Unification versus integration

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It is time to make a clear distinction between product sets that are unified as opposed to integrated. Traditionally, we have talked about any suite of products that worked together with a common front-end and the ability to pass information from one module to another as integrated. However, there are different degrees of integration and the term integrated is no longer enough to differentiate between those products that are truly unified as opposed to those that are simply integrated.

What do I mean by unified? Most particularly, a single repository and architecture that unites all of the products, as well as a single user interface. However, the problem with producing a unified architecture is that, unless you are starting from scratch, it takes years of work and commitment. In fact, it is exactly analogous to building a service oriented architecture and users will know by now that that is no small feat.

There are a number of advantages to making the move to a unified architecture. From the vendor’s perspective there is less to maintain and the development of new facilities is faster and simpler because it has only to be done once and not multiple times for each product in the suite. From the user’s perspective there are also a number of advantages, some of which are generic and some of which are particular to the relevant environment. In particular, in the former category it means that installation and implementation is much easier and faster and there is never any need to import or export data from one module to another. Similarly, a unified user interface means that you never have to leave the environment to open new parts of the suite.

A good example of a unified product suite is Cognos 8, which has just been launched by Cognos. In fact, Cognos 7 was unified but then Cognos introduced ReportNet, which was separate from the unified platform. This has been rectified in the new release, where this product has now been renamed as Report Studio. Similarly, what used to be PowerPlay is now Analysis Studio and all the other front-line products are also named something studio.

The big advantage that the unified environment provides within Cognos 8 is that you only need to define your metadata (dimensions, hierarchies, metrics, key performance indicators and so on) once and then all of this information is immediately available to all front-end applications, which makes the whole development and deployment of business intelligence services much easier and faster.

While on the subject of Cognos 8, one other facet of the product that is worth commenting on is Event Studio. This is based on the product that Cognos acquired when it bought NoticeCast a few years ago. To be honest, I have been rather disappointed at what Cognos has done with this product since Cognos acquired it: NoticeCast had ambitious plans for the product’s capabilities, which seemed to have got lost since the product was acquired. However, with Cognos 8 the product finally seems to have come of age. In particular, it now supports process environments (including scheduling capability) and it will be useful in supporting CPM (corporate performance management). I also like its potential for use in conjunction with BPM (business process management).

So, Cognos 8 has two big advantages over its competitors: it has a unified architecture, which not all of its rivals do; and it has Event Studio, which is a major differentiator. Of course, these will not be the only things that you consider when investing in business intelligence but they do give Cognos a head start.