Cognos saddles up to SAP users

Watch out SAP users; Cognos has you squarely in its sights. Tighter integration with SAP’s platform, closer links with Microsoft Office and a more powerful search tool are among additions the Ottawa-based business intelligence vendor announced last month to its flagship product, Cognos 8 Business Intelligence.

A major focus for Cognos was extending the tight integration its ReportNet product, which was rolled into Cognos 8 BI last fall, had with SAP and Siebel. Scott Lawrence, Cognos director of product marketing, said the changes allow all the functionalities of Cognos 8 BI to be used against SAP data, extending the capabilities of the SAP platform with 80 new functionalities to give users more self-service options.

Many customers are running multiple platforms, such as SAP, PeopleSoft and Siebel, for different business functions, and each has its own data warehouse. The challenge Cognos 8 BI solves, said Lawrence, is searching and making calculations across those different data stores without extracting the data first. He added the SAP market is an important, and very active, one for Cognos. “[A lot of] the SAP BW base is actually looking at augmenting what comes out of the box with a third-party reporting solution or a BI solution,” said Lawrence.

Another key addition to Cognos 8 BI is a more robust search capability, called Cognos Go. Paul Hulford, a senior product marketing manager with Cognos, said BI users have been hampered by the lack of an effective search tool.

“It means users spend a lot of time asking for or creating reports that probably already exist, and it also means they can’t benefit from all of the reports that are available to them,” said Hulford.

Cognos and other BI vendors have included search tools in their products before but Hulford said they were limited. The challenge is that a BI report is essentially a set of rules telling you where to go to retrieve the information, making it difficult to search that information. Older search tools were limited to light metadata such as title and properties, and weren’t particularly intuitive.

Cognos was able to take a different approach when a single metadata environment was introduced in Cognos 8 BI. The new search tool pre-indexes all the data in a report to allow for faster searches that put less strain on the system and to let searchers use context to narrow their results. For example, rather than just searching on Americas, the user can choose to treat Americas as a sales territory.

The company also announced a deeper integration with Microsoft Office, including the ability to embed Cognos 8 BI reports and metrics within Excel and PowerPoint files and a central repository to store and share files.

John Haggerty, a vice-president with AMR Research in Boston, said he was most impressed by the tighter integration with SAP and Siebel. Noting SAP has some 35,000 customers, Haggerty said it’s a big market for Cognos.

“They’re really reaching out and embracing the enterprise vendors they do a lot of work with,” said Haggerty. “The integration to the backend systems is where I see a lot of people really trying to get as much leverage as they can out of their existing BI investments.”

Noting the strategic alliance Cognos signed earlier in the month with IBM around service oriented architectures, Haggerty said Cognos is realizing its future is tied in many cases to being part of everyone else’s overall architecture.

“I think that’s a smart move for them because it really recognizes they live in a very heterogeneous world, and they need to fit in lots of different places under lots of different guises,” said Haggerty.

While important, Haggerty said the Office integration is a case of Cognos keeping pace with the competition. On the search side, though, he said Cognos is leading the pack, addressing the desire from users to do true searches of their BI content, rather than just random query and report.

“The fact they’re allowing their content to be searchable is a real step forward,” said Haggerty. “I expect we’ve only seen the beginning of how search is going to change the face of BI going forward.”

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