IBM revs up BI strategy with Cognos 10

iPhone support and collaboration tools are among the new features

IBM is rolling out a major new update to its Cognos BI (business intelligence) platform that includes new features for collaboration, statistical analysis and mobile devices like the Apple iPad.

"BI workspaces" are a central pillar of Cognos 10, which will be available Oct. 30, IBM said Monday during the Information on Demand conference in Las Vegas. They will allow users to access a variety of BI tools from a unified interface that can be tweaked to their liking. The idea is to let users progress from simple tasks to more advanced ones without having to change application contexts, said Mychelle Mollot, vice president of business analytics.

Big Blue is also adding a dose of social networking and collaboration to Cognos 10 by embedding its Lotus Connections software. This will allow users to engage in conversations about business information and get more value out of the software, according to IBM.

Another new feature called "active reports" allows users to receive interactive reports via e-mail, without needing to install software. "They can interact with it and make decisions on the road, versus having to get back to the office or worse, open a long PDF file that's not interactive," Mollot said. Companies can easily blast the reports en masse to workers, she added.

Another new Cognos 10 feature is a statistics engine from IBM's SPSS software. The engine is now part of Cognos' report-authoring capabilities, allowing users to gain insights from historical data.

In addition, IBM announced Cognos support for Apple iPhones and iPads, as well as BlackBerry devices, Symbian phones and Windows Mobile devices.

Cognos 10 is impressive for its "sheer breadth of offerings," although not all of the features break new ground, said Forrester Research analyst Boris Evelson.

The active-reports feature holds particular value, he said. "We constantly talk about BI on mobile devices. What's much more useful is an offline or disconnected mode on my laptop. On mobile devices, I can look things up but can't do a lot of work." Information Builders and Oracle have had similar technologies for some time, he added.

Meanwhile, the BI workspaces in Cognos 10 are "definitely a step in the right direction," but IBM has room to evolve the concept further, Evelson said.

It's unclear how meaningful the addition of Lotus Connections will be, at least for now, according to Evelson.

The question is whether Lotus can gain significant market share against Microsoft Office, he said. "When and if that happens, the Cognos integration will become very important."

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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