IBM Cognos 10: Great News for Microsoft!

Updated: November 23, 2010

IBM Cognos 10 starts with the aims (among others) of extending the use of BI across an enterprise's workforce, improve collaboration among users, and continue to improve performance/scalability, particularly in the area of a faster turnaround time between data input and delivery of actionable information to a decision-maker. There are a number of interesting ways that they are seeking to achieve these goals:

  1. Provide a finer-grained "user unit" than a "role". IBM Cognos 10 sees the new unit as a combination of individual role and business need, i.e., the unit is the business analyst collaborating with the CFO on a what-if scenario. This allows IBM Cognos 10 IT to more easily support the notion of "collaborative BI."
  2. Beef up centralized BI with "self-service BI." Like a portal, this would allow users to invoke BI in a more flexible way, while integrating the results of that invocation with existing BI.
  3. Make BI more accessible, more shared, and more dynamic. That is, BI would have specific support for a wider class of end users, more collaboration features, and greater mobile, real-time, and business-process-driven capabilities.

To achieve this, IBM Cognos 10 adds features such as:

  • A new user workspace sprinkled with phrases like "access to external data", "drag and drop", "personalized", "free-form", "Web 2.0", "search-assisted", and "progressive" (i.e., exploratory).
  • Connectivity enhancements such as "decision history", "workflow support", "data stewardship", "threaded discussions", "tasks", "search threads", and "discussions."
  • Mobile/real-time/business-process improvements such as iPhone/iPad connectivity, "interactive reports", mashups, and workflow support. Performance is enhanced by improved in-memory processing and the columnar Smart Analytics Optimizer appliance, while IBM Smart Analytics Cloud on System z and IBM's public-cloud support extend IBM Cognos 10's support of cloud architectures.

So that's a lot of additional capabilities. How does IBM propose to smooth the way for upgrades? Answer: primarily training. Training for old users; training for new users. Training books; training workshops; training software; training via social and computing communities.

And here's where I run into difficulties with what, by any standard, is a comprehensive, feature-rich way to move into the analytics future. In the past, "technology push" that seeks to train users in new capabilities rather than adapt to users' styles has typically lost out to "user pull" software that is by no means as functional, but at least builds these capabilities on existing "for the masses" software. A case in point might be Microsoft Excel and Sharepoint vs. Lotus Notes and Domino.

So I would not count on the new IBM Cognos 10 to bring "BI for the masses", nor even to be the dominant BI platform. Dominant in the executive suite and among data miners, maybe; but the trend towards feature-rich BI may actually mean that, despite simplification of individual tasks, IBM Cognos 10 is actually moving away from simplicity, from the viewpoint of the average employee.

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