Cognos BI package more user-friendly: analyst

Ottawa-based Cognos Inc.’s release on Tuesday of Version 3 of its Cognos 8 BI suite includes functionality geared towards easing deployment and management of business intelligence (BI) for the IT department, said one analyst.

IT’s deployment of BI across the enterprise tends to be conservative in light of potential manageability issues, such as the potential for new functionality to create user confusion that in turn increases the number of help desk calls, said David O’Connell, senior analyst with Wellesley, Mass.-based research firm Nucleus Research Inc.

New features that address this pain point for IT, he said, include enhanced system administration with automated monitoring to ensure the system is running as it should. “The easier it is to deploy, the more likely they are to deploy it. The easier it is to control it, the better off they are,” said O’Connell. Also, functionality for better queue management is intended to help IT ensure user-run reports and queries won’t affect the overall system performance, like a bulky report that may slow the system or even shut down a server, he said.

But overall, the new features, he said, are designed to help customers reap a return on investment on their business intelligence software purchase by helping drive user adoption and the number of times employees use the tool.

Besides getting the necessary buy-in from IT, the new features are also designed to provide that end-user experience to employees, said O’Connell.

The self-service features grant users more autonomy and less reliance on IT. For instance, self-service strategy maps let users add new strategic objectives and supporting metrics to their scorecards; and self-service personal alerts let users create notifications of value changes. “The more people can do on their own, the more people are going to use business intelligence,” he said, adding that once some users are successfully using BI, others will want to follow suit.

The productivity improvements that enable the system to perform faster will also drive acceptance because users are often deterred by sluggish systems, he said.

Cognos’ vice-president of product marketing, Leah MacMillan, said the features should help broaden the tool’s user base. “Customers will be able to improve overall business performance by enabling diverse users – from front-line business personnel to financial analysts to executives – to receive personalized, relevant information where, when and how they need it.”

While the improvements are incremental, the new functionality may convince some enterprises that have been holding back on performance management software to finally adopt such a tool, said Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst for software with Toronto-based research firm IDC Canada Ltd. “The additional functionality will drive some sales but like any other kind of incremental improvements, it’s not going to open up a new segment for the company,” he said, adding that new features to an existing suite tend to not be revolutionary.

Adopters of Version 3, said Restivo, will be a combination of Version 2 users and new customers.

And considering, it’s an era of “good enough computing” where enterprises and consumers tend to stretch investments longer and continue to use the same software, Restivo said vendors need to work harder to get customers to upgrade to a new version.

With the recent news of the company’s acquisition by Armonk, New York-based IBM Corp., Restivo said he doubts customers should have concerns around product support especially since the partnership appears complementary. However, he added, structural changes are always inevitable and “how Cognos fits into the IBM information and data management stack has yet to be spelled out to customers.”

The acquisition won’t affect future versions of the Cognos BI suite either, he said. “This isn’t a suite of software that IBM already offers.”

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