IBM Cognos vs Microstrategy Positioning
Both IBM Cognos and Microstrategy provide complete enterprise BI solutions. There are differences however, that will be important enough to swing a decision one way or the other. Microstrategy caters for enterprise wide, sophisticated reporting needs, data visualization and exploration, mobile BI, and importantly provides a platform for other types of advanced analytics – predictive analytics and statistics specifically. IBM Cognos also provides excellent enterprise reporting capability, data visualization and exploration, mobile BI, and differentiates itself with the TM1 planning and forecasting platform.
So the decision whether to go with IBM Cognos or Microstrategy may well boil down to the importance placed on the advanced analytics provided by Microstrategy, or the planning and forecasting platform provided by IBM Cognos. Neither of these products comes with a low price tag, and both typically need substantial support from the supplier – in the early days at least. IBM does provide advanced analytics in its SPSS suite of products, but it soon becomes fairly expensive. Microstrategy on the other hand does not provide a planning and forecasting capability – certainly not of the calibre of that provided by IBM.
IBM Cognos is a large, sprawling suite of products that will address every conceivable business intelligence requirement. Whether it does it with flair and efficiency is another matter. The platform will only be of interest to large corporations who have well established needs for production reporting, planning, budgeting, forecasting and what-if analysis. It does all these things very well, but the new age of self-service data visualization and exploration seems to be of secondary importance to Cognos. IBM’s leading data visualization technology tends to be associated with its big data products. This is not to say that Cognos does not address data visualization, but it’s definitely not as light on its feet as products such as Tableau and Qlik Sense.
Of course a large part of the Cognos suite comes in the form of TM1 – the planning, forecasting and budgeting applications and tools. Again, a facility of this magnitude will only be of interest to the largest businesses, with a substantial OLAP engine at the heart of the product.
Mobile support is good, with native applications for iPad, iPhone and Android devices. These provide a great deal of functionality, and are not just report and dashboard viewing apps. They work offline too if needed, with processing of local downloaded data sets.
Cognos comes in three flavors. Cognos Insight is a desktop platform for individual use, and it can play its part as a workstation in a larger Cognos deployment. I cannot imagine that anyone would use Cognos Insight as a stand-alone tool outside Cognos Enterprise (although they probably do!). Cognos Express is positioned as a platform for departments and medium size businesses, and can be extended with various add-ons. Cognos Enterprise is the full deployment and comes with a sophisticated architecture.
I have to admit that it is hard to get excited about IBM Cognos, with images of Victorian buildings full of accountants thumping away on calculators. Yes, it’s a little bit unfair to position it this way, but Cognos needs to reinvent itself if it is to appeal to the new mood for democratized, self-service business intelligence.
If an organization is heavily invested in IBM technologies then Cognos is certainly one alternative. But there is a shift taking place in the way businesses use business intelligence technologies, and Cognos is lagging to some extent.
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Microstrategy is a very broad, and very deep business intelligence platform. It will primarily be of interest to large corporations with complex requirements, and a very large body of users who need reports and dashboards. While it does address the current vogue for all things visual, it is not as proficient, or easy to use, as products such as Qlik and Tableau. It does however go well beyond the remit of platforms such as these, with integrated advanced analytics for scoring, and industrial strength production reporting capabilities. By Microstrategy’s own admission, users are still uncovering capability after a decade of use.
The main complaint heard is that of the high price. Microstrategy comes in various ‘modules’, and if an organization wants the whole set, it can turn out to be pretty expensive. But there is a value for money argument to be made here, since the high price is rewarded with almost unlimited sophistication.
The platform is an integrated whole – not a trivial accomplishment for so large a product. Developers delight in the object oriented architecture, which often has the pleasant effect of increasing productivity as the sophistication of a deployment increases. The user interface is primarily browser based, with various well defined layers in the architecture below this.
Unless your business is as large or as complex as General Motors or Exxon it may be overkill, and some of the more visual oriented products might be more suitable. Although Microstrategy does offer sophisticated visual analytics in its portfolio of capabilities.
The most recent release is Microstrategy 10 Secure Enterprise – with an obvious focus on security. This is an essential feature when enterprise wide, highly distributed intelligence is being employed. It ties in with Microstrategy Usher – a device based security protocol deployed on mobile devices – and the Apple Watch.
In summary, Microstrategy is a good choice for large organizations with sophisticated needs, pursuing a one product does all approach. The other approach is best-of-breed, with the advantage of a better fit, but at the cost of managing disparate platforms.
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