Around the Horn with IBM Cognos Express, and Business Intelligence

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There were several pieces of interesting news this week in the Business Intelligence world:

SMB Research listened in closely to IBM this past week on their announcement of IBM’s Cognos Express v9.5.

IBM Cognos started looking at what they call the “General Business Mid-Market” (companies with 100 – 999 employees) about 3 years ago, and thinking about serving this market in a different way.  [See what SMB Research has to say about the definition of  "mid-market" in 'Sizing up Small-to-Medium Business (SMB).]

Cognos Express was first launched in September 2009, and up until now the solution has had 3 components:

o    Express Reporter (Query and Reporting)
o    Express Advisor (Analysis and visualization)
o    Express Xcelerator (Excel-based Planning & Analysis)

With the launch of Cognos Express v9.5, IBM adds a 4th component to the mix: Express Planner.  IBM Cognos Express’ Express Planner will facilitate the rapid development / deployment of planning applications for people who are actively participating in a company’s planning activities.  Express Planner will also incorporate such things as sandboxing, and the ability to fool around with the impacts of different rollups and hierarchies, among other things.

Another thing that jumped out at us is IBM’s incorporation of best practices (from IBM’s Cognos Innovation Center) into “Blueprints”.  This appears to me to be an early stage, and perhaps not evenly distributed throughout the solution.  It will be interesting to see end-user reaction to these, and how useful end-users find these.

To help us with some additional analysis and perspective, we turn to old (but not so old) friend, and ex-AMR Research peer, David Kasabian, over at Pervasive Performance Group, LLC.   David is a superb Analyst, and a person we have worked with multiple times in the past for his deep and incisive insights into Business Intelligence.  SMB Research highly encourages you to check out David’s analysis and insights over at  Pervasive Performance Group.

In the meantime, David Kasabian has graciously provided his permission for us to cross-post his insights on Cognos Express on The SMB Research Blog:

IBM Extends Cognos Express for Mid-Market Planning & Analysis
- David Kasabian, Pervasive Performance Group, on the Pervasive Performance Group Blog.

Since IBM first released IBM Cognos Express in September of 2009, Big Blue has shown a strong commitment to compete against smaller vendors in the mid-market.   Via its partner ecosystem, IBM has had good success selling into this market (when I asked how many Cognos Express clients there are IBM declined to answer but stated that they added over 100 new clients in December alone) over the last year.

This week IBM announced its latest version of IBM Cognos Express (v9.5).  It now has a 4th module called Express Planner that extends the planning functionality of the product to include core planning functions that were missing from previous releases such as spreading, driver-based planning, “seeding” plans from actual data, user versioning (or “sandboxes”), audit trail and activity tracking (changing cell color of values that have been updated). The release also improves ease of use for administrators and includes “blueprints” for quickly deploying typical planning processes like expense planning, capital planning, or workforce planning.  New pricing for Express includes all 4 modules (Express Reporter, Express Xcelerator, Express Advisor, and Express Planner) for US$25K plus $1500 per user ($400 for a view-only user) and $2K per administrator.  The pricing is competitive in the market (maybe a bit high for the view user) but don’t expect any discounting as IBM says “discounting is not allowed” on Cognos Express.

Many of the planning capabilities in 9.5 could be considered catch-up functionality that level the playing field with other vendors targeting the mid-market.  A level playing field on planning functionality should allow IBM to focus on their analysis capabilities as a differentiator in this market.  But what hit home with me in the analyst pre-briefing,  more than any particular functionality, was IBM’s intent to leverage other IBM assets in Cognos Express (although no specific roadmap commitments were made).   The ability of IBM to incorporate cloud, collaboration, consolidation, and financial governance capabilities from their existing assets and bring them to market quickly in IBM Cognos Express could be an advantage over smaller vendors targeting the mid-market who have much more limited R&D budgets.

Almost all of the vendors I’ve spoken with that target the mid-market reported significant growth in 2010 and strong pipelines going into 2011.  The market is hot and there is a lot of competition which should lead to rapid innovation and competitive pricing, making 2011 a good time to be a buyer of mid-market planning, reporting and analysis products.   There are plenty of options out there that are feature rich, relatively low cost and easy to deploy.  If you are still doing planning and analysis in Excel, set a goal to move to a packaged solution by the end of 2011, you will be glad you did.

In studying the Small-to-Medium Business information technology area, and  the  needs of companies with less then 1,000 employees, we see many enterprise vendors wanting more activity in this space, but fewer who have specific products focused for this market, or commit the resources to make it happen.  So we are encouraged by IBM’s attention to this space, given the importance that Business Intelligence may have for the SMB sector in 2011 (a theme echoed by David Kasabian).  We are watching IBM and other vendors in the BI space to assess their approach to the SMB segment.

Working on a Business Intelligence initiative? trying to integrate this into an overall IT or technology strategy?  We can help you out.  Give us a call here at SMB Research.   781 904-0408.  (If we can’t help you, we know someone who can.)

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