Cognos 10: what does social networking bring to business intelligence?

In my previous life as a webmaster I was called on to develop monthly web performance reports for consumption by the whole marketing organization. At one time these had been documents that were mailed around, but we decided the best approach was to build a web interface with charts and diagrams that would be updated monthly.

We showed standard metrics. Stuff like this:

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Each month I’d send out an email with a link to the latest report with my notes on site performance each month. For instance, I’d point out from looking at the graph on the left that although traffic had dropped this month, this is a seasonal variation. For the graph on the right, I’d say I wasn’t sure why our search traffic had grown: this is something I’d investigate with the various individuals running search campaigns (meaning for 90% of the people on the email distribution, the answer would end up in an Inbox far, far away).  

How much smarter we could have been if we’d have had access to a system like Cognos 10 that marries business intelligence/analytics with social networking capabilities that allow you to add that layer of insight on top of the data.

For instance, here’s a standard chart:

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and here’s the same chart with the addition of related Lotus Connections discussions:

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Going back to my examples above, if I was showing yearly traffic figures, I can use this discussion area to record what I know about seasonal variations. Now if someone receiving the report didn’t agree with my evaluation, they are free to comment on it. As for the discussion I’d need to have with my search marketing folks about why the search traffic has spiked, I can set this up from the same page:

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…with the thread of the discussion unfolding below the graphs and charts to which it relates. Anyone wishing to follow up on the status of the question can go to that page and scan the thread to see the outcome.

I should point out that the Cognos folks have taken this a step further: integrating activities as well as discussions. The data is now more ‘actionable’. Let’s say you are looking at global sales data and you notice a slump in a certain geographic region. You can use the new functionality to setup an Activity to address this, with a number of associated tasks assigned to different sales people or teams. Over time you can evaluate their actions against the performance data all from within the same interface.

And while we’re talking about the sales team, another new feature in Cognos 10 makes it easier to access reports while on the go, directly from your smart phone:

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One feature I’d love to see in future releases of Cognos is the ability to tie conversations/activities to given points on a graph, as opposed to just having these attached to the page of a report. As an example, the popular SoundCloud music hosting service has gained a lot of traction by allowing music enthusiasts to comment on a particular point in a music track:

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(each blue bar represents a separate comment)

Maybe something for a future release?

Delaney Turner has a post with more information on Cognos 10, including a link to an excellent interactive demo.

Also check out the Cognos product pages.