Cognos integrates various BI tools through one portal

The differences are disappearing.

The Web version of Ottawa-based Cognos Inc.’s business intelligence (BI) tools used to be a poor imitation of the desktop version, according to end user Malcolm Fowler, the vice president of business development at Ernex Marketing in Burnaby, B.C. But with the release of PowerPlay 6.6, which Ernex beta tested, users who prefer the Web need no longer do without some of the utility once available only on the desktop.

“In the desktop version of the product, there’s sort of a reporter mode and an explorer mode. The Web top would only do the explorer mode functions, and in fact it didn’t do all the explorer mode functions,” Fowler said. This changed with PowerPlay 6.6 and the release of Cognos Query, a new ad-hoc query tool that rests on a SQL database.

“The user interface on the Web product is as good as…whatever I can do on the desktop,” he said.

Ernex runs loyalty programs, and about half of their customers use the Web to access reports that Ernex generates using Cognos products, which have now been integrated and are centrally accessible through a portal.

This means that users can seamlessly jump from viewing a report to a multi-dimensional exploration in PowerPlay, to digging for detailed information using Cognos Query, according to Cognos.

“The big advantage of the portal is that you can provide multiple types of BI content to users, but give them one place to use it. Primarily, it insulates users from all the different types of underlying services. It becomes like a business intelligence newspaper. I just go to one place to see what’s new in my business and how we’re performing,” said Tom Camps, the vice-president of marketing strategy at Cognos.

Through the portal, users can access reporting, analysis, query and visualization tools that sit on top of a metadata layer – a layer of data describing the data. The metadata is designed to connect to the company’s store of information no matter where it resides – in SQL or OLAP databases, data warehouses, ERP systems or legacy systems.

Common to all levels is the security system, which determines which users can access which services.

“What’s happened with the [PowerPlay] 6.6 release, as well as with the Cognos Query release, is that Cognos has put together an architecture for a common framework for all these tools to work together. And that takes a lot of headaches off the IT staff of an organization, who can establish something once and then reuse it multiple times. And for something to be truly enterprise driven, that’s really what it has to be – define once and share many times,” said John Hagerty, vice-president of AMR Research in Boston.

“The other tools are still very much geared more towards users at the desktop doing stuff. [Cognos] is very much of a server-centric architecture,” he continued.

Ernex compared several OLAP products and chose Cognos because it was fairly easy to implement as well as cost competitive, Fowler said. And because a good number of Ernex’s customers access the product themselves through the Web-based portal, it makes Cognos easier to administer, he said.

Cognos has “proven that they can deliver end-user organizations into the arena of business intelligence quickly, and that they can reward the end-user organization by refining the underlying technology, making acquisitions where appropriate in order to increase the value of those underlying technologies and moving forward,” said Aberdeen Group Inc. research vice-president and managing director of decision support research Bob Moran in Boston.

Pricing for PowerPlay 6.6 ( was not available.

Cognos in Ottawa can be reached at 1-800-267-2777.