IBM unleashes Cognos and then uploads it into the Cloud

IBM unveiled Cognos 10 in Las Vegas late last year and then went on a worldwide press trip to get out its marketing message “Cognos 10: Intelligence Unleashed”. As taglines go, it really begs to be slapped around a bit but maybe later.

Cognos 10 is an upgrade to Cognos 8.4. No, that is not a typo. Cognos 9 never made it out the door despite IBM making reference to it as far back as October 2009. Maybe IBM wanted to make it clear it was released in 2010 – a trick tried by other software vendors. Alternatively, they could have been trying to head of criticism of delays in the release schedule. Either way, if the next release fails to appear until 2012, we will finally have an answer.

The main focus of Cognos 10 is the user. IBM has talked long and hard about how it was responding to customer demands for more functionality and, more importantly, a better User Experience (UE). Making any software work the way the user wants is the Holy Grail for any software vendor and maybe IBM has finally seen the light.

Among the marketing messages to support the UE improvements are statements such as:

Freedom to think

Connect with each other

Simply do

From all of this, Cognos, you might think, has just joined the social network revolution. Actually, you wouldn’t be that far wrong in the way IBM has been positioning some of these messages.

Freedom to think

This is all about changing the way the user works with Cognos. Rather than make users think in terms of cubes and datasets (it’s really not that hard to do, honest!), IBM say that “the workspace should support the way the user thinks, not provide any constraints and make life easier.” That latter point is important.

Previous versions of Cognos used different interfaces (studios spaces) for different tasks such as extracting data, mining the data, preparing reports, etc. Everything now uses a single unified workspace which is long, long overdue. IBM has a history of unified workspaces and I’m really happy to see them now applying that to more complex environments like BI.

Connect with each other

This is the social networking bit. Like all enterprise vendors, IBM has been talking about collaboration and data sharing for decades. To make this work for Cognos, IBM has included Lotus Connections into the platform and integrated it into the user workspace. This allows users to not only share data with each other but also to collaboratively work with their datasets.

There are two really interesting parts of this for me. The first is the ability to ensure that all comments are properly tagged so that when data is shared around, people can see why things were changed and who has contributed what.

The second, and arguably the more important, is that you can now track the entire decision process from the generation of the dataset to any business decisions built upon it. IBM believes that this will have significant consequences  for how organisations work. Not only does it add accountability into the decision process but it allows organisations to build their own decision making knowledge bases.

These knowledge bases allow you to then do a range of things. You can build your own templates for certain types of actions such as when publishers should reprint books or when manufacturers should discontinue products. You can also pull in a lot of extra information [artefacts in IBM speak] such as threaded discussions to enable you to support any decisions that are made.

Finally, all of these knowledge bases can be audited and in a world where there is increasing scrutiny of management decisions from shareholders and regulators, this could be both a powerful tool and a nightmare waiting to happen.

Simply do

This is where IBM still hasn’t really hit the mark yet. They talked a lot about making it easy for decision makers to act on data by deliver reports to them on whatever device they were using. Unsurprisingly, that included the iPhone and iPad and the corporate Blackberry device.

Information can be sent to people using the .MHT format so that they can see and work with the data. What isn’t clear is how they can then return that data with updates and changes. This also appears to be very much a work in progress for IBM. For example, they are providing access to tools so that developers can write applications for the platforms but a quick look at the Blackberry and Apple stores reveal no IBM Cognos applications that can be downloaded for free in order to consume or work with reports.

This is something that IBM has to address. If other vendors such as Wolfram (Wolfram Alpha), Cisco (WebEx), Citrix (GoToMeeting) and others can release products to consume data then IBM has to match them. It has already release an IBM Lotus Notes application and it is not unreasonable if it wants to target these platforms that it does the same for Cognos and any other IBM applications that it releases.

A more worrying aspect here is that IBM who has been playing the security card around its enterprise and Cloud business, seems to have decided that data security is too hard for mobile users. There is no Rights Management control for data sent to mobile devices allowing critical decision making information to haemorrhage out of organisations. Using a format like .MHT to allow users their choice of application to view the data in is great but not at the risk of data loss.

Go To Market and the Cloud

IBM is also looking to drive Cognos to its non enterprise customers. This will be done through its channel which has been undergoing substantial changes lately as IBM prepares it to be able to sell Cloud services and applications on top of existing solutions.

One key market that IBM wants to target is the SME and this is in line with some of its comments around where it sees the Cloud going. IBM has recently cut a deal with Austrian telco A1 Telekom to provide a Cloud offering to its SME customers. This would be sold under both the IBM and the A1 Telekom brands. IBM has also said that it is looking at how it can offer some of these products as a white label service through its own channel as well.

Before it can do that, however, it does need to think carefully about what the SME really needs here. Space and complexity are not going to work for SME’s and this is where the announcement that IBM would be using Cognos to underpin its strategy of BI as a Service (BIaaS) inside the IBM Cloud becomes important.

By offering a Cloud based service that uses collaboration (Lotus), storage, virtual desktops and virtual machines with office productivity applications and Cognos BIaaS, IBM not only puts itself in a position to target Salesforce’s customers but gets there ahead of Microsoft who has yet to formally announce what it intends to do in this space.

More importantly, by using a white label approach so that its channel can buy seats and then resell them to customers under their own names, IBM can eat big time into the Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS).

Conclusion

Cognos 10 is a really big step for IBM as it looks to makes its BI solutions as simple as those from many of its competitors. By combining the power of Cognos and the simplicity of many low-end solutions IBM can begin to expand out of its traditional enterprise space and back into the SME market.

With the launch of Cognos as a BIaaS solution, IBM is also strengthening its own Cloud portfolio and it will be interesting to see where it goes from here.

Archived comments:

Adrian Bridgwater | January 4, 2011 7:37 AM

Very interesting – how good to see that you specify “Cognos 9 never made it out the door”, when IBM would spin that statement to read something like “we ramped up our technology proposition so significantly that we decided to signify this with more than a single version stage iteration label” etc…..

Nice story Ian – thanks.

Adrian

Ian Murphy replied to comment from Adrian Bridgwater | January 4, 2011 9:56 AM

Thanks Adrian.

David Stachon | January 4, 2011 8:29 PM

I think the main reason it went to version 10 was that TM1 was already on version 9. …going to version 10 was the only way to unify BI and TM1.

Ian Murphy replied to comment from David Stachon | January 5, 2011 10:40 AM |

David Good point. I’ve asked someone I know on the Cognos team if this was the reason and they said that they didn’t know. Like me, they think it was more about IBM have spent more than a year talking about Cognos 9 and wanting to draw a line under it but I’ll put the question to the PR team and come back to you

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