IBM Cognos Concepts: Choosing the Right Tool

A common point of frustration with business intelligence and analytics reporting users is the inability for one tool to do everything they imagine. This is often referred to as the ‘BI silver bullet’ myth. There is not one specific tool that will do everything you want, but most everything can be accomplished using a series of tools in combination. (If someone is telling you differently – be skeptical!)

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jpeg-ibmIBM Business Analytics, for example, offers a library of tools with great advantages if used appropriately. However, a skill that often goes overlooked is the broad understanding of the library of tools and ability to decipher the right tool to use and the best way to customize that tool for a specific business question. This will sometimes lead customers down a frustrating path. This thinking often occurs on the first experience with business intelligence and analytic reporting. Users narrow down to one tool that resolves their problem better than all the others in the available library.  In fact, it does such a great job for them that they believe this tool will do the same for not only every other person, but also every other business question. The overall user adoption slips and the vocal champion of the product is left scratching their head.

This silver bullet idea often stems from the concept that this is an IT purchase and delivery. For example, if you need email, you get an email client; if you need a database, you buy database software. Business intelligence and analytics reporting is not only dependent on the data model design it sources but also the user’s ability to customize the front end for delivery. However, it is also important to consider that the use of different tools will result in a wide range of different delivery types. Additionally, each method of presenting data will also come with performance consideration based on the source model. While the skill of applying these considerations to selecting a tool is something acquired over time, I put together a high level breakdown of general reporting types and their recommended IBM Cognos tools as a reference:

Standard Reporting

  • Perspective: High Level
  • Description: Routine, static reports such as financial statements, audit and compliance Reports
  • Best Model: DMR (Adaptive Warehouse/FM)
  • Best Tool: Report Studio

Ad-Hoc Reporting

  • Perspective: Low level
  • Description: Rapid queries, look-ups with a focus on specific details
  • Best Model: DMR (Adaptive Warehouse/FM)
  • Best Tools: Query Studio, Cognos Insight (Free Desktop Application)

Analysis Reporting

  • Perspective: High Level
  • Description: Often cross-tab layout with rapid drill-downs and drag and drop comparisons
  • Best Model: Cube (TM1)
  • Best Tools: Analysis Studio, Cognos Insight (Free Desktop Application)


  • Perspective: High level with drill-through to Low level
  • Description: Multi perspective entrance point with drill down through defined analytic path to lower detail
  • Best Model: DMR (Adaptive Warehouse/FM)
  • Best Tools: Business Insight, Cognos Portlets/Report Studio

Subject Area Analytics

  • Perspective: High level
  • Description: Trending and historical comparison with ability to adjust on the fly
  • Best Model: DMR (Adaptive Warehouse/FM)
  • Best Tool: Adaptive Analytics

Predictive Analytics

  • Perspective: High level
  • Description: Pattern and association discovery for forward looking decision making
  • Best Model: Any
  • Best Tool: SPSS
About the Author

Ryan Johnson is a lead consultant specializing in Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing as part of the IBM Business Analytics group. He has extensive education in the area with a master of science in business intelligence and specialized training to accompany his many successful client engagements.

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