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IBM releases Cognos business intelligence suite aimed at midmarket

IBM has released a business intelligence suite called Cognos Express designed specifically for midmarket companies.

Hoping to capture the underserved midmarket, IBM today released a new version of its Cognos business intelligence (BI) software designed specifically for medium-sized companies.

IBM Cognos Express is an "all-in-one" BI suite that customers can deploy in a matter of hours without having to allocate significant manpower or expensive servers and other hardware for support, IBM says.

It includes reporting, dashboarding and ad hoc query capabilities, a real-time data analysis module, and planning, budgeting and forecasting functionality. It utilizes an in-memory analytics server and a centralized OLAP data store to ensure all users are accessing consistent data, according to the company.

In addition to being sold as a suite, the reporting, analysis and planning modules can also be purchased separately, IBM said.

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Most importantly, the new software includes predefined data models and therefore doesn't demand extensive data modeling up front. The suite can also be managed by a small team -- even just one IT staff member, according to Ben Plummer, general manager of IBM's Cognos midmarket business.

"Our goal with the product is having one person who is data-savvy be able to manage the product," Plummer said.

Most small and medium-sized companies lack the IT resources to implement and manage enterprise-level BI systems but still need BI and data analytic capabilities, according to Boris Evelson, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research.

As a result, "more greenfield opportunities [for BI vendors] exist in the SMB sector," Evelson wrote in a recent report, and IBM's latest move seems to bear that point out.

"We believe [business intelligence] technologies themselves are very important for companies of this size. There's tons and tons of data out there," Plummer said. "This market is extremely high-growth."

Rather than scaling its enterprise BI suite, Cognos 8, for smaller deployments, Plummer said Cognos Express was designed specifically with midmarket companies in mind. It is part of IBM's Express product line, which includes server, storage and middleware technology targeted at midsized companies, and will be sold mainly through channel partners, he said.

Forrester Research's Tim Harmon said IBM has developed a number of solid predefined data models that remove the need for complex data modeling by customers. In addition, IBM's channel partners command significant domain expertise and can customize and "extend the data models" for their midmarket customers when needed.

Robert Anderson, an analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner, said data modeling is a common sticking point for midsized companies embarking on BI deployments. Most either eschew data modeling altogether, resulting in data quality problems, or get so bogged down in creating data models that they lose executive sponsorship for the project, he said.

Cognos Express' predefined data models "provide the immediate best practices, metadata discipline right up front," Anderson said, though he added that as a midmarket company's BI need and data grow more complex, it may eventually have to "revisit" its data models.

He added that Cognos Express, when deployed as a suite, should allow midmarket customers to better bind BI and performance management together and better tie decision making to corporate objectives.

Both analysts concurred with IBM that Cognos Express was designed specifically for midmarket companies and requires significantly less administrative efforts than enterprise-level BI platforms.

"It's heartening that IBM Cognos is doing something that is purpose-built for this market," Harmon said. "The biggest problem with BI in general is the administrative aspect … they've alleviated that part of it."

He cautioned, however, that not all midmarket companies will find Cognos Express within their price range.

"I think it is affordable to what I call the upper tier of the midmarket," Harmon said. "It has the potential to still be on the expensive side if you're going to be using all those modules."

Cognos Express starts at $12,500 per module, Plummer said. Customers that qualify can also finance the purchase, as well as pay in installments that IBM says can be as low as $25 per user, per month.

Gartner's Anderson has a different take. "What [IBM] said is you can have upwards of 50 users for under 100 grand. From my perspective, that's a very aggressive price point," Anderson said. "It should be really attractive to midmarket companies."

The new suite joins SAP BusinessObjects Edge series and SaaS BI offerings from TIBCO Spotfire, Oco and QlikTech that also target midmarket companies.

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