What is it?
Business intelligence tools deliver information drawn from corporate data to decision makers. Over the years, the definition of a decision maker has widened, from the Management and Executive Information Systems (MIS and EIS) of the 1980s and early 1990s, to include just about anyone in the organisation.
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Cognos is among the leaders in providing easily deployable browser-based business intelligence access.
Cognos has widened its range from query and reporting tools to provide a complete suite of tools for building datawarehouses. It also offers enterprise planning and forecasting and business metrics suites.
As well as having its own direct salesforce, Cognos sells through partners, including global consultancies, systems integrators and providers of industry-specific applications.
Cognos has continued to perform strongly at a time when IT spending has been constrained, winning 10 major contracts in the third quarter of the last financial year.
Where did it originate?
Quasar, the company that became Cognos, was founded in 1969. Quasar supplied a query tool called Quiz for the HP 3000 server. The company's background was in consultancy and bespoke systems. The Cognos software products division was formed in 1979.
What's it for?
The Cognos Enterprise Business Intelligence suite includes extraction, transformation and loading capabilities to pull data together from disparate sources and make it available in a datawarehouse; Olap (online analytical processing) tools for pulling the data out; and visualisation software (graphics) for making complex data easier to understand.
What makes it special?
Cognos is a market leader in the business intelligence sector, the company is very well established and it has a large customer base, providing plenty of opportunities for IT professionals with Cognos skills.
However, Forrester Research analyst Nate Root said that although Cognos software "runs the gamut of business intelligence platform functionality", it is "merely adequate" in advanced disciplines such as data mining.
How difficult is it to master?
Root warned that although suppliers use the same language to describe the functionality of query, reporting and Olap tools, the skills are not transferable. "As a result, each business intelligence package requires unique training, development and IT support," he said.
In addition, the sheer size of the Cognos business intelligence suite - Impromptu and Powerplay for query and reporting, Decisionstream for datawarehousing, among others - means you have to specialise.
Where is it used?
According to Cognos, it has more than 22,000 users in 135 countries, across most industry sectors. These include Hyundai, Geest, Royal Doulton, Greene King, National Grid, Allied Domecq, Bupa, and many universities, hospitals and NHS Trusts.
What systems does it run on?
Windows NT, 2000 and 98; Solaris, HP-UX 11i and IBM AIX 5; Teradata, IBM DB2, Informix, Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, Sybase and ODBC relational data stores; and third-party Olap sources including Microsoft, SAP BW, Hyperion Essbase and IBM DB2 Olap.
What's coming up?
Cognos Reportnet, a Soap- (Simple Object Access Protocol) and XML-based web services product aimed at extending communities of users outside enterprise boundaries.
You will need to take a series of expensive courses to become a specialist in any Cognos tool. Details are available on the supplier's website.
Rates of pay
Cognos developers can expect a salary in the region of £30,000, but you will probably also need SQL and RDBMS skills. Salaries for datawarehouse developers start at £40,000+. Consultants and business analysts earn £50,000-£60,000 or more.