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The Next Evolution in Business Intelligence

  • October 01 2004, 1:00am EDT

Business intelligence can be simplistically defined as using information effectively. The outcome of business intelligence is better decisions that improve and optimize business processes. However, Rob Ashe, president and chief executive officer of Cognos, contends that a business intelligence (BI) evolution is underway and that Cognos is positioned to lead this BI transformation.

According to Ashe, Cognos has been continually innovating to enable organizations to obtain the highest value from their investment in BI-related technologies. Ashe asks, "Can you move resources in advance of a change in the market? Can you realign costs in advance of a change in the market? Can you determine a trend that allows you to drive better customer acquisition?" The ability to strategically and tactically react by having the answers to questions of that type is invaluable and is the driver for, in Ashe's words, "an explosive opportunity."


Year Founded: 1969
Publicly Traded - Nasdaq: COGN; TSX: CSN
Number of Employees: 3,100+
Revenue: FY2004 $683.1 million
Net Income: FY2004 $100.9 million
Number of Customers: 22,000+

Corporate Performance Management

The status quo of business intelligence is no longer satisfying today's compliance-conscious businesses. The post-Enron era requires a new approach. "People have been enabling access to data for a long time, but not in the context of any universal corporate strategy," explains Ashe. "In the past, people wanted reports - and they got data access tools. They wanted to analyze - and they got data access tools," he says. "But now, we are on the verge of an explosive opportunity, and it centers around what we call CPM or corporate performance management."

"CPM brings everything together." Ashe continues, "It enables a company to align execution with strategy. We see a huge opportunity to provide the catalyst for people who have been using data in many different ways to understand that the real key is performance management on any time horizon. You can't just talk about history, and you can't just talk about the future. You must have both to succeed."

A company with a 30-year history of listening and responding to its customers' needs, Cognos is CPM-ready. "We have put together a strategy to lead the market for these decision-making applications to provide world-class CPM solutions, and we have terrific products in each of the three entry points to CPM - Cognos Enterprise Planning to drive performance, Cognos Enterprise Scorecarding to monitor performance of the plan and Cognos Enterprise BI for reporting and analysis," Ashe adds.

The Perfect Storm

"CPM is an emerging market, the formation of which is being driven by two forces - an ROI mentality and compliance," says Ashe. "CFOs are now being scrutinized by way of acts such as Sarbanes-Oxley and Basel II, which compel companies to focus on internal and external performance," he notes. "Furthermore, compliance forces are now colliding with a real ROI mentality where companies do not want to buy infrastructure for infrastructure's sake. All CFOs are seeking returns on each investment they make. Because performance management is really about defining an area where performance improvement is desired, it fits nicely into the current ROI mentality. We view this as a perfect storm. All of these things are coming together right at a time when we've got a solution set that really speaks to the need for visibility with planning, the need for access to data for timely disclosure, understanding what's going on in your business with BI and scorecarding for alignment," he adds.

"It is my view," Ashe continues, "that CPM is what people have been trying to do with computing for 30 or 40 years - enable better decision making. That's where companies can achieve ROIs of 100 percent or more. In fact, without our knowledge, Nucleus Research conducted a study (The Real ROI from Cognos Business Intelligence, December 2002) with our customers. They gathered names of our customers from our Web site, surveyed them, and then came back to us with the results. They found that 80 percent of Cognos customers are achieving ROI in the range of 100 percent - there were even some that were 600 percent."

In this new era and with these new capabilities, business intelligence has grown from being strategic at a departmental level to being strategic at an enterprise level. "That means," Ashe explains, "that CFOs get involved and search for the cheapest way to provide the BI capability to the most people. They realize that the total cost of ownership is lower if you deal with one supplier because you have a common skill set, a common upgrade cycle and a single supplier that can deliver global applications." Cognos technology has followed the same growth path as business intelligence - scaling from the departmental to the enterprise level with ease. "For example," says Ashe, "with our ReportNet product, you can manage and deliver reports over the Web on a very large scale. ReportNet is the hottest thing to hit the BI market in a decade. It really is a new paradigm and that is why it is so successful."

The CPM Vision

Ashe, who has been with Cognos for more than twenty years, became CEO on June 23, 2004, when Ron Zambonini retired and assumed the role of board chair. "Over the last three years, we've worked together to effect a successful transition, and we've probably never been so excited about what is in front of us. When customers buy into the Cognos CPM vision, we are committed to servicing them on a level that's different than giving everybody a query tool on their desktops. We're talking about relationships with our customers that are much more strategic and relationships with systems integrators who service our customers in this area. I am also committed to ensuring that the platform itself is integrated and achieves a low total cost of ownership. I intend to take Cognos into the billion-dollar plus leadership in CPM," Ashe says confidently.

Robert Ashe

Last book read: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
Most memorable movie: Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Favorite entertainer: Bruce Springsteen
Favorite game: Basketball
Most respected politician: Winston Churchill
Dream car: Aston Martin
Favorite vacation spot: Family cottage in Quebec
Most admired individual: Arthur Ashe (tennis player)
Favorite TV show: The Masters coverage
Favorite sports team: Ottawa Senators (hockey)
Hobby: Golf
Favorite type of music: Rock
Favorite food: Fusion

Ashe exudes enthusiasm for Cognos. "Every company should know that they can use their data for better performance, and our innovations such as ReportNet, CPM and MetricsManager are all part and parcel of that," comments Ashe. "We're well on our way to a billion dollars, and all of our innovation has been focused on - and led by - our customers. We innovate based on what our customers are trying to do, and we are customer focused beyond just fancy signs on the wall. Our customers are truly our lifeblood."

What would Ashe like everyone to know about Cognos? "First and foremost," he says, "I'd like everyone to know that they will get results faster with Cognos than with anyone else. Second, I want them to realize that the solutions they buy from Cognos are deep and rich. We don't just do software that looks jazzy - we deliver the goods! Third, I want to emphasize that when customers choose Cognos, they are buying into a vision that over time is going to allow them to take their initial purchases and initial successes and deliver more value through the journey to corporate performance management - the next evolution in business intelligence."

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