Product Review: Cognos Web OLAP speeds data analysis

Cognos PowerPlay Web Edition 6.0 is a good fit for organisations that need to deliver online analytical processing (OLAP) tools to a multitude of clients. Reduced training requirements resulting from the familiar browser interface, combined with straightforward administration and deployment tools, make PowerPlay Web a winner for end-users and IT managers alike.

As a Web-based OLAP tool, this PowerPlay Web update joins an ever-expanding field of browser-based multidimensional analysis tools. Rivals include Business Objects' WebIntelligence and Comshare's DecisionWeb.

Cognos and its rivals all do a good job of supporting basic OLAP functions, such as pivoting and drilling down. And with all these companies, Web-based analysis is only a part of a larger OLAP solution.

However, in this neck-and-neck race, these rivals do have some differences that might make some of their products more appealing for certain types of IT situations. For example, Business Objects has focused on adding security for those using OLAP in extranet settings. Comshare, on the other hand, has decided to emphasise its inclusion of color-coding exceptions and the addition of integration with enterprise resource planning applications.

Pricing varies greatly among OLAP competitors, with costs per user ranging from $US200 to $3000 per client based upon what is purchased. A close examination of features vs cost is warranted before choosing one of these solutions.

This Cognos PowerPlay Web update competes well against rivals. I found a lot to like during my tests -- from both an administrative and an end-user vantage point.

IT managers will like the fact that PowerPlay Web's server component can be managed across multiple machines to achieve greater performance. Furthermore, multiple data sources can be combined and presented to the user with relative ease.

New in this version, support for customising HTML output includes Cascading Style Sheets. Administrators at IT sites can control end-user presentation based upon their knowledge of the browsers at hand.

I did have to use copies of Cognos Windows-based Impromptu and PowerPlay products to create data cubes and queries prior to deployment. However, I found the going easy and the deployment rather painless.

From a user perspective, I found the browser-based access easy to understand and use. I especially liked a new feature that let me display multiple dimensions on the same axis. For example, I could look at quarterly revenue on one axis, and divisions and employees on the other.

Business analysts will also find good value in PowerPlay Web's addition of automatic detection of data exceptions. The product uses statistical analysis to locate highly favorable or unfavorable data conditions.

A new 80/20 feature, though not unique to PowerPlay Web, is also useful to analysts because it filters out the 80 per cent of data in which you are not interested. For example, I was able to include only those employees who had contributed to the top 80 per cent of my revenue.

Cognos has also placed an emphasis on international customers with this PowerPlay update. Users can choose different languages, such as French and German, to use while analysing corporate data.

Furthermore, PowerPlay Web supports numeric formatting and currency conversion based on country. This language, numeric formatting, and currency support bodes well for companies with users around the world.

I found Cognos PowerPlay Web to be a speedy performer, easy to understand and administer. Companies that need a good OLAP tool wrapped in the familiarity of the Web browser should consider Cognos PowerPlay Web.

Maggie Biggs analyses database-related technologies at the InfoWorld Test Center. You can e-mail her at maggie_biggs@infoworld.com.

What's new in PowerPlay Web Server Edition 6.0?

Report Building:

-- Nested crosstabs

-- Measured subsets

-- Calculated categories

Data Formatting:

-- Exception highlighting

-- 80/20 filtering

International Capabilities:

-- Multilanguage support

-- Regional numeric formatting

-- Currency conversion

The bottom line: excellent

PowerPlay Server Web Edition 6.0

This Cognos offering brings accelerated online analytical processing (OLAP) power to the familiar Web browser.

Pros: Requires little end-user training; rows and columns can be nested for easier analysis of parent-child relationships; highlights exceptions in data; supports 80/20 filtering; server-side load can be distributed across multiple servers to improve performance.

Cons: None noted.

Platforms: Servers: Solaris, HP-UX, AIX, and Windows NT; Web browsers: Either Netscape Navigator/Communicator or Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.x and later.

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