Microsoft vs Cognos BI implementation – Decisions, Decisions

So you're about to start a BI project and have to choose between a specific tool. There are a few major players in the BI world, each of which has pro's and con's and depending on the customer, one may be better than the other. Business needs and flexible functionality should always be a top priority. We will discuss Microsoft vs Cognos BI implementation.

The bottom line is important to many companies in the current economy and can sometimes be an unfortunate final factor in deciding which BI tool to implement. With that said, let's take a look at Microsoft's BI tool SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) which is included as part of the licensing for SQL Server purchases. What does this mean to your company who may already have SQL Server in-house? Well, it means that the software is free – woohoo! However, the IT workforce to setup, build, and maintain the BI environment is not. Most importantly, the information for the business users who need it is not readily available with SSRS but rather kept in the hands and control of IT. Don't get me wrong, I'm a full supporter of IT and its core importance in the success of any company. After all, my educational focus was on Management Information Systems and my career is fully IT, techy, computer nerd related. However, any well rounded IT person can tell you that IT exists for the business and putting the right information in the right hands at the right time is key. Management personnel who make business decisions on a day to day basis should have the information needed to make intelligent decisions. It is up to IT to provide the means for management to have access to that information.

Let's go through the generic organizational layouts of a Microsoft (MS) vs Cognos BI software implementation.

Microsoft's product requires that trained IT personnel be on staff to maintain not only the backend data but also create all reports. Why does IT need to create reports you ask? Well, if you can find a few business users who know how to write advanced sql queries, stored procedures, and temp tables then never mind. Otherwise, this means that a staff of BI experts within the IT department accept all reporting requests, prioritize, develop, and then perform QA on business information that they are not familiar with on a day to day basis. Depending on the company, this business hands off approach may work in order to keep a very structured process of providing information. The turnaround time for this process is also much slower and at times issues may arise with company acceptance of information or defining business terms and their calculations.

Now lets take a look at a Cognos implementation. Maintaining backend data will still be kept within the realm of IT as it should be, however the business users are brought into the picture much earlier. Cognos utilizes a data model structure that is located between the backend data and the reporting tools. This is called Framework Manager (FM) and allows a designer to create packages specific to end users needs which contain sources of business information. The FM designer is normally a Business/Systems Analyst type of role that works with IT and end users to create an environment between the two. The Finance department in most companies utilizing Cognos will handle advanced reporting, while other divisions or departments will have access to less advanced reporting studios for ad-hoc information needs. This puts the tool to get information in the hands of the people who need and understand it. Certain administrative tasks can be kept within the IT realm in order to maintain user security and technology standards.

So the real question is, who do you want controlling the information that drives business?

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