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Cognos: Setting the Stage for Series 8

Cognos’ upcoming Series 8 release will be an important, perhaps pivotal, deliverable

Cognos Inc. last shipped a platform release of its popular BI suite, Cognos Series 7, in November of 2001—nearly four years ago. At its Cognos Forum user confab last month, the BI giant gave attendees a glimpse of its long-awaited Series 8 BI suite, which it says should ship sometime this September.

Given the changes the BI industry has itself undergone over the last four years, Series 8 will be an important, perhaps pivotal release for Cognos.

Cognos has released several major updates to its Series 7 suite—notably, a Series 7 Version 2 (7.2) release in February of 2003, followed by a 7.3 update—along with ReportNet, which Cognos bills as its first full-fledged enterprise reporting solution. Furthermore, the company has grown its Cognos Planning tool over the same period, adding new features and incorporating technology assets, expertise, and (in some cases) customers from several recent acquisitions.

During the same period, however, arch-rival Business Objects SA acquired best-in-class enterprise reporting technology of its own and delivered four significant revisions of its BI suite. In recent months, Business Objects has amplified its ambitions in the enterprise performance management (EPM) space, a market in which Cognos and rival Hyperion Solutions Corp. are seminal players. Hyperion, for its part, hasn’t rested on its laurels, either. In the last two years, the company acquired an enterprise reporting solution of its own (courtesy of the former Brio Software Inc.) and has continued to enhance its Essbase OLAP server, along with its own EPM solution portfolio.

This isn’t counting the competitive threat posed by BI, data-mining, and statistical analysis powerhouse SAS Institute Inc., which—just 16 months ago—delivered its first-ever end-to-end BI suite, an offering that it positions as a complement to its traditional data mining, analytic, and industry-specific expertise.

Nor does it take into account a rejuvenated MicroStrategy Inc., which also delivered an enterprise reporting solution of its own (Report Services), along with (earlier this year) a significantly revamped version of its flagship BI suite. Other pressures are just starting to coalesce: there’s the incipient threat posed by relational-database-cum-BI-challengers Microsoft Corp. and Oracle Corp., for example, along with the huge underground success of Information Builders Inc., a half-billion dollar BI powerhouse with a history to match that of SAS.

What it all adds up to, analysts say, is a highly competitive BI and EPM landscape contested by a herd of highly viable players. “Enterprise requirements for Performance Management and BI continue to expand as organizations raise the priority of these initiatives. Major releases from BI and application providers this year are fueling a technology and applications race for market leadership,” writes Mark Smith, CEO and senior vice-president of research with consultancy Ventana Research. “Cognos, Business Objects, Hyperion, [Information Builders], SAS and Siebel are duking it out and all are seeing continued revenue growth.”

Smith thinks the market will have a culling effect on this herd, largely to the advantage of vendors that have embraced both BI and performance management, such as Business Objects, Cognos, and Hyperion.

Series 8—What’s in Store

Cognos has been tight-lipped about Series 8. Reached just after this year’s Cognos Forum—which featured a demo of Series 8—Mychelle Mollot, vice-president of market strategy, declined to elaborate on new features and functionality Cognos has built into that release.

Nevertheless, Cognos Forum attendees were given a sneak peek at the upcoming release, which includes ReportNet, PowerPlay (Cognos OLAP query and analysis tool), Metrics Manager, Decision Stream (Cognos ETL tool), and NoticeCast (an event messaging tool), along with a set of shared services.

Ventana’s Smith says the upcoming Series 8 release should help to shore up Cognos’ data access and data manipulation credentials—an important accomplishment, especially in light of the centrality of data integration and federated data access technologies in next-generation application architectures.

“Cognos 8 addresses this [data access] requirement by offering static, parameterized and interactive reporting,” he writes, noting that Series 8 also boasts OLAP analysis capabilities (via PowerPlay Web, which Cognos has rechristened “Analysis Studio”) and embedded event notification (via NoticeCast, which—coincidental with the Series 8 release—has been rebranded as Event Studio) and data integration services (DecisionStream reborn as Data Manager).

There’s also a shared metadata repository, a standard user interface, and a common look and feel, says Smith. This should do much to address the sometimes kludgey integration between PowerPlay, Cognos’ venerable OLAP analysis tool, and ReportNet, Cognos’ enterprise reporting product.

“Interactivity capabilities previously restricted to OLAP and formatting capabilities previously restricted to reports are now provided across both reporting and OLAP,” he writes. “Furthermore, reports and interactive analysis can be done using data from either OLAP or relational data sources.”

Similarly, says Smith, the tighter integration between OLAP and reporting in Series 8 should deliver better performance. “Summary reports based on relational data that run slowly because of high join counts or sub-queries can be accelerated by caching data into PowerPlay or other OLAP cubes, off-loading the database and utilizing the OLAP cube’s pre-aggregation capabilities,” he points out. In this respect, Smith concedes, Series 8 is similar to other hybrid (OLAP and relational database) offerings from Actuate Corp., Business Objects, Microsoft Corp., MicroStrategy Inc., Oracle Corp., SAP AG, and others.

Cognos officials also tout Series 8's ease-of-use improvements—something users hear from all BI vendors. In Series 8, Cognos appears to be taking ease-of-use more seriously, says Smith.

“Interfaces were field-tested during the suite's design phase. For power users, more analytic capabilities have been added, while for business users, simplified interfaces, such as Cognos Viewer, remain ready at hand,” he writes. “Interactivity controls that are common across multiple analytic interfaces share a similar look and feel. Even though all interfaces are web-delivered, users are provided controls such as drag and drop and tree expansions.”

As a result, he speculates, “organizations that adopt Cognos 8 will obtain material improvements in productivity from the simplified interfaces.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a technology writer with 20 years of experience. His writing has focused on business intelligence, data warehousing, and analytics for almost 15 years. Swoyer has an abiding interest in tech, but he’s particularly intrigued by the thorny people and process problems technology vendors never, ever want to talk about. You can contact him at [email protected].

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