Should You Upgrade to Cognos 11 (Cognos Analytics)?
First Impressions and Assessment
Cognos 11 or Cognos Analytics as it is now known was released late last year and brings with it quite a few changes. As usual, there are always teething issues with any new major software release so we have waited a few months for those things to be ironed out to give it a proper evaluation and assessment minus the early adopter frustrations.
The first thing you will notice when you login to Cognos Analytics is that IBM has decided to retire the outdated interface that’s long been perceived to be hard to navigate and far from the look and feel of other modern applications. IBM have responded by providing a slick, modern, and user focused interface which has more emphasis on self-service and user experience, while still delivering the strong “nuts and bolts” BI capability for which it is well renowned.
The rebranding of Cognos 10 to Cognos Analytics is more than just a mere name change and provides a clear direction for where IBM is looking to take this product in the future.
- Brand new layout with context sensitive menus lets you expand and collapse menus to provide more screen real estate.
- Smart search capabilities which generate data modules automatically upon entering keywords in the data module section.
- Report preview modes which makes report creation/validation easier as data is shown in design mode when turned on.
- Search suggestions provide an intuitive and user friendly experience. Results of searches include descriptive report paths, column names and meta data.
- Interactive reports that allow drill, sort and filters to be added at runtime affecting all objects in the report.
- Review reports that you have recently accessed is a newly added feature.
- Slide panels improve navigation and enables consistent mobile and web interactions.
- Data Modules
Data modules are a new and simple way of creating light-weight models to do ad-hoc reporting. They are intended for users having limited knowledge of modelling techniques and data sources. New features also include easy upload of flat files and integration with existing relational data sources/servers to produce data modules. This new feature is similar in use to Framework Manager, however empowers business users to make quicker decisions and forgo heavy dependence on IT developers. Several data sources can be integrated to produce a data module while basic joins, calculations and cardinality can be set.
At this point, it’s still very much a first release product. OLAP data sources are not supported, aliases cannot be created and calculations are very limited.
You can now build dashboards using the above mentioned data modules with minimum experience in report authoring. An interesting point to note, Cognos itself will recommend best visualisations for the data items that are dragged into the dashboard. Templates and grids further enhance the user experience by making it easy to format and change the sizes of charts. Images, videos and infographics can also be added to dashboards to increase visual appeal.
While the complexity time to create a decent looking dashboard has been greatly reduced, it doesn’t allow for highly customised, pixel perfect reports that end users often demand. These types of reports and dashboards are still better off being developed through traditional methods.
Users can now subscribe to reports, and access them conveniently in ‘My Subscriptions’, whilst also receiving ‘Notification’ alerts when changes to the subscribed reports are made.
- The reporting engine remains unchanged, with an addition of a new ‘Watson-like’ engine for dashboarding.
- The core of Report Studio and Workspace Advanced are combined and rebranded as ‘authoring’ but still retain all the same functionalities. The new placement of the various panes could take a little getting used to.
- To make the transition to Analytics easier, Analysis Studio, Query Studio and Workspace are still available in this version. The studios open in a new window and remain untouched, but will be phased out in coming versions.
- Active Reports and RAVE visualisations remain untouched.
Cognos Analytics is headed in the right direction, providing a single interface for data integration, modelling, and report creation, thus simplifying the analytics development process. An integrated solution eliminates having to work across different studios and provides greater security and governance. One solution across mobile and web platforms increases efficiency and provides a consistent user experience. A completely web based experience with the addition of visual appeal and ease of use seems to be the focus of the new release. Trendy and intuitive visualisations with an updated interface adds to the user experience, keeping it in line with Watson Analytics.
However, as expected in a first release, some of the features & capability of Cognos Analytics are limited and don’t quite feel like the complete product yet, rather, provide a glimpse of what is to come. Future releases will deliver an efficient self-service tool while still keeping its powerful development and robust reporting features.
It would be nice to see a progressive development model, where dashboards can be created by end users utilising a simple, intuitive tool, but can also be brought into more complex studios for sophisticated formatting and functionality to be applied by more technically fluent users.
If you’re an existing Cognos customer we wouldn’t be rushing to upgrade to C11 in the production environment, but we’d certainly recommended that a ‘sandbox’ environment be created for both developers and users alike to have a ‘play’ with the new features and await the next release.