Cognos CEO Chats Up Channel's Importance

Business intelligence vendor Cognos has staked a role in the so-called corporate performance management (CPM) space. Loosely defined as enabling companies to compare how they&'re performing to plan, CPM solutions tend to combine business intelligence software, dashboards, scorecards and tools for financial planning and management. That primarily pits the Ottawa, Ontario-based Cognos against Hyperion Solutions and, with its acquisition last month of SRC Software, Business Objects. Cognos&' President and CEO Rob Ashe recently spoke with CRN West Coast Bureau Chief Rochelle Garner about Cognos&' increasing reliance on the channel. This is an excerpt of that conversation.

CRN: These days, business intelligence vendors are constantly jockeying for position: adding financial planning, claiming to enter the midmarket and preparing for a raft of announcements in November. How would you describe Cognos, and its position in this landscape?

ASHE: I would describe us as driving us for leadership in corporate performance management, which we believe is the evolution of business intelligence. We are not after the smallest companies in the world, but instead go after those with $100 million and up.

CRN: That certainly means you include the midmarket as part of your target market. But most people today say business intelligence products for the midmarket are every bit as complex and difficult to implement as in the enterprise. Do you plan to offer products specifically for the midmarket?

ASHE: We are continually trying to rectify the complexity. The release of ReportNet in the fall and the upcoming release of Cognos 8, which is built around the SOA, was motivated by having a product that could meet the needs of both midsize and enterprise markets with an SOA.

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CRN: Are you worried about Microsoft&'s Maestro [scorecard server] and how it could change the dynamics of the midmarket?

ASHE: Microsoft&'s grasp of multiple environments is always in question. Heterogeneous markets, which run multiple databases and multiple environments, will not be Microsoft&'s sweet spot. If you look at the low end, where it&'s all Windows, Microsoft should do well. We play in more complex scenarios.

CRN: But you did say you&'re going after that market segment of $100 million and up. What is your channel strategy for going after those midmarket companies?

ASHE: In the past two years we&'ve had the objective of being a better partner to our channel. Part of that is a geographic consideration to have more coverage by resellers and boutique systems integrators. But the more strategic reason we focus more on partnerships -- as the BI market has moved to drive more effectiveness in a school district or in a local manufacturing concern with performance management – is our resellers are best positioned with those customers. They know them. They have a higher likelihood of promoting our value than we do. So it&'s very strategic for us to embrace the reseller community. Not just for economics, but so we can drive the management value higher into the organization.

CRN: How much of your revenue is channel driven?

ASHE: About 30 percent of our revenue comes through our resellers and OEM partners. And of the remaining 70 percent, about 20 points is influenced by that channel. That&'s where we may sell the software but the channel is adding value. We&'ve been adding aggressively on the OEM side. Symantec is an example of that. On the channel side, we&'ve been growing on geography and performance management-centric coverage. That&'s where they have domain or vertical expertise, like midmarket pharmaceuticals. Today we have 3,000 partners in total – that&'s both OEM and channel. I would guess our partner coverage is growing 10 percent a year.

We need the channel to really drive this promise of performance management in organizations. If we can partner our technology and their know how , then everyone&'s value goes up. Five years ago we only had a channel segmentation strategy, based on the size or the geography of the customer. Now it&'s based on domain expertise and knowledge of the industry, so that our destinies are linked more closely.