Cognos Express-a New “Big” Product for the Midsized Market?

Many midsized companies have to deal with a very particular problem: the need of a true business intelligence (BI) solution, while having to select and deploy one within a tight budget. On September 29, 2009, IBM Cognos announced the launch of Cognos Express, a new product specially designed to meet the needs of the midsized market. Of course, here at TEC, we took the time to give it a try. We downloaded the trial, and got our hands on this brand new BI tool.

Before we start, let’s have a look at some interesting facts: Cognos Express is a Web-based tool composed of three base products: Cognos Express Reporter (a reporting and querying tool), Cognos Express Advisor (a tool for data analysis and visualization), and Cognos Express Xcelerator (a tool for data analysis and planning based on Microsoft Excel; all of these three can be managed by the Cognos Express Manager. The idea behind this three-part system is to create a complete set of BI tools, giving the user the option of installing only the needed functionality. Each module can be installed separately and each can complement each other.

Now, the details: The installation can be done with ease, and there is no special rule or trick to it. If you want to try it, download a free trial version of Cognos Express, unzip it in a new directory, and click on the install icon (as for many applications). During the installation process, you will just need to define the administrator user and password, and that’s it. Once the installation process is finished, you can open the IBM Cognos Express Manager, a Web interface defined to serve as a centralized administration tool for Cognos Express. From this interface, it is possible to install all the modules (Reporter, Advisor, and Xcelerator), create and configure users, and configure data sources. There is also an event messages window to track all events occurring in the BI environment; this can be very useful for tracking events (such as tasks performed, errors, exceptions, etc.) during the installation and operation of Cognos Express. Installing a product module like Cognos Express Reporter requires only a single click and, at least on my machine, it seems to work just fine.

It really looks like IBM Cognos has made a big effort to keep things simple: the manager interface has a user-friendly appearance, and it’s easy to detect the graphical location of almost every task in the Cognos Express Manager Web interface due to its simple design.
Creating users is also very simple. There are already some preconfigured features, like user groups, that can be used to create a group of up to 100 users—if the product is licensed. It’s possible to create users immediately, and attach them to specific workgroups, like Express Administrators or Express Users.  With these functionalities, it’s possible to create an acceptable and secure user access policy.

The Data Advisor is simple to use and allows users to connect to a common type of data source, such as Oracle databases, DB2, Sybase, Informix, and open database connectivity (ODBC). At this point, the “problem,” as with other applications, is that sometimes it is not a good idea for business users to mess with native data sources, particularly if they do not have the technical skills to interpret raw data coming from the data warehouse. This is what Framework Manager is for; this Windows-based interface enables the user to create business-related metadata for reporting and analysis, while providing an integrated view of data to all Cognos Express users.

The following is a brief description of the Cognos Express products.

Cognos Express Reporter. Creating a report in Cognos Express can be done using the Query Studio. It also has features to format data, fonts, decimal places, etc. All of the report creation process can be done very fast. It’s also possible to create a chart from a set of chart types with the data previously selected.

Cognos Express Advisor. This is the online analytical processing (OLAP) data engine that enables all data analysis. This tool enables users to analyze data collected from relational data sources in a dimensional way by creating data cubes that enable fast and flexible data analysis. Again, the tool was designed to keep things simple. Users can improve the decision-making process by basing their decisions on Advisor-enabled data analysis.

The third tool, Cognos Express Xcelerator, enhances Microsoft Excel with a new set of report and business analysis tools. But the description of this product will have to wait until another time; it brings a hot topic to the BI market that deserves more than a couple of lines.

Finally, it’s important to consider what made a company like IBM consider launching a new tool entirely configured for the midsized market. Midsized organizations need new technology to help them accomplish their goals. But, as they often have only a limited budget to do it, Cognos Express could be another BI software solution to consider for this type of company.

I welcome your thoughts—leave a comment below, and I’ll respond as soon as I can.
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