Cognos, Actuate Tackle Data Management

New BPM products are designed to help businesses comply with financial reporting requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

Cognos Inc. and Actuate Corp. both announced new products Monday that take different paths to solving data management problems central to meeting regulatory compliance requirements.

Cognos announced two new products, version 3 of its Cognos Planning Series 7 suite and Cognos Controller for financial consolidation. Actuate announced the Actuate 8 e.Spreadsheet spreadsheet reporting application.

The products are designed to ensure the integrity of data needed to better run businesses and comply with financial reporting requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

The new version of Cognos Planning Series supports component-based planning so that customers can set plans piecemeal, starting where the pain is greatest, and then link departmental plans and forecasts together, setting up interdependencies among them.

Each plan can also be administered separately. The user interface of Cognos Planning now matches the rest of Cognos business intelligence products.

For staffing services firm Manpower Inc. the chief benefit of this version is the ability to link together different plans that use different planning models.

"Our home office is a cost center but not a revenue center, while our field offices are both revenue and cost centers," said Michael Steinmetz, vice president of U.S. finance for Manpower in Milwaukee. "In the past we had to pull out the planning data from those models and push them together [in the consolidation]. Now we can just integrate the plans."

Steinmetz said that previous versions of Planning Series only supported linking plans with the same models. The new version saves time and resources and gives users more control, he said. He also said scalability improvements and better integration with Cognos business intelligence applications were key to this release.

Cognos Planning Series traces its history to Adaytum Software Inc., which Cognos bought in January 2003. Cognos acquisition of Frango AB earlier this year has yielded Cognos other product release, Cognos Controller 2.3, a financial consolidation product.

This version, scheduled to ship next month, chiefly features integration with the Cognos Planning and Business Intelligence product lines, including single sign-on and shared metadata, though Cognos has further plans to improve metadata management among its products, company officials in Ottawa said.

Cognos also is announcing this week new predefined data, process and policy models for planning, known as the Cognos Enterprise Plan-to-Perform Blueprints. These models are designed to show customers best practices for linking operational and financial plans to improve the accuracy of forecasts.

Actuates plan to help customers ensure data integrity focuses on the spreadsheet. Company officials in South San Francisco, Calif., acknowledge that while IT departments want to eliminate desktop spreadsheet use due to risk exposure issues for regulatory compliance, users of the spreadsheets are loathe to letting them go as tools for manipulating and analyzing data.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read about Actuates plans to build open-source business intelligence and reporting tools.

So the companys solution is a new version of e.Spreadsheet that supports cell locking, which allows companies to distribute live spreadsheets with certain fields locked down and unalterable.

Users can analyze data and add comments without changing the data.

"In the older versions, youd give the reports to your users in spreadsheet format and the users could do anything they wanted to do with the numbers—that can be a bad thing," said Michael Hader, IT manager of enterprise software at Odoms Tennessee Pride Sausage Inc., which is beta testing this version of e.Spreadsheet for its accounting and sales departments, which both use Microsoft Excel heavily.

"Now when we send out reports for analysis, we know the core numbers arent going to change."

This version of e.Spreadsheet also provides a more advanced reporting capability known as Matrix Script. The technology is designed to display hierarchical performance data based on dimensions such as geography, organizational structure and time. It also allows users to model the structure of the business before building the spreadsheet so that spreadsheet values can be adjusted automatically as key metrics change without having to manually recreate the spreadsheet.

Hader said the new Matrix Script support adds pivot tables to Excel, which should lessen his companys reliance on an outsourced sales data analysis service as well as OLAP tools.

"It almost gives you a data cube," he said. "The salespeople can run it themselves. We set it up to run as a scheduled job and they get it every Wednesday morning."

Actuate 8 e.Spreadsheet is due to ship in February.

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