Cognos ships EC toolkit

Cognos Inc., a Canadian business intelligence software vendor, plans to begin shipping this week a new release of DataMerchant 2.0, its electronic commerce software development toolkit for improving database-driven EC applications.

The 2.0 release includes an enhancement dubbed Dynamos, which is an interactive, World Wide Web-based feature that populates Hypertext Markup Language pages with database information in response to users' queries. The feature enables users to see only relevant data and frees application developers from the task of constantly changing static data-access HTML pages when the database changes.

The new release also includes an audit server that precisely tracks database usage, and it has HTML report layouts that allow designers to define the format of data posted to users' Web browsers as a result of queries.

DataMerchant is available on the General Services Administration schedule, with a government price of $52,520 per server, including one year of maintenance. The list price is $65,000 per server. DataMerchant supports Oracle Corp., Sybase Inc., Microsoft Corp.'s SQL Server and other databases.

Mitch Kramer, a senior consultant with the Patricia Seybold Group, Boston, said DataMerchant occupies a special niche in the EC software tool market.

"I don't know anyone else who supports electronic commerce of database or data warehouse contents," he said.

Although the new release is an incremental improvement, the new features "boost it up," Kramer said. He cited features such as Dynamos, the HTML templates and the "auditing piece"— which is helpful for EC or as a measurement tool for data warehouses— as being particularly strong.

The federal government, with its plethora of large databases, would be likely to have an interest in the new release, Kramer said. "It may be an easier way for agencies to distribute information than they are doing now," he said.

Bob Moran, director of decision support research with Aberdeen Group in Boston, said the product will make it "easier to interact with data in extranet configurations." Moran said other companies offer products aimed at the same goal but with less sophistication in metering.

Terence Atkinson, the DataMerchant product director, said the basic product allows users to offer the contents of relational databases for sale across the Web, precisely metering usage. Designers can offer the information on a fee basis or simply employ DataMerchant for secure distribution and audited usage, he said. Users can access DataMerchant applications via Web browsers or through Open Database Connectivity.

A key feature of the new release is the audit server, which records user statistics down to the number of rows retrieved, columns accessed and database processing time provided. Atkinson said the previous release of the software performed audits "in a limited manner," providing only information on the user's identity and the time and duration of the user's connection. Cognos has added Web-based configuration and account management to the new release.

Another enhancement, HTML report layouts, allows data returned and posted to a browser to be formatted in graphic as well as in tabular format, Atkinson said. Tabular information can be presented with rows that are highlighted in alternating colors, and it can show symbols such as dollar signs rather than just numbers. He said data output also can be "pumped into a Java applet" and be represented in "just about any" form, such as pie charts or column charts.

Cognos also includes a number of default HTML pages to help developers build virtual store fronts quickly.

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

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