Cognos Scorecarding Applications

The visualization and scorecarding needs of an organization can often best be met through the use of the Cognos Visualizer and Cognos Metrics Manager / KPI applications, respectively. Visualizer provides a platform for the presentation of condensed, simplified summaries of your organization’s data to deliver intuitive, graphical analyses that allow you to grasp trends in performance – quickly, and in a manner that allows you to effectively act on the information. In addition, Visualizer can be configured to show multiple dimensions at the same time, to help you to comprehend the complexities and relationships within your organizational data. In short, the idea is to deliver what is often complicated data to management in a useable, easily-understandable format, from a readily accessed central location.

An example of a basic visualization in Visualizer Web Edition.

The KPI Business Pack is an option for extending an organization’s reporting environment from within. The application serves as a mechanism for delivering a summary view that can prompt you to perform additional actions, or to probe further and easily focus on more detailed data, to find the “roots behind the fruits” of the metrics that are presented. You can use any data that can be formatted into a .csv text file, from virtually any source, to create or update the Business Packs you create, including PowerPlay PowerCubes and other offspring of the Cognos BI Suite.

KPI information is delivered via a Web browser, and, while static HTML pages are adequate to display the data, Cognos Upfront can be leveraged as a more robust point of distribution.

On a more recent front, you can orchestrate the delivery of enterprise scorecarding through Cognos Metrics Manager. With Metrics Manager, you can model plans, objectives, and strategies as a set of interlaced and interconnected performance indicators. This can communicate goal-driven metrics to thousands of employees across your organization – metrics that can be easily understood and monitored by any appropriate consumer. The general idea is to put information into the hands of organizational workers in a way that matches organizational priorities to those of the individual workers, and thereby defines a basis of accountability for each team member, through a commonly communicated version of organizational strategy.

Much like the KPI Business Pack in concept, Metrics Manager contributes well to overall corporate performance management. Metrics Manager combines performance monitoring, metrics management, and performance edge considerations to allow the consolidation of multiple data sources into a centralized appliance. Its close integration with the Cognos BI Suite in Cognos Business Intelligence Series 7, as well as with what is now referred to as the Cognos Enterprise Planning Series (Cognos Finance, Adaytum, etc., as we discovered above), means that your organization can create and implement plans, monitor performance within those plans, and drill down / drill through on summary information, to examine the details underneath, and thereby investigate the events and transactions causing, the operating results that are identified.

A view of Cognos Metrics Manager.

Cognos Enterprise Planning Applications

Cognos provides an integrated financial package with its Cognos Finance application. The application allows you to manage financial processes central to your business, and provides flexible options in the management of closings, general financial reporting, planning, forecasting and budgeting.

The acquisition of Adaytum, a large player in the planning and forecasting field, is expected to enhance the general Enterprise Planning category of Cognos applications, providing for more advanced features, such as capabilities to automate highly sophisticated business logic and so forth. Cognos Finance is strong in the consolidation arena, providing a unified view of enterprise operations and results. Web deployment, similar in most respects to that of the “core” applications in Upfront, is an available option.

A view of the Cognos Finance Control Panel.

Cognos Ad-Hoc Reporting Applications

Cognos Query provides ad hoc reporting within the Cognos BI Suite. You can manage query creation and maintenance easily from the application, and can set up wizard-driven ad hoc query capabilities for consumers that help to support organizational objectives easily and effectively. Cognos Query (“CQ”) allows for easy creation, modification and exploration of queries in the Web environment, the main purposes of which are to enable you to explore specific areas of interest within, and to answer specific questions from, the organization’s data stores. Like PowerPlay and IWR, CQ usually relies upon Upfront as its web-based point of interface for information consumers, although (also like PowerPlay and IWR) you can certainly deploy its output to consumers through other means.

An example of a Cognos Query result set, displayed from Upfront.

Cognos Managed Reporting Applications

Managed Reporting within Cognos is represented by the Impromptu and Impromptu Web Reports (“IWR”) applications, although reports generated from PowerPlay (and other applications) can certainly fall within a wide definition. Delivery options from which you can choose include Web deployment, old-fashioned printed reports, and several options in between. Integration is, again, a strength in the centralized management of report distribution. Efficient administration, flexible scheduling (by users if desirable), overall user-friendliness and speed of delivery make Impromptu one of Cognos’ most popular applications. You can rely upon Impromptu and IWR to meet your data environment specifications (the applications handle data warehouses / data marts and relational sources equally well, in my experience) and delivery requirements for a wide range of user skill levels and reporting needs. The Impromptu Administrator edition, and to some extent other client editions, are used to create and modify the organization’s reports. Like PowerPlay, IWR (Series 7 and above) typically uses Upfront as its web-based point of interface for information consumers.

A simple Impromptu Web Report example.

Cognos Analysis Applications

The Analysis Applications category enables information consumers within your organization to more thoroughly understand many facets of their own business. The general mission of the Analysis Applications group is to compile the myriad elements and transactions within the organizational data store into information that can support ongoing operations and support decision making and planning. Examples of the capabilities that the applications give you as an analyst include options to perform trending analyses, comparisons and widely flexible time-based analysis on data that is collected and summarized within an OLAP PowerCube.

Cognos PowerPlay is the central hub of the Analysis Applications within the Cognos BI Suite. PowerPlay is a long-time player in the field of general OLAP reporting and drill-through capable multidimensional analysis. You can perform your own multidimensional analysis, create reports for yourself and for deployment to organizational consumers, or perform numerous iterations of these activities using OLAP data from the Windows, Web (via zero / minimal footprint browser capabilities) or Excel environments, or from a combination of these.

Further functionality can be added to the basic components, and you can extend the analysis capabilities of PowerPlay to include a degree of interactive data mining and visualization scenarios. Web-based scenarios offer you even more rapid support for taking strategic action, putting new strategies into place, making decisions that can have significant impacts upon future performance, and so forth. As with many of the Cognos applications, scalability and other flexible rollout attributes mean rapid deployment and effective integration. Cognos PowerPlay, unlike many competitor products in the same classification, provides an end-to-end OLAP solution (it ships with Transformer, wherein you can design and create the PowerCubes, from which you report with PowerPlay), and its integration with Impromptu and / or IWR for drillthrough capability is a tremendous strength. PowerPlay is part of an integrated Cognos reporting solution, which includes Upfront, the Web-based point of entry for information consumers (we will discuss Upfront later in the article).

A view of a PowerPlay Web Analysis report that can currently be found on the Internet.

Cognos Applications Overview

Welcome to the Cognos Business Intelligence Collection. The primary focus of this column will be the delivery of approaches and concepts to help you to meet real business needs using the Cognos Business Intelligence Suite. While the topics will center on the current version (EP Series 7) in most respects, many of the concepts can be extrapolated to earlier versions with minimal alterations. The majority of the articles in the Collection will be hands-on tutorials. With the exception of this, the first article, each article will typically introduce a business need, and then present a straightforward approach to meeting the need using the appropriate Cognos application(s).

Some of the tips I pass along will be indispensable for Cognos administrators, report developers, business analysts, and others who interface with corporate data using the Cognos toolset. The articles may generate ideas or paths of research that have not yet occurred to you; they may also deal with topics that are quite familiar in general, but from a perspective which offers an “angle of approach” that is in itself useful. (I’m a firm believer in the effective use of what Brian Eno has called “oblique strategies.”) Moreover, I will occasionally toss in a word of advice regarding reporting, implementation, and / or development in general, based upon my eight-plus years experience with Cognos, Business Intelligence, financial systems, and data architecture in general.

The articles in the Collection will not be linear in a traditional “how-to” serial perspective. We will not follow a “roadmap” similar to the many excellent training and operational documents that accompany the Cognos software installation. The articles – and the choice of components involved within each – will be driven from a standpoint of a “possible solution” for a defined need, generally one approach per article.

You, as a member of the intended audience, are trained in the basics, and use the Cognos tools routinely, in the day-to-day performance of business-intelligence related functions. I assume that the applications are installed and operational, and that you can access them, as well as the data with which you are concerned, with enough freedom to perform the steps we will undertake together. We will be focusing on specific needs that often lie beyond the rudimentary training library – real world requirements that surpass the relatively simple scenarios that are given in the basic training documents and samples, whose focus is to introduce and train in the basics with minimal distraction. The inherently simplistic examples in the on-line training (which is easily navigable via the well-organized roadmap that is provided) are excellent for purposes of teaching the essential basics, and I am assuming that any serious user has taken the initiative to understand what is covered in the freely available documentation.

We will rely upon the sample data sources supplied with a typical installation of MSSQL Server 2000, the Cognos sample data sources and objects, and other sources as we progress through the articles of the Collection. All our examples can be extrapolated to your own data environment if it differs, in most cases with minimal effort. Much of my subject matter will be based upon common questions that I hear on a daily basis from Cognos users worldwide, both my current and past clients, as well as a vast array of users that participate in on-line forums and other channels and circles within which I move.