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Cognos Enters Reporting Fray.

By Madan Sheina

While the number of independent pure-play business intelligence (BI) vendors continues to contract, the enterprise reporting software market has a new player this week. The eagerly awaited 'official' launch of Cognos Inc's new ReportNet reporting software finally happened yesterday as part of a series of linked events worldwide. Even though Cognos has been selling the product since early July, its general market launch was held-off until earlier this week.

ReportNet is a Web-based query and report authoring system that is designed to address a variety of enterprise reporting needs - from ad hoc query, managed reports, and business reports, to bills, statements, and invoices - in a single package. The product is built from the ground-up on a services oriented architecture (SOA) and has a pure Web (zero footprint) deployment.

ReportNet represents a change of tack for Cognos, one of the pioneers of BI. Unlike some of its peers who recently bought their way into the reporting market, Cognos has gone against the grain and taken the 'ground-up' approach by asking a team of 300 developers to build ReportNet from scratch using the latest technology standards. The company is certainly banging its drum loudly, with officials calling ReportNet "a game-changing-event for the BI [business intelligence] industry" that moves towards an all-in one approach.

Speaking simultaneously via satellite link to invited customers, industry analysts, and the media across 10 cities in the US, Europe and Japan, an enthusiastic Ron Zambonini, Cognos' CEO, heralded a "revolution, not an evolution" for enterprise reporting. "We had a vision of this product three and a half years ago and started with a clean sheet of paper," Zambonini said during the launch event.

Cognos says that one of the revolutionary dimensions of ReportNet is its ability to manage and administer multiple solutions to address all of an enterprise's reporting requirements. Rob Ashe, president and COO for Ottawa-based Cognos said that ReportNet "blurs the traditional boundaries between end-user query, reporting, and production reporting...and allows the company to position itself as a single source for all reporting needs."

Zambonini said that ReportNet's open SOA architecture (dubbed the 'Cognos BI Bus') is based on the latest Web services standards like SOAP and XML and allows for quick and easy integration with other enterprise applications. Zambonini also explained how the product also offers extensive multi-lingual support which allows reports to be built once and consumed in over 25 languages based on user preference. Immediate support is provided for English, French, German, and Japanese and localization kits are available for other languages.

ReportNet also comes with a single metadata model (through the new Framework Manager metadata management tool) and full Unicode support. Cognos has licensed technology from Meta Integration Technology Inc to support third-party metadata integration from other BI systems. These technical developments could potentially remove what has been a perennial thorn in Cognos' side for some time - namely the lack of a consistent metadata strategy across its product suite. Significantly, the release also tightens up integration with SAP BW - which is seen as a very strategic data source by most reporting software vendors. The documented ReportNet API facilitates data exchange flows between the BW and ReportNet environments, using a combination of SAP BAPIs and MDX protocols to construct richer queries.

Cognos says the n-tier, multi-server ReportNet architecture can easily scale to support user communities of more than 10,000; the company already claims one implementation of 15,000 users. Cognos officials assert that componentized SOA means that services can replicate themselves if the load is too high and launch a new service. This is one reason why the company is making such high claims about scalability. Cognos also says it is working with IBM on getting out some benchmarking data to the public eye to reinforce its claims.

Officials also stressed that ReportNet is fully integrated within the Cognos Series 7 Enterprise BI platform, tying up with its OLAP, visualization and data integration tools. "We've enabled tighter integration through single sign-on and context pass through," said Zambonini. "This enables users to drill through, or up, to a PowerPlay [Cognos OLAP tool] cube to, or from, a ReporNet report." However, users of Cognos' existing reporting tool - Impromptu - may have to pay a fee to migrate reports if they want to take further authoring options with them; only migrations to the report consumer level (i.e. static, read-only report views) are free. The report migration is manually done today, or can be done as a consulting gig. But Cognos plans to build in automated report migration capabilities into the product next year.

Responding to general criticism in the market that BI tools are too expensive to roll-out to the enterprise, ReportNet comes with a new role-based user pricing model. Cognos expects pricing to range between $250 to $2,000 per user, depending on role; there are four types - report recipient, consumer, business author, and professional author. On the administration side, development licenses range from $4,000 to $10,000 per administrator. Cognos says it is currently working on an enterprise licensing scheme.

Cognos is encouraging partners (and customers) to tweak and extend the product; a move that is intended to bolster Cognos' OEM business. "OEMs are a key market segment that ReportNet is ideal for since it's designed to be a source-agnostic product," said Zambonini.

Already Manugistics Group Inc and IBM Corp, two premier partners, have voiced their support. Manugistics, a supplier of supply and demand chain management solutions provider, OEMs ReportNet to optimize various applications along its 7 Series supply chain suite. "ReportNet will provide intelligence in different parts of the supply chain," said Dan Rudolph, director of solutions marketing and strategy at Manugistics. "We've re-branded ReportNet as Manugistics Networks Reporting".

Meanwhile ReportNet also strengthens Cognos' long-standing alliance with IBM. In April this year both companies inked a multi-year global agreement to jointly market and sell integrated BI offerings to key verticals. During the ReportNet launch, officials from both companies immediately agreed to engage in joint marketing around the product. Cognos also said it will deepen joint development initiatives to ensure optimized performance of ReportNet on IBM's hardware and operating system platforms.

Cognos also says it has seen widespread channel partner support for Cognos ReportNet, notably from premier channel partners such as Onyx Software Corp, Creative Computing Inc, Exinom Technologies Inc, Newcomp Solutions Inc, and Saba Software Inc.

The next six months will determine how warmly the market receives ReportNet. But already Cognos and its rivals are claiming competitive wins over one another. Cognos says it has around 40 paying ReportNet customers today with "a lot of evaluations going on". Early adopters include pharmaceuticals company Pfizer Inc, car manufacturer BMW AG, and securities firm Bear Stearns Companies Inc. The latter two customers are in the process of making Cognos' software an enterprise reporting standard.

Despite its technical merits and accolades, ReportNet does face a challenge in bringing a brand new product into a crowded market bursting with more mature solutions. Vendors such as Crystal Decisions Inc (currently merging with Business Objects SA), Information Builders Inc, Actuate Corp, and Brio Software (now part of Hyperion Solutions Corp) have been selling enterprise reporting platforms for many years and have built up large installed bases. Experience has also shown that IT users typically wait for further point releases before making an enterprise purchase decision on what is still an unproven technology. Zambonini however thinks otherwise. "ReportNet has been tested longer than any other Cognos's ready for prime time right now".

While Cognos may have moved up a gear in Gartner Group's latest magic quadrant, many of Cognos' BI rivals remained unimpressed by the launch.

"From my viewpoint, the only synergy for Impromptu customers with ReportNet is the Cognos name...nothing more," said Pete Cittadini, CEO of Actuate. He also pointed out that current Impromptu customers will have to purchase new licenses of ReportNet and convert Impromptu reports to ReportNet reports. The lack of an easier migration path is something that Lance Walter, director of BI platform product marketing at Business Objects picked up on. "Customers are looking for proven solutions from a vendor with a clear and continuous upgrade path for customers," he said. "The real impact on the market will be the shockwaves in the Cognos customer base as they evaluate re-implementing on a new architecture," Walter added.

Meanwhile Crystal Decisions, widely acknowledged as the leader in the enterprise reporting space, pointed to Cognos' lack of consistent vision and technical immaturity. "They [Cognos] realize the limitations of their current technology and have decided to play catch-up by introducing an unproven, version one product into an established enterprise reporting market," said Andrew Handford, vice president of products at Crystal.
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Title Annotation:introduces ReportNet
Author:Sheina, Madan
Publication:Computergram International
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Sep 11, 2003
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