Cognos Debuts BI Upgrade, As IBM Takeover Draws Near

Cognos unveiled a major upgrade to its business intelligence and performance management platform Tuesday, one day after Cognos shareholders gave their approval to IBM's pending $5 billion acquisition of the business intelligence software vendor.

Voting Monday in Ottawa, Ontario, where Cognos is headquartered, 99.8 percent of Cognos shareholders approved the IBM buyout that was announced in November, Cognos president and CEO Rob Ashe said. The deal is still subject to regulatory approvals and is expected to close sometime this quarter.

While Cognos declined to say much more about the pending acquisition, Ashe did say that IBM and Cognos have been allied for more than 15 years and there is already a significant amount of integration between their products. Ashe also said there is little overlap between their product lines and he repeated IBM's promise that Cognos's products will retain the ability to work with heterogeneous applications and data sources.

Cognos debuted Cognos 8 Version 3 in a press and customer event in New York City at Gotham Hall, a cavernous, ornate building that once housed a bank. Cognos 8 is the vendor's flagship product, incorporating business intelligence, analysis, performance management, financial consolidation and planning, and mobile applications. The new release has been undergoing beta testing by customers for about nine months, Ashe said.

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"Performance management is very hot," Ashe said, noting that Cognos is seeing demand from small, mid-size and large businesses. He said competitive business environments and, more recently, talk of an economic slowdown, are driving sales of performance management applications.

Getting managers and employees to use business intelligence tools on a day-to-day basis has long been a challenge for vendors and Cognos executives said Cognos 8 Version 3 addresses that issue by incorporating new capabilities targeted at specific classes of users. The release, for example, provides new "briefing book" tools and "scorecard portlets" that offer executives more customized reports and "global filtering" for analyzing changes in performance management metrics and other data.

For financial and business analysts, often referred to as "power users" in business intelligence circles, the new release makes it easier to build reports with the "express authoring mode" feature and develop new analytical models, as well as to allow analysts to use Microsoft's Excel spreadsheet as a front-end application.

Business managers get "multi-tabbed" dashboards that make it easier to drill down on data behind business performance metrics. And for information workers, Cognos 8 Version 3 provides enhanced search capabilities and the ability to create personal alerts when there are changes in reports or when a critical metric such as production yield reaches a specific threshold.

The new product is also easier to deploy and manage. The "upgrade manager" utility helps IT administrators manage changes to the Cognos system and upgrade individual reports, while the "snapshot of system health" tool provides a consolidated view of the entire Cognos environment, said Leah MacMillan, vice president of product marketing. Cognos also continues to roll out more "blueprints" or templates for specific applications: Retail financial analysis and public sector planning have been added to the line of blueprints that now total more than 50.

Version 3 of the Cognos software is available today. Some capabilities were announced last year, including support for mobile devices using the Windows Mobile and Symbian operating systems.