IBM’s Information on Demand conference last week took over the fifth-largest conference venue in the country at the Mandalay Bay and Resort Convention Center in Las Vegas. During the keynote at the end of day one, IBM demonstrated its Cognos portfolio, a family of products that helped IBM earn a ranking of Hot in our 2012 Business Intelligence Value Index.
A relatively new addition to the portfolio is Cognos Insight, a personal desktop approach to exploratory analysis. While an early edition of Cognos Insights had a few challenges, the current release, Cognos Insight 10.2, is an improvement. Exploratory analysis tools like Cognos Insight are gaining momentum with business users because they generally do not require IT support and they allow end users to visualize descriptive data and do root-cause analysis in an iterative, user-friendly manner.
The latest version of the tool is offered in more than 20 languages and incorporates key features to help business users expedite their analytical processes. Once users load data into the environment by dragging and dropping an .xls or .csv file, the software uses an intelligent metadata approach to process information hierarchies. For example, Insight would recognize a one-to-many relationship between customer ID and segment so the user would not have to pre-model the data. This metadata approach also allows for rollups into time frames such as month, quarter or year.
What makes Cognos Insight particularly interesting is its writeback capability, which allows users to perform ad-hoc scenario planning and what-if analysis and return the result to a central data store where it can be shared with others. What-if analysis can do things such as explore the impact of price elasticity to find an optimal price point that drives customer retention, or determine the impact of some proposed capital expenditure on production capacity. Cognos’ approach differs from desktop spreadsheet modeling in that information visualization is an integral part of data input and output. Moreover, Cognos Insight, when coupled with IBM’s Cognos TM1 Business Performance Management application, provides a distributed and integrated planning interface. This integration gives companies more reasons to put aside desktop spreadsheets for enterprise planning. Ventana Research’s benchmarks, such as our recently completed Integrated Business Planning Benchmark, consistently show that dedicated planning applications enable companies to plan and budget more accurately, in part because they make information created by individual planning silos more accessible and easier to aggregate into an enterprise-wide view.
Insight users collaborate by saving self-contained files to the desktop and emailing them to colleagues. If a report is determined to be worthy of publication into a more formal library, users can do so through tools such as Cognos Express, a departmental and midsized company solution, or through Cognos Enterprise, a multi-departmental company solution. Here lies another key differentiator for the Cognos suite of products: It provides a process that allows for user-driven report creation and collaboration, yet also includes a centrally governed business intelligence environment.
IBM sees Cognos Insight both as an entry point for business users to do exploratory analysis and a way to do analytical crowdsourcing within an organization. However, given its write-back capabilities, its integration with SPSS which I recently wrote about and IBM’s decision systems, there is much more to this story. In a future blog entry, I plan to explore the broader Cognos portfolio with an eye to framing the larger IBM analytics approach, including how the Cognos family ties into big data and decision-making in an organization. In the meantime, I encourage you to download a free copy of Cognos Insights from IBM’s analytics community site, www.analyticszone.com.