Cognos is the latest business intelligence company to add support for Web services to its query and reporting tools. But what role will Web services play in BI?
The message: Cognos has added support for Web services to its query and reporting tools, enabling the integration of BI functions into other applications, the customization of Cognos BI to fit individual users' needs and the integration of Cognos applications into portal environments. Cognos says the key opportunity will be to work with OEMs and systems integrators on new classes of BI service.
Technology: Cognos Web Services uses XML and simple object access protocol (SOAP) to enable customers to build connections between their Cognos software and other enterprise applications, such as ERP and CRM. Cognos applications and query/responses are expressed in XML and Extensible Stylesheet Language for Transformations (XSLT), which enables application developers to translate results returned from Cognos BI servers into whatever format is required. Adapters allow the software to work with all Cognos Series 7 applications.
The Web Services software, with its XML architecture, grew out of an earlier Cognos project to enable its software for WAP and mobile Internet users – when having a wireless client was all the rage at the BI companies. The software effectively wraps a BI request/response API in a SOAP wrapper to call a remote BI service, such as a drill-down in a sales chart.
Cognos says it is currently evaluating the use of Microsoft's proposed XML for Analysis specification, as the standard way of encapsulating BI for use in Web services.
Cognos supports .NET and Java, and the company's target markets are OEMs and systems integrators. The idea is that Cognos can be built into other applications and portals so that a user might not know that query report information, for example, is actually being provided through a Web service delivering Cognos PowerPlay. Cognos sees the chief uses as: the integration of BI functionality into other applications, the customization of Cognos BI to fit individual users' needs, and the integration of Cognos applications into portal environments. The Cognos Web Services SDK is $10,000 per developer – which, it claims, is similar to other vendors' pricing. It has 25 users beta-testing the software, including Carlson Hotels.
The company's demo for Cognos Web Services shows an executive interrogating a sales database via a computer-generated avatar that responds to spoken commands for details of recent customer purchases by displaying them on a screen and reading highlights. Cognos says the avatar demo illustrates the way the Web services layer could be used to fulfill the latest US law on providing access to documents, information and reports for people with impaired vision.
Strategy: Industry watchers say Web services appear to offer an opportunity to develop more extensible and highly integrated BI tools, as current BI extranet implementations require point-to-point connections. Web services don't, and theoretically would enable companies "to communicate BI information through common, centralized directory services, using standard program-to-program protocols."
Hurwitz Group adds, "the reality is that the roles of WSDL and UDDI are well understood in the context of Web services for transactional applications and application integration. Yet their roles in BI applications are still under debate. Consequently, corporations using BI Web services today are mostly doing so in a point-to-point fashion as a first step."
Competition: Business Objects, Hyperion, Informatica, SAS and other Cognos competitors have already added the ability to wrap APIs in SOAP, whereas the likes of MicroStrategy and Brio require users to do some significant coding in order to achieve the same thing. Crystal Reports and HNC Software already support .NET at a high level in their reporting products.
The451 assessment: Web services will allow users to deploy BI outside of their intranets and inside other applications. Web services are a 'checkbox' item for BI companies seeking new opportunities to extend the reach of their applications, and another step on the road to extending BI to the masses – which is some BI firms' mission. However, it's not yet clear what role BI will play in Web services. Current Web services activity is focused on transactional systems.