Cognos upgrades query, report tools

As part of a strategy to create more sophisticated methods of managing and distributing reports, software vendor Cognos Inc. this month announced forthcoming new releases of two of its database querying and reporting tools.

Cognos develops "business intelligence" software that helps organizations extract and analyze information stored in databases. Impromptu, its flagship database query and reporting tool, guides users through the process of generating

either standard or impromptu reports on data without knowing the complexities of database software.

Impromptu 5.0 introduces the "system of reports" notion, said Rob Rose, vice president of product marketing for Cognos, Burlington, Mass. The software allows users to set up linked "families of reports" and allows readers to move among reports in a nonlinear fashion and to drill down into greater detail, Rose said. And the software has made the process of filtering reports to select narrower information sets more intuitive and faster than before.

Cognos also has added reusable prompts for guiding readers in specifying what information they want to see. Administrators and authors can create and store prompts in the software's "catalog" layer for subsequent reuse— something that was not available before, according to Cognos. This feature simplifies the deployment of reports on an enterprise scale.

A Different Focus

With Impromptu 5.0, Cognos is "starting to focus more on authoring functionality," especially in enterprisewide report deployment, said Mychelle Mollot, the company's director of product marketing for reporting products. The product will begin shipping at the end of this month.

The company's federal customers include organizations such as the Defense Logistics Agency and the Internal Revenue Service. Impromptu 5.0 is being tested by components of the Army, according to Cognos. All told, there are 175,000 Impromptu government seats worldwide, predominantly in the U.S. and Canadian governments, Mollot said. Cognos software is available on the General Services Administration schedule.

Cognos also announced its intention to release its Impromptu Web Reports tool for beta test this month, with a final release expected in September. The product will allow centralized management of standard reports and individualized subscription, making enterprisewide report distribution easier, Rose said.

The World Wide Web product also will feature administration aids, such as scheduling reports to run at certain intervals as well as usage tracking via a report audit log. Web Reports will be usable with Impromptu Releases 3.5 and above, so an upgrade to 5.0 is not required.

The Web product also will allow users to indicate scheduling and formatting preferences. This "individualized report subscription service" will reduce administrative overhead and lower the cost of enterprisewide deployment and training.

Despite Cognos' announced strategy, there is still a long way to go for the company and its competitors before true integration of client functionality and Web delivery is achieved, said Frank Gillett, an analyst with Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass.

The prospective Cognos releases are an "incremental step," he said. But he expects "revolutionary" reporting tools to emerge from industry in the next two years, allowing full-featured, inexpensive report access.

Linking Users

"Most companies want to Web-enable their data warehouses," said Henry Morris, director of data warehousing research at IDC, Framingham, Mass. They want "to link up many more users" and "make information useful." What is important in the Cognos releases, he said, is the attention paid to the "infrastructure for managing and delivering reports."

Enterprise-level reporting,

driven by browser-based posting of information, is an infant market, worth only $50 million in 1997, compared with $827.7 million for the overall end-user query and reporting market, said Jackie Sweeney, a senior research analyst with IDC.

However, she expects that enterprise reporting will zoom to $450 million by 2000, or almost 25 percent of the $1.9 billion overall market anticipated that year.

Adams is a free-lance writer based in Alexandria, Va. She can be reached at cbadams@erols.com.

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