Cognos melds disparate BI software into one application

Cognos Inc. is preparing a new software update, Cognos 8 Business Intelligence, that will pull together all of its analytics and reporting tools into one application.

The software, scheduled to be announced Monday and to begin shipping worldwide in November, integrates Cognos products including ReportNet, Metrics Manager, PowerPlay, DecisionStream and NoticeCast. Although Cognos is replacing a software suite with a single application, customers will still be able to license only the functionality they need, Cognos Vice President of Product Marketing Leah MacMillan said.

"Customers have the ability to license by user role, which grants access to certain functionality. So, you could start with reporting and license for that," MacMillan said. Customers on maintenance subscriptions for Cognos's individual products will be able to carry forward their licenses to the relevant parts of Cognos 8 Business Intelligence. For example, customers using ReportNet will receive licenses for the new software's reporting features.

The update aligns Cognos's BI software on a unified, Web services-based architecture, a change the company expects to simplify deployment and administration. The complete application includes portal, query, reporting, dashboarding, analysis and event management functionality.

Other enhancements in Cognos 8 include more robust alert and event management tools, scorecards with deeper functionality, more flexible portal features and improved self-service reporting tools. Self-service reporting was a major focus area in user feedback, MacMillan said.

"One of the top requests we had from business users was 'Make it easier for me to create my own report -- I don't want to have to ask IT,'" she said.

Beta tester John Hasenzahl, director of knowledge services and data event management at trucking company Schneider National Inc., said he sees major advances in the new versions of Metrics Manager and ReportNet. Green Bay, Wis.-based Schneider National has been using Cognos software for six years and supports several thousand users on it.

"Metrics Manager [Version 7] had shortcomings that were holding up our deployment, mostly to do with the granularity of the metrics," Hasenzahl said. Different business units at Schneider National want to view data in different ways, and the old software made such customization difficult. Version 8 resolves that problem and allows for the heterogeneity Schneider needs, he said.

Performance benefits are noticeable as well: PDF rendering, a very CPU-intensive process for Schneider with the previous version of ReportNet, now goes faster and consumers fewer resources, Hasenzahl said. He also sees advantages in the software's new, unified architecture.

"We think it's really going to help our ability to maintain and upgrade and put in fixes for the applications much more easily," he said. "It's definitely going to reduce the hours we spend on maintenance."

Schneider uses most of Cognos's BI applications. It will definitely move into production with the new versions of ReportNet and Metrics Manager, but it may hold off on a complete Version 8 overhaul, Hasenzahl said. It would be an expensive upgrade, even though Schneider has maintenance contracts, he acknowledged.

"There is a cost for us, I'm not sure how much," he said. "We haven't made the determination yet [on a full upgrade]."

Cognos 8 BI's cost varies depending on its configuration. Cognos estimated the licensing fee for a sample deployment at $220,000, including 150 report consumers and 15 authors, along with several other licensed roles.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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