Cognos CEO Paints the Future of Performance Management

By Renee Boucher Ferguson  |  Posted 2008-01-15

Cognos CEO Paints the Future of Performance Management

New York-At an event Jan. 15, here at Gotham Hall, a renovated bank with towering pillars, gilded filigree and Old-World grandeur, Cognos CEO Rob Ashe worked to draw a parallel between the building's structure-solid, impressive-and the company's latest platform release, Cognos 8.3. He also touched on Cognos' imminent merger with IBM, a deal that will only increase Cognos' ability to build on its performance management strategy, he said.

 To read more about how IBM's acquisition of Cognos reflects consolidation in the BI market, click here.

Performance management has become the buzzword in a rapidly consolidating business intelligence industry. Within the BI context, the goal of performance management is to provide the right data at the right time to the right person so that businesspeople such as marketing managers can meet performance metrics. The goal of performance management at the executive level is to help companies better plan and execute against performance metrics. And it's an area coveted by customers, according to analysts and vendors. Oracle acquired Hyperion in 2007 for its performance management capabilities, followed by SAP's pending acquisition of Business Objects to supplement its corporate performance management strategy and IBM's acquisition of Cognos.

"Shareholders voted [Jan. 14] overwhelmingly, 99.9 percent, in favor of the acquisition and the Cognos team is very excited about what the merger holds for Cognos," Ashe said. "The fact is that between IBM and Cognos there is virtually no overlap. That lets us continue our innovation with performance management. We're not going to be spending our time rationalizing products. We'll focus on continued innovation and a shared vision around performance management."

The acquisition by IBM, expected to close this quarter, has somewhat overshadowed the launch of Cognos 8.3.  But this latest release does drive the company's performance management platform approach. Cognos 8, released in 2006, was really the big bang release for the company in terms of providing a BI platform. What 8.3 brings is the ability to offer reporting capabilities to more people in the enterprise, which has been the goal of BI vendors for years: to move beyond the 15 to 20 percent penetration point largely attained through hard-core data analyst and IT users.

Users and Platforms

Cognos has broken upgrades for Version 8.3 into two groups: new capabilities for users, and upgrades to the platform. On the user front, Cognos has added an Express Authoring Model, a self-service reporting interface that lets financial and business analysts access financial and operational data sources to create statement style reports. New transformer capabilities have been added that let business groups create and manage their own perspectives and performance information by creating new OLAP (online analytical processing) cubes and constructing smaller, faster data sets of very specific performance information. A feature called Briefing Books helps both IT administrators and business users combine different systems and formats in a single report. Finally, users can create their own personalized alerts for scheduled reports.

On the platform front, Cognos has added a number of new components, including one called the Model Advisor that provides Cognos' best practices for modeling to help guide model development. A new capability called the Snapshot of System Health provides administrators with a single, consolidated view into how each of the services on the platform are working. Users can set their own thresholds to monitor all BI deployments to get the status of servers, server groups, dispatchers and services. Metrics can be exposed to other systems like IBM's Tivoli to help with the overall monitoring of applications, Cognos said. An Upgrade Manager feature helps administrators more quickly introduce changes to the platform.

With the release of Version 8.3, Cognos-like its growing list of competitors-is hoping to tap those users who are frustrated with their inability to figure out what all the data in their systems actually means.

AMR Research analyst John Hagerty said during the Jan. 15 event that he has talked with a lot of business users who lament the fact that they've spent billions of dollars building systems to capture information, but they have little ability to interpret that data.

"In addition, with all the external data and all unstructured data, there is an explosion of information. We see people trying to get value out of information and really understand what it means," Hagerty said. He added that out of the "things people talk about in performance management and BI, the term ad hoc comes up a lot. For the [most] part people say, 'I need some rules, regulations and guidance in how I should look at performance in my organization.' There's a tremendous effort of people trying to get better insight into business."

Hagerty said most companies are at the early stages of that effort.

Ashe mentioned during his keynote address Jan. 15 that he has been at Cognos for 23 years. "I am very, very excited about the opportunity we have [with IBM] to take performance management on the broadest stage in the industry," he said. "It's a great opportunity to drive our pervasive view of performance management in the industry."

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