set up thresholds for off-line monitoring service level agreements. A new Snapshot utility also allows them to bring up a point-in-time view of the current and past system’s health, and pull up live metrics on key aspects of the systems performance such as which scheduled reports are running in the background or currently executing activities. All of this information can be accessed via a Web interface.
We’ve greatly enhanced systems management to allow administrators to trouble-shoot and resolve issues before a user picks up the phone and calls them, MacMillan said.
MacMillan also explained that Cognos 8.3 now comes with more simplified upgrade management in order to handle escalating data and user requirements. For example, there is a new Upgrade Manager tool to smoothly manage reports through migration to newer versions of the platform.
Cognos has also provided expanded platform support for databases, operating systems (including Vista) and third-party integration with server products like SharePoint.
To support rapid and successful deployment of its technology, Cognos has also unveiled a new performance management framework and expanded its range of planning Blueprints as well as upgrading its consultancy, role-based training and online support services. This now includes new services and methodologies to assist customers with migration and implementation.
In parallel with the 8.3 release, Cognos has also updated part so its financial performance management (FPM) suite, notably its Financial Controller financial consolidation application to include process enhancements to inter-company adjustments, additional GL audit, reporting and security capabilities and support for simplified Chinese.
Separately, Cognos this week also announced a new financial planning and scorecard Blueprints for retail and public sector performance planning. They are the latest in an extensive line of vertical and function-specific Blueprints that Cognos offers.
Last November IBM tabled a $5bn takeover bid for Cognos. It expects to close that deal in the fist quarter of this year. On Monday Cognos shareholders already voted to approve IBM’s proposal.
Cognos’ attempt to elevate performance management to the next level grounded on a philosophy of making BI and analytic tools that underpin it more pervasive across the enterprise.
The functional upgrades in Cognos 8.3 like statement-style reporting, improved navigation, richer visualization and more business-friendly tools and interfaces for building and manipulating OLAP cube data will undoubtedly help. But right now PM is far from being pervasive and most early deployments remain entrenched in the office of finance. Like Cognos CEO Ashe says, PM is journey and it won’t happen overnight.
As such the revamped services that Cognos has wrappered around the Cognos 8 v3 platform are equally important, not only accelerate deployments but also to extend performance management to other operational areas in the enterprise.