Cognos: and then there was one

Another week and another independent business intelligence software company is snapped up by a major provider. This time it is Cognos’ turn, following swiftly on from SAP’s plans to acquire Business Objects and the acquisition, earlier this year, of Hyperion, by Oracle. Of the significant BI companies of 2007, only SAS remains still remains independent.

IBM is planning to buy Cognos for $5 billion to support its Information on Demand strategy. IBM hopes that by buying the market leader in business intelligence tools it will be able to bolster the strategy, which aims to offer information integration, content and data management and business consulting services.

These are interesting times. IBM, SAP and Oracle have spent billions on BI, something their existing product families have been doing for years.

At the same time, Cognos et al have been making a tidy sum selling business users better ways to unlock value from corporate data.

My view is that we are moving steadily into an information society. The right data at the right time can mean the difference between profit and loss; between innovations and lost opportunity, even the difference between life and death.

We are moving to a world where billions of devices are connected into global networks and, as Bill Gates once said, “Information is at their fingertips.”

Now powerful information systems are useless unless the information they contain can be unlocked and business users can derive meaningful data.

What is clear for now at least, is that savvy business users no longer buy IT systems solely to automate processes They want to extract business value from those systems. And once the business process has been automated, it is the strategic use of BI that can continue to add value, year on year, allowing business leaders to make incremental improvements to the business and discover ground-breaking opportunities.

Over time I expect IT systems will be sold in a way that more accurately reflects their ability to deliver these objectives.

This is why IBM is buying Cognos, why SAP is acquiring Business Objects and why Oracle now owns Hyperion.

I wonder if SAS will remain independent? Perhaps the fourth software behemoth, Microsoft, may find its own BI offering lacking in some respects and will look to fill the gap. Only time will tell.

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All this talk about Business Intelligence and unlocking business value from data held in company systems sounds rather "brave new world" to me. The information derived from data is only of value if the data is correct, and I deliberately didn't use the word accurate.

I remember an instance in a company I worked for some time ago, where a salesman was told by a particular customer that his figures for sales to the customer were incorrect. The customer turned out to be right because what had happened was that different sales people had, over time, set up six different sales accounts for that customer. If you added the six sets of sales figures together you arrived at the figure the customer was using, so the information was accurate, just not correct! No BI system is going to sort out that kind of problem for you.

Thank you for this interesting article. I love your blog very much.