From obvious and entirely welcome name changes to technical improvements – no less welcome for being behind the scenes, the latest iteration of Cognos has brought some real improvements.
It’s not a milestone release, but it does offer some real pointers that, to my mind at least, show clearly that this is part of a long term strategy from IBM to make the Cognos suite the de facto BA choice.
Too often “what’s new?” pieces like this are aimed at the technically-savvy, when it’s really the purpose and the benefit of new functions that are important. Whilst it’s impossible to be completely non-technical, I’ll try here to keep it to the implications and impact of the most important changes.
First of up, because it’s most obvious and simple, and that’s the way we roll, is the new name for the Business Insight duo.
This is wholly sensible. Too often I’ve sat in a meeting where the phrase “that’s Business Insight, not Cognos Insight, which is different” has been used. Well, no more. From now on we’ll be talking about Cognos Workspace and Workspace Advanced, not Business Insight and Business Insight Advanced.
Great names – they’re workspaces, so why not call them Workspace. Makes sense, in a slightly prosaic way.
Of course a simple renaming on its own is a little underwhelming. There are other changes, ones that are most definitely aimed at improving the user experience. The most noticeable element will be the new facility for multi-tabbed workspaces. In the past one irritant was the squeezing of the reports that were dragged into the work area. Now that can be dealt with by adding tabs to your report. Couple these with some new Action Buttons and the whole workspace should be easier to de-clutter. And it’s not just the GUI that gets an overhaul. Only last week I was working on a report where I needed to freeze column headings. Of course that’s possible with a little tweakery, but it’s a bit of a faff. Thankfully, a new facility to Freeze Column and Row Headers has been included. This should be really welcome by the die-hard Excel fraternity / sorority. Apart from that, the old Business Insight tools have not been touched too much. Administrators can now allocate Graduated Capabilities, so that any user is given the ability to Author, Interact or Consume any Workspace; then there is a new Data Visualization Guide that intuitively suggests the right report for you based on the data, which is nice but a touch gimmicky; and you can now print from Safari and Chrome browsers.
Unlike the other sections here, this is a sort of generic entry as it applies to all components. I thought it was a really good development though, so I wanted to make it a separate point.
For those who don’t know, “Skins” are the different colour schemes you can apply to software. Cognos can now do that. So an organisation would not need to see the Cognos blue colours ever.
It’s pretty standard, especially on the web where it is used extensively. From our point of view as consultants, it means we can develop a model for our client then badge it completely in their corporate identity. I look forward to using it in the real world!
Whilst not getting the high profile changes we can see elsewhere, there are a couple of relatively small, but potentially far reaching changes to Report Studio.
Second of all, Excel output will be improved, allowing for much larger spreadsheets and a new format called Excel 2007 Data.
Most of the major improvements to mobile working were made in previous version 10 iterations, so we won’t dwell on them, suffice to say multi-page reports are now better, iPad users can be ‘push’ notified when a new report is available and mobile security is improved.
Of these, perhaps the second is the most interesting. You’d be told, even when on the move, instantly via iPad. The implications for the decision making process are pretty obvious.
Perhaps though the best development is streaming. Rather than downloading a whole report, consumers can now view it as it loads. This is excellent, and given the hit and miss nature of mobile connectivity, could well boost mobile BI consumption. Smart thinking from IBM.
Perhaps the most important feature out of everything new is Dynamic Cubes.
These use an in-memory OLAP technology. When we look at “in-memory” we usually see great performance improvements with low latency. And simplicity as multiple cubes can share conformed dimensions. Finally, if you have previous OLAP experience Dynamic Cubes should be a cinch, as they come with a modelling tool, Cube Designer.
All this is especially aimed at the organisation with weighty star schemas who want to harness OLAP but don’t want to lose performance. Well, now they can.
Cognos Insight 10.2
To my mind, Insight has been the flagship change to Cognos over the last twelve months or so. It’s consistently voted as the best BI tool. And for a good reason. Its out of the box report generation capabilities in themselves are impressive, but when you dig deeper the integration and collaboration it can offer are pretty astounding. (And from someone who’s been in the game for, let’s say, quite a while, that’s not something I say often.)
So how can it be improved? Well, IBM clearly have a master-plan here. They have taken a game-shifter and moved it on even further.
- Smart Metadata : The drag and drop or simple import facilities in Insight are impressive. Prepare to be more impressed though. A data discovery engine will detect data types for you, even down to knowing the difference between a measure and numeric attributes. Some trick, and one that should make it even easier for the personal analyser.
- Enterprise functions: Data drill-throughs; improved crosstab filtering; drag and drop data onto charts. I’ve called these enterprise functions as they are all traditionally associated with the older components of the suite. All are now available in Insight, clearly aimed at aligning and integrating it.
- Tree maps : Something that has been missing in Cognos is a good tree-map. And now they can be produced using Insight. It’s not yet rolled out to the wider suite, but that will happen.
- Other features : On top of all this, Insight now boasts improved Import facilities, allowing wider import capabilities, and a Time Rollup function that provides for a full year’s data to be populated easily.
- High Fidelity Publish : Finally, a word about publishing. With 10.2, Cognos Insight reports can be published directly as full Cognos Workspace reports, (if you have Cognos Enterprise of course). It’s a simple thing, but basically means you don’t need Insight to be able to see an Insight report. That makes Cognos much more flexible, but also means you’ll only need a Consumer licence, not a more expensive Author licence.
Architecture and Environment Support
Now it starts to get more technical. If you’ve got this far, then I’m going to assume that’s ok!
The buzz phrase at the moment is “Big Data” and it would be surprising if a Cognos update at this point in time did not have something along those lines. And it does not disappoint as Cognos now has native support for Hadoop in the guise of IBM InfoSphere BigInsights, plus a JDBC connector for Hadoop / Hive.
Of course, other data sources are available, such as Salesforce.com, which gets a native DQM, as does SAP ECC and Siebel.
On top of this, any holes in the 64-bit provision are now closed; multi-tenancy is now fully supported; and there is a content archiving facility.
Of these we’re especially pleased with the multi-tenancy capability. Assimil8 are at the forefront of bringing Cognos into the Cloud, and offering multiple tenants on one box makes it easier for us to scale down our offering to reduce the price entry point. That of course means we can offer Cognos in the Cloud to organisations who were previously priced barred. And that can only be a good thing all round.