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User friendly, modern, fast, robust
At the October 2015 Insight conference, five years after the announcement of Cognos v10, IBM presented the next version of Cognos BI: Cognos Analytics. Many folks were happy to learn that with this version, aka v11, IBM was staying with the Cognos brand name despite speculation that the Cognos BI products would be folded into another IBM product line.
The new features in this release support three main themes: an updated user experience, data discovery and self-service BI.
An updated, modern user experience
The Cognos Connection portal has been replaced with a simplified interface that is less intimidating for business users. It uses a series of sliding panels instead of tabs and folders. This new navigation helps users stay in context and lends itself well to the mobile browser, allowing for a finger slide rather than clicking links with a mouse. The Go! Search index has been replaced with a new search engine that returns results as you type, similar to the Google search page. The unified UI gives users three options for creating Cognos content: report authoring, dashboard and data module. This organization removes the studio confusion of previous versions of Cognos BI. Even the administration pages have been simplified and now have a modern look.
The data module feature allows business users to do some lightweight data modelling. Data discovery is done through intent-based modeling, a concept borrowed from IBM Watson Analytics, where users enter a business term, such as revenue, and a list of relevant tables appears. Any table can be dragged and dropped into the current data module and it has an option to upload spreadsheet data. This Uploaded Files feature replaces the External Data and My Data Sets functionality of Cognos v10. The underlying technology is different: rather than using DB2, the uploaded files are stored as Apache Parquet files. Parquet is a columnar storage format which allows for extremely fast data retrieval. Once users have compiled some data, relationships between the tables can be created.
The data module serves two purposes: it lets users find the data they need and it removes the dependency on waiting for a developer to update the Framework Manager model and publish a package. It does not replace Framework Manager, which still plays an important role, but it opens up some functionality to business users. The data modules remain independent of packages published from Framework Manager, although some interoperability is planned for a future release (for example, so that a data module can be imported into Framework Manager).
With the ability to do some basic data modeling, coupled with an updated look and feel, the stage is set for an improved self-service BI experience. Now users will be able to create an attractive dashboard in minutes. As data is dragged onto the canvas, Cognos selects a visualization to best represent it. As graphs are added, they are automatically linked so that a filter applied to one will apply to all of the charts on the page. The graphs and tables are laid out on a choice of grids which enhances the visual appeal without any additional effort by users. For more elaborate reporting requirements, all of the Report Studio features are available for developers and the same xml report specification is used, but the complexity is hidden for business users.
Other interesting tidbits
- Analysis Studio and Query Studio live on, despite the earlier announcement that v10.2.2 would be the end of the line for these products.
- Cognos Workspace Advanced no longer exists as it was made redundant by the new report authoring and dashboard functionality.
- Cognos Workspace is still there but it has been simplified: the Do More menu and the new report widget have been removed.
- The Gateway component is optional, it is only required when using web-based features such as Kerberos authentication.
- Cognos Analytics ships with Websphere Liberty as the application server.
The new features in Cognos Analytics are on trend with what organizations want from enterprise BI software. Some of this is aimed at competing products, such as Qlik and Tableau, which have a strong visual appeal and an emphasis on user self-service. With Cognos Analytics, IBM pulls ahead by providing a simplified and functional front end that supports self-service BI, while keeping the robust development environment (Framework Manager, features from Report Studio) and back-end features (DQM, Dynamic Cubes, application management) that made previous versions of Cognos BI so popular.
Thanks to David Currie for contributing this article. David is a long-time business analytics consultant. He blogs about business intelligence and big data at davidpcurrie.com.