Cognos report writers have long been frustrated by the poor built-in support for GIS-type displays in Cognos reporting tools. True, there is a basic map tool included as part of Report Studio, but it is quite limited in functionality. It can be used to colour geographic areas, but lacks layering, zooming, sophisticated selection tools, and the kind of detail we’ve all become used to with the advent of Google Maps and the like.
There are a few map-related add-ons for Cognos reporting available. Recently I had the opportunity to take Esri’s offering in this space for a test drive with a 2-day training session at Esri Canada’s Ottawa office. I came away impressed with the power and ease-of-use offered by this product.
EM4C – Esri Maps For Cognos – came out of development by SpotOn Systems, formerly of Ottawa, Canada. SpotOn was acquired by Esri in 2011. The current version of the product is 4.3.2. The product acts as a kind of plug-in to the Cognos portal environment, enabling Report Studio developers to embed Esri maps, served up by an Esri server, in conventional Report Studio reports. From a report developer perspective EM4C extends Report Studio, and does so from within the Cognos environment. This is important: EM4C users don’t have to use additional tools outside the Cognos portal. From an architectural perspective things are a little more complex: the Cognos environment must be augmented with EM4C server, gateway and dispatcher components that exist alongside the existing Cognos components.
Then, of course, there are the maps themselves. Since this is a tool to enable the use of Esri maps, an Esri GIS server must be available to serve the maps up to the report developer and ultimately the user. For shops that are already Esri GIS enabled this is not a challenge, and indeed I can see many users of this product wanting to buy it because they have a requirement to extend already available mapping technolgy into their BI shops. However, if you don’t have an Esri map server, don’t despair – the product comes with out-of-the-box access to a cloud-based map server provided as part of the licence for the product. This is a limited solution that won’t satisfy users who have, for example, their own shape files for their own custom maps, but on the other hand if you have such a requirement you probably already have a map-server in-house. If you are new to the world of GIS this solution is more than enough to get started.
So where do we start with EM4C? First, you need a report that contains data that has some geographic aspect to it. This can be as sophisticated as lat/long encoded data, or as simple as something like state names.
When we open our report, we notice we have a new tool: the Esri Map tool:
As mentioned, the EM4C experience is designed to enable the report writer to do everything from within Cognos. Using this tool we can embed a new map within out report:
So now what? We have a map place-holder, but no map. So the next step is to configure our map.
This step is done using Esri Maps Designer. This tool is installed in the Cognos environment as part of the EM4C install, and enables us to configure our map – or maps, as we can have multiple maps within a single report.
Esri Maps Designer is where we select the map layers we wish to display in our report. When we open it we can navigate to any Report Studio reports in which we have embedded and Esri map :
In this case VANTAGE_ESRI_1 is the name of the map in my report; the red X indicates it has not been configured yet. Clicking Configure brings up our configuration. This is where we select a Base Map, and then link our Cognos data to a layer to overlay on the map.
As mentioned, out-of-the-box the EM4C product enables the user to use maps served from the Esri cloud. We will select one of these maps from Esri Cloud Services as the Base Map of our report:
When the base map is embedded, it becomes a zoom-able, high-detail object within the report:
Unfortunately, while the map looks great it bears no relationship to the report data. So now what?
In part 2 of this overview we will look at how to connect the report data points to the report map. It is the combination of the ease-of-use of BI tools (and the data they can typically access) with mapping that makes a tool like EM4C so powerful. We will symbolize data to created colour-coded map-points to reveal the geographic location and spatial relation data, potentially allowing users to draw conclusions they otherwise would not have been able to with list-type data.