Cognos has taken another step forward with the release of its latest BI platform, Cognos 8, said to deliver a complete BI solution in a single Web-services architecture.
Canadian business intelligence (BI) software maker, Cognos Inc, has unveiled its new Cognos 8 BI platform. Speaking to a global audience of customers, analysts and media, Cognos chief executive Rob Ashe said that Cognos 8 changed the rules for BI. "A new standard has been defined," he said.
Ashe claimed that Cognos 8 BI is the first solution to deliver complete BI capabilities in a single web-services architecture and would be a strong magnet for companies seeking to standardise their enterprise BI initiatives upon going forward.
Cognos 8 BI, which was originally called Series 8 when in development, is no ordinary upgrade from Series 7, which was released over two years ago. Rather it brings together all of Cognos' once-disparate portfolio of tools - PowerPlay, Metrics Manager, DecisionStream and NoticeCast - into a single architecture.
Architecture is the operative word here. What Cognos has done in this release is effectively bring the rest of its BI product line in sync with the new service-oriented architecture (SOA) that debuted with the launch of its ReportNet enterprise reporting tool a couple of years ago.
"The revolution we initiated with ReportNet two years ago continues [today]," Ashe said.
Ashe said that Cognos 8 BI blurs the historic distinction between different Cognos products - PowerPlay, Metrics Manager, NoticeCast and Decision Stream - that existed separately. Instead the company has replaced them with a tightly integrated set of design 'Studios' - Report Studio, Analysis Studio, Metrics Studio - that work closely together to share data.
Cognos officials presenting at the San Francisco event said: "[Cognos 8 BI] is designed as one product ... it does not smash together disparate products into a suite," which is arguably what Series 7 did.
Customers really have to peek under the covers of the underlying architecture to appreciate the key advancements in Cognos 8 BI. A primary benefit of the new single architecture is to open up the core authoring engine to work against more data types, not just relational data. Cognos 8 BI's Open Data Access strategy coupled with its single metadata layer now allows all BI capabilities - query, reporting analysis, dashboarding, scorecarding, event management - to run against any type of data including multidimensional (OLAP) and planning data.
Before the choice of database determined what tool was used to access and analyse data. Cognos has now removed that distinction by building a single, consistent data access layer that all these tools can talk to ... the layer handles all the translations to SQL and MDX automatically.
"There is no need to flatten multidimensional cubes and rebuild them for reporting. With Cognos 8 BI you can report directly against PowerPlay cubes and planning data," officials said.
Cognos points out that this approach is different from other BI solutions that rely exclusively on pre-built data adapters to provide broad access to multiple data sources.
Cognos 8 BI also implements a bevy of functional upgrades aimed at ease of use, with a keen eye towards driving greater self-service capabilities and ultimately higher user adoption. "Simplicity goes hand in hand with completeness," officials said, pointing towards a 'zero-footprint' client for all types of users, report authors, analysts and administrators.
"We are allowing users to work with personalised, yet consistent information, using the interfaces they are comfortable with and which fit their needs and skills," officials said. For example, Cognos 8 BI users can author ad-hoc queries against relational or OLAP data, graphically format results using standard templates, and then share the report across the enterprise.
Another key enhancement is in the area of business event management and process integration. Officials say that Cognos 8 BI goes beyond standard data-driven event handling, offering realtime e-mail alerting based on key operational and performance events or even external news feeds through the RSS channel. Event monitoring agents can set up against key management processes and performance management data. They can also interact directly with third-party process management engines from IBM Corp and FileNet Corp.
"Cognos BI 8 is now fully process-driven. We go beyond just notifying users of events, we also help to resolve events by executing a specific action," officials said.
Scorecarding has also been enhanced through advanced initiative tracking which lets users to monitor the impact of actions on a given metric and take corrective decisions. Users can also generate a historical audit trail on specific metric to expose trends using a point-and-click advanced history chart.
Other enhancements in Cognos 8 BI relate to integrated dimensional reporting, auto-drill down, up and across capabilities, expanded chart styles (such as gauges and maps), richer graphical formatting tools, and support for deeper, comparative analyses with provision to tap into ROLAP (relational OLAP) analysis models.
Although Cognos 8 BI comes with greatly simplified pricing model, Cognos said that customers could still licence each component separately.
A couple of years ago Cognos executed a similar multicity launch for its ReportNet enterprise reporting product. ReportNet has since been a runaway success and Cognos, which has garnered around 2500 customers since its launch in 2003 and continues to drive new licence revenue - over $235m in licence revenue in the first quarter of this year is attributed to ReportNet sales.
Cognos is banking on many of these ReportNet customers to upgrade to the full Cognos 8 BI architecture. For ReportNet customers it represents the next major release of the enterprise reporting product, with the additional capabilities of Analysis Studio and Metrics Studio, Cognos said.
Cognos said it is offering migration strategies to help existing customers upgrade to people to Cognos 8 BI and safeguard their existing investments. Officials claim that Cognos 8 BI can easily co-exist with Series 7 deployments and promised downwards compatibility with older versions of PowerPlay cubes assets. "PowerPlay cubes can work natively with Cognos 8 Report Studio," company officials said.
Cognos also said it is offering conversion utilities for customers of its older Impromptu and Impromptu Web Reports (IWR) ad hoc reporting tools, suggesting that these reports will not be automatically supported in Cognos 8 BI.
Of course the end game for Cognos is ultimately to get customers onto its corporate performance management (CPM) platform. However, rearchitecting Cognos' Planning and Consolidation tools (which are based on technologies acquired from Adaytum Inc and Frango AB) into the new SOA fold is still work in progress. However, Cognos points out that Cognos 8 BI can natively access Planning and Consolidation data.
"With Cognos 8 BI we are providing an enterprise-scale technology foundation for performance management, now and in the future," Ashe said.
Cognos will however face competition from BI rivals like Business Objects SA and Hyperion Solutions Corp, both of whom are executing their own platform plays due out later this year. Business Objects is expected to release BusinessObjects XII in the fourth quarter which promises to tighten up integration with the Crystal family of reporting products. Meanwhile Hyperion is working on two main integration projects: 'Avalanche', which unifies BI tools acquired from Brio Software into a single platform, and 'System 7', which will pull together its BI and performance management tools onto a shared infrastructure and set of user interfaces. Both releases are expected in the fall.
Cognos 8 BI is due for general availability this November.
Growth in BI and CPM Markets
According to the latest reports released from IDC, Cognos achieved outstanding growth in both worldwide BI and CPM markets in 2004. Of particular note is the development in BI where Cognos was the highest market share gainer.
Moreover, Cognos is the only vendor to show more than 20% growth in both markets - with revenue growth of 22,9% in BI, and 21,3% in BPM/Finance (as reported in IDC's 'Worldwide Business Intelligence 2004 Vendor Shares' and 'Worldwide Business Performance Management and Financial Analytic Applications 2005-2009 Forecast and 2004 Vendor Shares'). "Cognos has demonstrated solid marketplace momentum with its business intelligence and performance management solutions. Organisations are placing a premium on solutions that help them analyse business performance in order to drive greater efficiencies and opportunity," says Dan Vesset, IDC research director: analytics and data warehousing software. "It is extremely rare to see a software company achieve such strong growth in both the software tools and applications markets simultaneously."
States the IDC's report: "Clearly Cognos is committed to its performance management vision and has a strong foothold in this market driven predominantly by continued momentum of Cognos planning, which continues to be the number one area of growth in the BPM space. As organisations expand BPM from finance-driven initiatives out into operations, Cognos' planning, scorecarding, and BI capabilities together provide a robust platform for enterprise-wide performance management."