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SAP BI, analytics push won't squeeze out Cognos, other vendors

Cognos' updated NetWeaver certification and integrated business intelligence platform help it stand out from the competition among third-party vendors vying for SAP customers.

SAP has been unveiling updated business intelligence (BI) tools, hundreds of composite analytical applications and less complex development tools for end users, but that push won't stave off third-party vendors vying for SAP customers, according to industry analysts.

Among those vendors is Ottawa, Ontario-based Cognos Inc., which is launching an updated version of its BI platform, Cognos 8, with updated NetWeaver support, and integration with SAP Web Application Server and SAP NetWeaver Portal.

Cognos, an SAP partner since 1997, sells reporting, analysis, scorecarding, dashboarding, and event-management tools for SAP and non-SAP data. The company counts among its clients the UK's largest milk and cream supplier, Arla Foods, and Ontario, Canada-based plastics molding technology vendor Mold Masters Inc. Both companies are SAP customers.

Scott Lawrence, director of product marketing for Cognos, said his company's SAP clients are using Cognos' ReportNet to import metadata from SAP BW and integrate that data with non-SAP data sources. SAP BW metadata can be incorporated into tailored reporting packages, he said.

"With SAP's approach, business intelligence tools end up getting built by the IT organization," Lawrence said. "Our approach gives people the ability to do a lot more self service and analysis." @19690

SAP has been beefing up its BI and analytics tools of late. The software vendor rolled out more than 200 industry-specific analytic applications last year. The new composite applications are aimed at 25 industries and pull data from multiple sources.

SAP also partnered with Macromedia to make its Visual Composer tool more appealing to end users. The Macromedia Flex application framework enables the creation of richer interfaces for SAP software.

Still, companies gain an advantage from using a third party BI vendor over SAP if they are in a heterogeneous environment where data from SAP and non-SAP systems needs to be analyzed, said Keith Gile, principal analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc.

"SAP BI capabilities within the NetWeaver BW stack are solid, but they're not the most prevalent in the industry," Gile said. "They are more appropriate when working exclusively in a targeted SAP environment. There's far less allure for SAP BI in heterogeneous environments."

Cognos has been aggressively developing integration capabilities to take advantage of the widespread use of third-party applications among SAP customers. The company built Cognos 8 using a Web-based architecture.

Cognos is just one of a handful of vendors vying for SAP customers, and so far the BI vendor market doesn't appear to be headed toward consolidation, Gile said. It is not uncommon to find BI tools and applications from third-party vendors in SAP shops, he said. France-based Business Objects S.A., Santa Clara, Calif.-based Hyperion Solutions Corp., and Cary, N. C.-based SAS Institute Inc. are among Cognos' competitors.

"Many large enterprises are using between five and 15 BI vendors," Gile said. "It's a little out of control, and one of the trends is that companies are trying to add some sanity to this overabundance of BI tools."

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