Companies have many choices in how they want to pursue building business intelligence resources. There’s a broad consensus that many businesses simply can’t afford to ignore this aspect of enterprise any longer.
With so many good tools and technologies on hand, companies that aren’t taking a magnifying glass to things like product data, customer relationships and sales numbers are simply missing out. Here we compare three popular platforms: IBM Cognos, SAP’s Crystal Reports, and SAP BusinessObjects.
The IBM Cognos application suite is popular for conducting vital business intelligence research, as is SAP Business Objects. Here are some of the contrasting elements of these two solutions. Often included in these considerations/discussions is Crystal Reports so we’ll explain how that fits in as well. To better understand the advantages of these three BI platforms, it is important to examine their top features.
IBM built Cognos as a platform for “smarter self-service” and promotes its ability to let users personalize results and create modern dashboards from anywhere, over the cloud. As a completely web-based tool with cloud convenience, Cognos allows companies to skip all of the hassle of installing desktop tools or “shrinkware” – just loading all of the suite’s functionality through a browser.
However, part of the sophistication of IBM’s offering really involves a finer look at when users need to be online: one of the other appealing features of Cognos is the ability to create off-line reports that still work while disconnected from the web. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to consider how offline functionality can save a sale, or otherwise benefit someone with a temporary lack of wi-fi.
Cognos also comes from a top name in IT, and shows IBM’s commitment to building business intelligence tools. Cognos, IBM says, is built for collaboration, with the ability to scale data and do different kinds of data governance, while benefiting from competitive security.
Some of the benefits of this kind of business intelligence tool are evident in real-world situations.
For example, one of the most effective uses of IBM Cognos is in inventory management, where smarter inventory handling can make a huge difference in profits and the ways that core operations get done.
Businesses can use Cognos and related tools to tag each type of inventory, to manage a supply chain and warehouse operation in more dynamic ways, and to reduce shelf storage. One real-world example is presented on IBM’s website, where leaders at Conestoga Wood Specialties in Lancaster County, PA talk about matching inventory to customer demand.
In addition to product management, service businesses can also use this type of business intelligence tool to reach customers more effectively. A lot of this has to do with building reports that look like customer relationship management tools — that make better use of data assets like customer identifiers and geolocational data.
SAP Business Objects is another comprehensive business intelligence resource that can be used on any device.
Business Objects is promoted by SAP as performing “agile visualizations” to really make data presentable and digestible to an audience. Business Objects promotes a model called “Engage — Visualize – Predict” that creates an actual ‘chain of use’ to promote business intelligence gathering and implementation.
Business Objects also takes what might be called a component-based approach. A number of major application components each do different things — for example, there is SAP Lumira, which helps with ad hoc data gathering and aggregation. There’s also the Business Objects Design Studio for creating multidimensional dashboards with other tools like SAP NetWeaver.
Another major component of Business Objects is SAP Business Objects edition for Microsoft Office — which gives users, in SAP’s words “the power to dig deeper into your business data from within the familiar Microsoft Office environment.”
Many of these individual components are built on the idea of finding more precise ways to gather information. The Microsoft Office component is a good example, where many businesses keep a lot of their raw data in Word, PowerPoint or even Outlook. Having a specific Office-compatible tool allows for very specific kinds of raw data gathering that might otherwise be a lot harder or require expensive, agonizing hand data entry.
According to SAP, its Crystal Reports BI platform is the standard in report creation for businesses. Rich formatting tools allow for detailed customization options. The program can use simple and complex data sources to sort, analyze and display reporting in the most efficient format for a specific recipient. If your company focuses heavily on generating custom reports and has complex data correlation needs, Crystal Reports can be a good choice. Here are some of its other features:
- Available in 24 languages.
- Powerful reporting tools with drill-down capabilities reveal key business insights.
- Connections to broad data sources allow ad-hoc data mapping and report creation.
- Reports can be customized based on specific end-user profiles.
- Information is available offline or online, and in a variety of formats.
Both Cognos and Business Objects provide dynamic results for business intelligence. One key difference, though, is the compatibility of Business Objects with the aforementioned Crystal Reports, a traditional leading tool for creating dynamic business reporting. Since SAP owns both Business Objects and Crystal Reports, there is full compatibility, with formatted reports in up to 24 world languages. By contrast, while there is no direct compatibility between Cognos and Crystal Reports, some third-party tools provide migration for Crystal Reports data.
Choosing a BI Platform
Businesses should invest sufficient time in researching the detailed tools related to these platforms. A good BI platform can cut down on the time it takes to gather, sort and analyze disparate data streams. Also, it can give your end-users more time to focus on high-yield activities instead of combing through data and creating reports using inefficient methods. When considering platforms, think about these factors – ideally, from different end-user perspectives:
- Which features are necessities?
- Which are “nice to have”?
- Which platform is best for your company’s size?
- How complex is the corresponding backend administration, product tech support and overall ease of use?
- How much time do you and your colleagues have to devote to reporting?
All of these important factors will lead you to the right BI platform for your business. For example, if you determine that you have limited time for reporting, you might prefer a platform with automatic reporting and intuitive input features. If your needs are more complex and onboarding time is less of a concern, a more user-driven platform might be ideal.
When it comes to Business Objects vs. Crystal vs Cognos BI platforms, the discrepancies are as important as what they share in common, and having multiple options on the market allows a business to find the perfect fit for their specific needs.