An Analytics Consultant's Perspective
Updated February 25, 2015

An Analytics Consultant's Perspective

Gerrit Goewey | TrustRadius Reviewer
Score 10 out of 10
Vetted Review
Verified User

Overall Satisfaction with IBM Cognos

  • Dynamic Query Mode with a large number of Relational and OLAP database compatibility such as Oracle and Essbase, Microsoft SQL Server and Analysis Services, SAP BW, IBM DB2, Teradata, etc. makes for efficient backend queries no matter if the front end metadata is relational or multidimensional.
  • Compatibility mode queries allow for custom ODBC and JDBC connection to made, so even if there is no native compatibility other databases can still be used as a source if needed.
  • Dynamic Cubes are capable of querying against millions of rows in seconds when properly set up with sufficient hardware resources.
  • Standard Reports are snappy, returning data and rendering quickly, as long as the pagination is kept to reasonable quantities.
  • Active reports can be run offline and incorporate animation and dynamic filters. Keep in mind that the data doesn't refresh until the report is retrieved from the server again.
  • Great interoperability between the different studios in the suite. Something made in Analysis or Query Studio can be converted to Report Studio easily. Workspace Advanced natively creates and opens Report Studio reports as well.
  • Report Studio can convert a regular report into an active report. The reverse is not possible though.
  • Workspace can take in individual charts or whole reports from other tools as widgets and even customize them for the specific dashboard being built.
  • End users can make their own copies of a pre-built dashboard and adjust things such as changing conditional color labels or adding new calculated members.
  • Interoperability with other IBM Cognos tools allows TM1 and SPSS to be used as data sources for reports, as well as directly used as widgets in Workspace dashboards.
  • Centralized content store allows the different desktop tools to use the same logins and access the same shared resources as the server, such as data sources.
  • Framework Manager is a very powerful tool that can create both dimensional and relational models simultaneously from the same underlying database.
  • Framework Manager can work on any database design, it does not have to be a Kimball star schema.
  • Framework Manager has built in tools for validating a model without having to do a complete publish
  • Security for roles, users, etc. can be built directly into the model without any need for extra programming
  • Framework Manager is a visual tool, and only requires rudimentary SQL knowledge to use effectively.
  • Localization is supported natively and can be added to any model.
  • Dynamic Query Manager can automatically create aggregation for Dynamic Cubes to optimize runtime.
  • Reporting Bursting can be set up to send prefiltered reports via mail or some other means on regular intervals or when triggered by certain events, such as a particular number being too low.
  • Administration for Multi-tenanted environments is built directly into Cognos
  • Connecting multiple LDAP and AD systems simultaneously is supported, allowing users to use their normal company usernames and passwords
  • Mobile support add on allows standard and Active reports to be displayed with a mobile device friendly interface automatically without requiring creating a separate version.
  • Cognos Mashup Service can be used to embed reports in outside applications or provide data for external visualizations and tools.
  • All tool interfaces are designed with the standard IBM patterns, so users already familiar with other IBM tools should be able to pick it up quickly..
  • The server can run in most typical server environments such as Windows, Linux, Solaris, etc.
  • Clustering across multiple machines is supported.
  • Real Time Monitoring add on allows for visualization of up to the second data feeds.
  • Drill down/up can be automatically implemented on reports using a Dimensional data model
  • Drill through definitions can be set up to allow users to find related reports and automatically open them on the highlighted data.
  • Reports and models made for the more lightweight Cognos Express can be fully utilized by the full Cognos server if upgraded later.
  • Cognos Insight can be deployed via the server and individual Insight dashboards can be stored on the server. Insight may even be included as part of the particular licenses purchased.
  • Initial setup isn't as simple as running the installer and turning it on. Adjustments to the server setup may be necessary before it is up and running.
  • Browser support can be touchy. Compatibility is best with Internet Explorer, but certain browser setting changes can cause issues. Other browsers' compatibility can be questionable due to their significantly more regular updates.
  • The technology that allows active reports to be packaged into .mht files is a proprietary Microsoft format, so other browsers cannot natively open them. There are 3rd party extensions for firefox and chrome.
  • Standard reports are rather flat and bland to look at to keep them efficient and clear. It makes it hard to really "Wow" someone when presenting it compared to other products.
  • Due to Active Reports packaging all of the data in the file and prerendering charts, file size can get quite large (easily several megabytes) and the initial load time can be quite long when opening it. It is best used for basic overviews and other times when some "flash" is needed, but not a large amount of data.
  • Configuring the interoperability with TM1 and SPSS is a little more on the technical side than most other tasks.
  • You could call the development process "Front heavy" meaning most of the development will be modeling. This means that it will take longer to end up with visualized data than other tools.
  • It works best with actual databases, and not so well with csv or other file formats. Using an ODBC or JDBC driver can be used to treat files like databases, but native support is rather limited.
  • The desktop tools such as Framework Manager that are part of the suite are all built for 32-bit windows only, despite the availability of 64-bit and other operating systems for the actual server.
  • Using external ODBC drivers can be done with 32-bit drivers only.
  • Because of the way Cognos installs on a system, trying to keep a sandbox environment on a developer's personal machine isn't feasible.
  • Dynamic Cubes are very hardware intensive, so when dealing with large data sets (millions of rows and up) the amount of memory and resources that need to be dedicated to a single cube to keep the query time within seconds can get high (possibly hundreds of GB of memory).
  • SpagoBI
  • Qlikview
  • Tableau
As a company with a strong emphasis on making complete, end-to-end solutions for clients whenever possible, we look for a few important things when deciding on a new tool to sell and service, such as:
  • Completeness of tool's capabilities
  • End-user ease of use
  • Development ease across a wide variety of scenarios
  • Quality of support for both us and client
  • Cost effectiveness for its capabilities
Cognos has a robust set of capabilities out of the box with a wide array of add-ons and interoperability with other IBM analytics and data suites. IBM provides plentiful whitepapers, redbooks, and other information resources for clients and developers, as well as excellent technical support. Combined with a proper balance between ease of use and customization when developing and an affordable licensing model, Cognos was a superb choice.
It is capable of handling a great deal of the scenarios we have run into in the past, as well as touching on all of the pain points our clients, and we personally have.
If your company has a steady stream of data and aspires to have a sophisticated analytics infrastructure, the Cognos suite provides an excellent set of tools for handling any amount of data or scenarios at a competitive price.

Of course, smaller companies that don't have heavy reporting needs will probably find the suite to be beyond their current needs, so something more lightweight like Cognos Express might be a better choice, or even the stand-alone Cognos Insight if their needs don't currently go beyond a few users manipulating their spreadsheets.

IBM Cognos Analytics Feature Ratings

Using IBM Cognos

4 - Professional Services, Management, Finance
Our team of analytics consultants essentially share the load of maintaining any non-personal Cognos configurations. No one is dedicated specifically to it.
  • Reporting
  • Visualization
  • Data Exploration
  • Dashboarding

Cognos Implementation

No real problems with the implementations. Most of the issues we have are a matter of the limited resources of the smaller VMs and only keeping the services that we need for a specific demo turned on. This should not be a problem on a standard production server.
  • Vendor implemented
  • Implemented in-house
We have demo VMs provided by Avnet, our partner.

Cognos Training

  • Online training
  • Self-taught
The online courses they offer are thorough and presented in such a way that someone who isn't already familiar with the general design methodologies used in this field will be capable of making a good design. The training environments are provided as a fully self contained virtual machine with everything needed already to create the environments. We've had some persisting issues with the environments becoming unavailable, but support has been responsive when these issues arise and straightening them out for us.
Coming in completely as a blank slate is very difficult with this suite, and the training classes are invaluable for getting over the initially steep difficulty curve. People familiar with the UI designs that IBM products all tend to employ and already have an understanding of the design methodologies in this field should be able to tackle this suite without much difficulty just by using the online manuals and the occasional tutorial from around the web.

Cognos Support

Haven't worked too much with regular customer support, since we tend to go to the experts who are there to help partners with their questions. Generally the questions that we need to ask are far more advanced than the average end user would call about, so we haven't had much luck in getting answers when we actually do try to call them.
Not Sure - IBM partners receive different support packages from customers.

Using Cognos

From the Developer side, it can initially seem impenetrable to try to use some of the development tools, such as Framework Manager and the more advanced features of Report Studio. Once familiar with the organization of the interface, the learning curve evens out quickly and it becomes rather straightforward to work with.

From the End User side, navigating to a report or dashboard is as simple as clicking through the directory structure. With a little poking around in Cognos Workspace, it shouldn't take long to figure out how to customize a dashboard to their own liking.

Cognos Reliability

Reports can typically be viewed through any browser that can access the server, so the availability is ultimately up to what the company utilizing it is comfortable with allowing, though report development tends to be more picky about browsers and settings as mentioned above. It also has an optional iPad app and general mobile browsing support, but dashboards lack the mobile compatibility.

What keeps it from getting a higher score is the desktop tools that are vital to the development process. The compatibility with only Windows when the server has a wide range of compatibility can be a real sore point for a company that outfits its employees exclusively with Mac or Linux machines. Of course, if they are planning on outsourcing the development anyways, it's a rather moot point.
Even when running on my demo VM (5GB of ram, 8 cores, 256MB video) on my laptop , the render time of basic reports is snappy. As long as a reasonable amount of items is being displayed, it can handle any number of pages efficiently. The further off the beaten path a developer gets with ODBC/JDBC drivers and underlying model designs, the more performance will tend to suffer, but as long as reasonable hardware resources are being dedicated to the system, a well designed system should not have any problem.

Relationship with IBM

Pricing is generally based on the number and type of users. Licensing is a one time fee, never expires, and includes any minor releases. Upgrading to another major release eventually will require the purchasing of new licenses (such as 8 to 10), but there are no requirements to upgrade. This causes the overall price to generally be more affordable than something like a yearly subscription model. There are other less common pricing plans such as per CPU available.

IBM offers a 0% APR loan to qualified businesses that allows it be paid out in monthly installments over the course of a year. Any work bought as part of the Cognos licensing can also be put under the loan. Individual resellers may offer their own loans or payment plans as well.

OEM pricing is more flexible and can be tailored more towards the pricing models of the system that Cognos is intended to be embedded in.