Will Cognos 8 be enough?

TORONTO — Cognos Inc. Wednesday said version 8 of its business intelligence suite is the first of its kind to offer complete reporting and analysis in one package, yet acknowledged that many customers will still prefer to pick the pieces that best fit with their organizations.

Cognos 8 BI was launched by president and CEO Rob Ashe in a presentation broadcast to a dozen cities. He described the platform as a series of browser-based Web services built on a services-oriented architecture (SOA) to allow for flexibility and interoperability with various information systems, including those from Oracle, Microsoft and IBM.

Cognos 8 is the company’s first major release since ReportNet was introduced in 2003. ReportNet, which was similarly touted as a Web services approach to business intelligence, forms the core of the latest suite, which also includes dashboard, scorecard, analysis and performance management components.

Ashe claimed Cognos 8 will bridge the data management and governance requirements of enterprise customers. “We happen to be at the intersection of those two challenges right now,” he said, adding that the product suite could also act as a means to consolidate information produced from disparate IT sources.

A continually changing IT infrastructure is the bete noire of most enterprises, said Howard Dresner, a Gartner analyst who was present at Ashe’s demonstration. Technology tends to accrue since purchasing decisions are made by various departments that tend to add hardware and software pieces as their own needs dictate, he explained, rather than considering the best interests of the organization as a whole.

Enterprises are “starting to recognize that this is a tremendous inhibitor for them,” he said, adding that a lot of data is still exchanged between departments in Excel spreadsheets out of necessity. But “by standardizing on a common set of tools, we have a sort of lingua franca.”

Don Campbell, vice-president of product innovation and technology for Ottawa-based Cognos, said in a separate interview that Cognos 8 will be packaged and priced to encourage users to buy the entire suite, but that may not be realistic for all of the company’s customers.

Given that most enterprises have become accustomed to heterogeneous IT environments, “it tends to be a bit of a culture change for a lot of organizations” to use one tool for all of their reporting and analysis needs. Companies need “internal champions” to push for such a change, he said.

The Ontario government’s Smart Systems for Health Agency (SSHA) was one of Cognos’s beta testers and is committed to rolling out version 8, said the organization’s reporting development manager Tony Schieman.

The SSHA has adopted Cognos primarily for its reporting capabilities but also is using Power Play, the company’s OLAP-based data analysis tool.

The organization, which was formed after the SARS outbreak of 2003, is responsible for deploying technology that connects health-care providers in the province. “That’s 150,000 people in 24,000 locations,” said Schieman. “There’s a lot of people that require the same information. We found there’s a lot of pockets.”

The SSHA has settled on Cognos 8 as a means “to standardize on one technology — from an information management perspective, to try and consolidate all this information and make sure all these different stakeholders are using the same information,” he said.

The organization has created a BI competency centre to help accomplish that transformation. But, added Schieman, the SSHA will continue to use other BI tools in-house, including Crystal Reports and some Microsoft reporting tools, since they are already ingrained in some business processes.

“We’re not going to prevent people from getting their job done if they need to use these tools and they want to use these tools,” he said.

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