(Note: Since this post originally appeared, the product name has been changed to Workspace. IBM’s marketers have dropped “Business”, kept “Insight”, and applied this name to a similar, but different dasktop “dashboard” product.
This has caused no confusion at all.)
IBM Cognos 10 arrived with much fanfare last fall, and the IBM Cognos community is starting to absorb what has changed from C8. For the most part this version seems to be a fairly modest, “evolutionary” change, and I suspect that for the most part environments that have C8.4 running well will not be in a huge hurry to upgrade. From an architectural perspective this is in the same vein as the Cognos BI that we’ve seen since ReportNet, although the product has matured considerably since then. This is not the giant leap made from Series 7 to the ReportNet/C8 “enterprise” product.
That said C10 does have some interesting new features, once of which is
Business Insight Workspace, or as they are more commonly referred to, “dashboards”.
Cognos 8 has a nice feature of being able to create custom pages with embedded report – and other content – that could be set up as tabs available to users on their default screen. These are useful for setting up dashboard-like content. For example, users in Finance can have a few of their most common reports available within tabs, and by selecting the tab can run the reports without having to explicitly navigate to the reports and run them.
Extending the idea to the executive level, a few key reports can be assembled into a dashboard providing certain key metrics about the business. But of course tabs are useful in lower-level situations – for example, reports that monitor the health of a data warehouse can be “tabbed” so support staff can have instant access to metrics around, for example, warehouse rebuild times.
Tabs have always been a little awkward to set up, and to address some of their shortcomings IBM Cognos 10 introduces
Business Insight Workspace, an easier way to create and share dashboard-style collections of reports (and other content).
Creating a new dashboard is simple – simply launch
Business Insight Workspace from the Launch menu (sorry, the screen-shot says Business Insight, the old product name):
The dashboard creation screen is intuitive, with a Content tab to easily locate the content you want to place on the dashboard:
Content is placed on the dashboard with a drag-and-drop approach that allows for easy positioning of many reports on a single dashboard:
Each item on the dashboard is a “widget” that can be managed individually. This allows for some interesting features. For example, a list report can be quickly transformed into a chart-type report by selecting the widget, and the selecting “Change Display Type”
In this case we’ve selected a Column Chart, and the widget is quickly transformed to a new display type:
The ability to format the chart is quite limited, but this could be useful in situations where the customer wanted to be able to see things several different ways, if the underlying list report is set up correctly.
Another interesting feature is the ability to comment on any widget. Selecting Add Comment brings up a comment box. Users can leave a trail of comments on each widget.
Widget content can actually be selected from the components of each report – you don’t have to bring in the whole report:
In the case above, we can see that Percentage Sales By Year has both a Pie Chart and a List – either one can be used as the source for a widget.
Business Insight Workspace Advanced is activated, the users can alter or create content of their own. By selecting a widget and selecting Do More from the upper right of the widget a user can open a query window and create or alter the content:
An interesting feature of this tool is the ability to integrate “External Data” – the ability to import external data and map it to existing report structures. This could allow Finance users, for example, to bring in budget or forecast data, which is often held off-line in spreadsheets.
Dashboard content can also include URLS, RSS feeds etc. although access to these must be granted through the Cognos Application Firewall. This can be useful to provide real-time feeds along with content that does not change as quickly.
Dashboards appear as any other object in Cognos Connection, so instead of opening a report the users simply open the dashboard. As well, the dashboards can be easily emailed to users as a link.
Dashboards in C10 represent a clear improvement from what was available in C8, providing IBM Cognos users with another powerful presentation choice, particularly in environments with a high demand for consolidated views of data.