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Cognos takes no time adding to BI’s functions

Maintenance release increases Office, SAP connectivity and adds a new desktop search tool

Only four months after a major release of its business intelligence application, Ottawa’s Cognos Inc. is putting out an update that includes significant increased capabilities.

Maintenance release 1 of Cognos 8 BI, available at the end of this week for licenced users, will include enhanced support for Microsoft Office, SAP NetWeaver and for enterprise resource management applications including Siebel CRM and mySAP.

In addition, in May a new browser toolbar add-on for searching through report data called Cognos Go! will also be available for download to users to extend the application’s desktop search capabilities to unstructured queries.

According to one Canadian partner, that feature will be a big sales aid.

“That’s going to be a phenomenally well-recieved capability, and certainly one I’m seeing more and more as a desired requirement,” said Michael Langton, a partner at Newcomp Solutions, a Toronto-based Cognos platinum partner which derives all of its revenues from implementing the company’s software.

“People not only want to search and find reports but to be able to do a Google-type search into their business intelligence data and get a quick response without training.

The extension of Office integration is important to customers, he also said. “On the SAP side,” he added, “I’m seeing a very big competitive advantage with Cognos as a front-end to an SAP ERP application, where our competitors haven’t done as extensive a job of getting SAP certified.”

“I think that’s starting to become more important as deployed SAP shops that have built data warehouses using (SAP) Business Warehouse are realizing it stops short of being a full BI performance-management solution.”

The additions “simplifies and eases the use of (business intelligence) to a broader audience,” said Scott Lawrence, a Cognos director of product marketing. “From a partner standpoint it allows them to get a foot in the door in one area (with customers) and then grow their footprint to become more strategic to them and increase revenue opportunities by expanding into different areas or divisions.”

“The search capability is a core differentiator” between competing business intelligence applications, he said. “The ability to do a search that not only touches metadata within reports but also goes down into the data, and within the BI environment are nice differentiators.”

“We’ve got a much deeper and broader integration within the NetWeaver environment than most of the competitors we’ve got,” he said, allowing customers to expand the use of Cognos BI analysis of SAP BW data warehouses without having to extract the data..

Cognos 8 BI already had connectivity to Microsoft Office so users could work from it to generate reports. “What we’ve done is take advantage of not just reporting but analysis and metrics and dashboard information within the Cognos 8 environment,” said Lawrence.

It will mean that business intelligence reports generated from Excel, and now PowerPoint, will have enhanced abilities to examine and show data from a number of repositories yet still keep security control through a .Net managed client.

Company users can share and re-uses these reports through Cognos Connection, which the company says offers the advantage of being a one-stop place where staff can find all business intelligence reports.

The enhanced SAP product support includes 80 new functions for getting data from SAP BW data warehouses. One of the changes includes giving an improved ability to perform calculations across BW and non-BW data.

There’s also improved integration with SAP’s NetWeaver Portal, including iView-to- iView communication, the ability to create metric watch lists, customize and and hone master settings, as well as enhanced URL support.

With MR1, Cognos 8 BI’s Data Adaptor will to link to mySAP and Siebel CRM to analyze data warehouse information together with operational data in relational databases. There are 60 pre-configured reports with charting and other features that most ERP analysis systems don’t offer, Lawrence said.

All of these improvements are aimed at letting users generate reports themselves without having the help of a systems administrator, he added.

The Cognos Go! tool, which comes after Google has released its free desktop and enterprise search tools, will let users search not only titles and metadata describing reports, but also words and phrases within reports as well.

Lawrence said the tool includes “fuzzy matching” and word-stemming capabilities which can help if users misspell words.