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Cognos the latest to proclaim 'one BI platform'

With Cognos 8, generally available in November, the BI firm is racing with other vendors to provide users all their BI tools in one set.

Research conducted earlier this year found that 60% of companies are implementing or considering consolidating their disparate business intelligence (BI) platforms, according to John Haggerty, vice president with Boston-based AMR Research Inc.

That's what makes today's announcement from Ottawa-based Cognos Inc. so important. The release of Cognos 8 will provide multiple BI tools in a single platform.

"They're not out in front with this, this is what the marketplace wants," Haggerty said.

As BI has matured and its adoption has grown beyond sophisticated BI analysts and the "power users" and into the broader enterprise, it has left many companies running multiple BI systems. With its latest release, Cognos is bringing together all its BI tools, including ReportNet, event management, actionable scorecards, self-service reporting and reporting from both relational and multidimensional sources.

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Additionally, Cognos 8 is built on a service-oriented architecture (SOA).

"We took the hit several years ago and built a new Web services-based SOA, and we built it from the ground up to service the needs of our company and customers, first in ReportNet for reporting and querying, and we're developing it now in Cognos 8 for a number of other technologies," said Don Campbell, vice president of product innovation and technology at Cognos.

Cognos' competition, Santa Clara, Calif.-based Hyperion Solutions Corp., has promised to release its own BI platform, named Avalanche, at the end of the year, as has France's Business Objects SA. Gerry Cohen, CEO of New York-based Information Builders, has promised real-time and SOA-based data integration announcements later this year. MicroStrategy Inc. in McLean, Va., claims it has had an integrated architecture since 2002.

"They're at different levels of completeness, depending on how they access data and share meta data," said Dan Vessett, analyst with Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. "Everyone is moving toward that. By the end of the year it will be hard to say one is ahead of the other. But Business Objects and Hyperion have had a tougher time because of their large acquisitions."

Two years ago Business Objects purchased competitor Crystal Decisions Inc. and Hyperion bought Brio Software Inc.

"Technically, [Cognos is] moving some of the boundaries as well," said Keith Gile, senior industry analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc.. "They're no longer dependent on their PowerCube for [online analytical processing] and no longer dependent on relational data for reporting. If you want to build a report great, it can be on anything you want it to be. Hyperion still has some work to do in finishing integration of legacy Brio product."

Manpower Inc., a staffing firm based in Milwaukee, is thrilled with the new capabilities of Cognos 8. The company has been beta testing the product for the past couple months with 1,000 users on the planning product and 5,000 using BI.

"The biggest thing, especially for planning, is just being able to use planning data in a reporting environment and brining that together with other sources," said Vivian Adashek, manager with the U.S. finance dept. at Manpower. "Being able to analyze in a real-time world and being able to create reports from analysis just really gives users access they didn't have before. Before, within planning they were able to look at data but unable to report it in the BI environment."

While Cognos is essentially the sole BI tool for Manpower, Adashek expects the new release and its new tools to convince other departments to jump on the Cognos bandwagon. Greater ease of use and event alerts have helped spread the message.

Manpower's experience is the kind of story Cognos is hoping to hear more of, as it faces increased competition from the likes of SAP AG, Oracle Corp. and Microsoft, which are all expanding into the BI market, Haggerty said. The one platform push from BI vendors is directed at expanding their footprint with existing customers while providing the integration argument for new customers.

According to Gile, a small survey of enterprise businesses Forrester conducted last spring found that 65% had between five and 15 separate BI solutions.

"Some are left over from two decades ago," Gile said. "Organizations are saying, 'We have to stop this nonsense. We need to standardize on one platform or just a few platforms.' Cognos and Business Objects have the advantage at this time, partially due to their install base, partially because they can deliver on the promises of a single platform."

Additionally, the SOA approach is key as larger business application vendors intrude on the market. According to separate Forrester Research, nearly 30% of large organizations already have a policy in place for SOA.

Cognos 8 will be available now in a controlled release and generally available in November. It will be introduced via role-based pricing, according to Campbell. For example, a deployment with 150 BI consumers, 15 business authors, 15 business analysts, 10 business managers, five BI professionals and two BI administrators would fall in the $220,000 range, including the first year of support and maintenance.

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