IBM Rational Insight & IBM Cognos BI – How they compare

Alot of people have asked me about how these two solutions stack up next to each other.  Questions such as “What is the difference between them?”, “Which one is a better solution?” or “Which one will meet my specific business needs?”. The truth is, there is no one correct answer. It all depends on several factors. I’m going to talk about some of the key differences to help everyone better understand this.

IBM  Cognos‘ main components are:

  • BI server – this is where users view, run and create reports and dashboards. This is also referred to as the “Report server”.
  • ETL server – this handles the ETL processing of the data. It extracts the data from the specificed data sources, transforms the data based on business logic and loads that data into the Data Warehouse.
  • Data Warehouse – schema/structure of your database where all of the data will reside. Reports are run against the data that live here.
  • Data Manager – this is the ETL development tool where users specify what their data sources are, how to transform the data and where to load that data. All this is specified in what is called the ETL “catalog”. Once this is defined, it is published as a “data movement task” that the ETL server executes on its behalf. Note: for development/testing, Data Manager also has a built in DM engine that could run the ETL.
  • Framework Manager – this is the framework modeling development tool that is used create a metadata model that is the layer between the raw structure of the Data Warehouse and what the Report Authors see. It creates a cleaner view of the data and organizes it based on business needs.

Cognos also comes with these end-user tools: Report Studio, Query Studio, Analysis Studio, Event Studio, Workspace and Workspace Advanced. You can just google them to see what they do.

Please note that there are many tools bundled into this solution and I have only explained the key infrastructure components. There are also additional databases needed. I do not want to this post to flood you all with too much info 🙂

In additional to the servers, components and tools, Cognos also comes with an optional sample download called “The Great Outdoors“. This provides a simple example of some of the capabilities of the Cognos offering. This sample does not include any ETL samples so its not an end to end example, but it helps show some of what Cognos can do. I have not personally used the sample. I focus more on SDLC/ALM metrics and this does not appear to be an example of that.

IBM Rational Insight is built on the Cognos BI platform. So this means that is also has the same server components “under the hood”: Cognos BI server & ETL server. Insight also leverages the Data Manager & Framework Manager developer tools. Rather than list out all of what Insight provides, I am going to list out the differences between Insight and Cognos:

  • Out of the Box Collateral – Insight provides very extensive  out of the box deployment collateral. This includes XML/XDC mappings, a vast ETL catalog (containing fact builds, dimensions, data marts), a complete Data Warehouse schema, framework data models and several reports and dashboards.

To me, this is one of the key benefits of Insight. Its provides us with all the collateral needed to get deployed and realize value quickly. The effort to create this collateral is not trivial and in my estimate, would take thousands of man hours to recreate. We can use the examples in “as is” form, customize them to meet our needs or simply use them as a guide to create our own collateral. The OOTB collateral takes into consideration all of the key elements of the SDLC including: Program, Project, Iteration, Release, Requirement, Test Case, Defect and much more. My suggestion and best practice is to leverage as much of this as possible to avoid rework.

Additional components created by IBM Rational for Insight:

  • IBM Rational Data Services Server – This server is used when extracting data from IBM Rational Clearquest, IBM Rational Clearcase, IBM Rational RequisitePro and IBM Rational Test Manager. These tools use an “adapter” which is basically a set of Java classes that plug into the Data Services API. The Data Services server then communicates with the point product API through XML to expose the source data.
  • IBM Rational XML Data Configuration – This developer tool is used to expose the source data through XML/Reportable REST APIs. This can be used against any data source (IBM or third party) that has a native supported reportable REST API. This is also used for the tools references above that leverage the Data Services server.

*Insight does not come with the Analysis Studio tool.

Insight and Cognos can both extract from IBM and third party tools in a variety of ways. As an existing IBM Rational customer, one would likely get more value from Insight as several of the point products today (Rational Team Concert, Rational Quality Manager, Rational DOORS NextGen and more) provide their own Insight collateral with each release so its “plug and play” between Insight and their tools. That is huge value. This leverages the IBM Rational XML Data Configuration tool and driver. I work with alot of IBM Rational tools, so Insight is very beneficial to me and gives me a huge head start with reporting.

If I was an existing Cognos customer with an established deployment (DW schema, ETL catalog, etc) then perhaps I would not see as much value in the OOTB collateral that Insight provides as I would already have had my foundation for all this collateral in place. It really all depends on what tools one is using, what the current process is and what the business goals are. Each case is different.

A few other important things to know:

  • There are many other cool Cognos tools that can be purchased and plugged into your existing deployments, such as Cognos Office and Cognos Mobile. These are applicable to both Cognos and Insight. I have used both of these and they are great. Office for Powerpoint is cool because I can embed my reports in a slide deck once, and use it for weekly/monthly meetings, without having to recreate it each time. With mobile technology being on the rise, Cognos Mobile becomes more valuable to people on the go.
  • IBM Cognos has an offering named “Cognos Insight“. This is not IBM Rational Insight, but its a different solution.

So keep this in mind…Insight & Cognos both use the same Cognos components and engine to accomplish the same reporting tasks. The key differences are what I have mentioned above. This should help you understand how they differ and help determine which one may be the more suitable choice for your organization.

Regardless of your selection, they are both very powerful pieces of software.

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