Cognos: Keeping Customers CloseBy Brian P. Watson Print
Cognos mixes easy-to-use tools and support to win customer praise.
There's no one thing that makes Cognos shine, according to its customers. Some point to the vendor's intuitive business intelligence tools; others tout its customer and product support.
Founded in 1969, the company's first software offering mined data warehouses and downloaded records onto a flat file. Today, the firm counts 23,000 customers worldwide, says Harriet Fryman, senior director of product marketing.
One of those customers, Cullen/Frost Bankers, a San Antonio bank with $10 billion in assets, built in 1997 an enterprise data warehouse, a repository designed to support internal research and decision-making. The firm devoted five to six workers to research branch profitability and customer activity and retention rates, but wanted a tool that could be used by other employees, not just the technologists, says Louis Barton, an executive vice president who oversees data warehousing and business intelligence.
In 2001, Barton and his team bought Cognos' Impromptu reporting tool, citing the company's strong sales and support personnel. "They made me feel like I wanted to work with them," he says, noting that Cognos' staff didn't bash the competition, but instead focused on understanding the bank's long-term goals. Cullen/Frost has since upgraded to the Cognos 8 Business Intelligence platform.
And the bank cashed in: Instead of taking three days a month to manually compile monthly budget variance reports for executive management, Barton and his team built the reports to be automatically refreshed each month, without even clicking a button. Barton says the bank achieved full return on investment within a year of deployment by reducing printers, printing supplies and some staff, though he did not specify how many.
Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Life Time Fitness, a $390 million company that owns health clubs and sells nutrition supplements, is developing reports on accounting and finance for executives and club operators to enable budget planning and forecasting.
Choosing Cognos, enterprise architect Gary Lien says, came partly out of geographical convenienceCognos has a sales and development office in nearby Minneapolisbut also from the vendor's easy-to-use tools, which Lien and his team thought could satisfy their reporting needs. "We're very excited to see what it can do," he says.
Greeley, Colo.-based United Agri Products (UAP), a chemical, fertilizer and seed distributor, built a data warehouse in the late 1990s with an ad hoc reporting tool on top to query inventory management and supplier records, says David Wheat, director of decision support systems.
But those employees were making different queries with little or no standardization across the company. That led to problems: In some cases, employees would change business processes by altering reports; in others, employees would measure supplier records in different formats, leading to problems with inventory management. "We didn't have company best practices," Wheat says.
In April 2004, UAP began looking at enterprise reporting tools. According to Wheat, Cognos' ReportNet had an intuitive user interface, which he says employees were able to learn in days.
Today, UAP uses Cognos in a number of areas, such as managing inventory across its 400 locations and developing purchasing forecasts.
Wheat also applauds the company's feedback on research and development. Cognos frequently consults with customers on new products, he says, and provides a Web-based portal for customer input: "It makes me feel like there is an avenue, that they are listening."
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