Buying IBM Cognos, don’t take it out on ICT.

Ok, so you just bought IBM Cognos. You probably are a finance or other manager and after some excellent Cognos demos, a voluptuous lunch or two with the IBM sales people and the assurance that this thing could even pick up your children from school, you signed the magic document. You are the proud owner of some gigabytes of Cognos software that will supposedly catapult your career to intergalactic heights and the eternal idolatress of your fellow managers. Well one thing is true, you bought a piece of awesome kit. I don’t know about the children, but it has the capability of doing almost everything.

Buying IBM Cognos, don't take it out on ICT

But did you think it through when buying IBM Cognos

If you are a real manager, and believe me I know a few, you will immediately do the right thing; dump the whole thing onto the ICT department. In a meeting, usually called ‘kickoff meeting’ you will explain that you bought the ultimate solution for every problem. The world will start turning the other way, money will poor in, the driveway to your mansion will be paved with innocent virgins (m/f) and it is all thanks to your incredible foresight. You detail your expectations and if you are doing a good job, I am sure you will, you will ramble for at least an hour about progress, ROI, cost centers, tactics, that you picked up golfing and strategic objectives. To prove that you are a good manager you keep the best for last:

By the way dear tech team, did I tell you that I want you to come up with a solution that is perfect and beautiful in every way, but no training and no disturbing the business people. Oh and you got a budget of .. euhm zero. And it would be best if it is ready tomorrow … on Saturday

Sounds remotely familiar? If not, drop me a note, I want to know where I can apply to work at your company. If you are not suffering from suppressed memories and this sounds vaguely familiar, well then this for you.

It is not because you bought something without knowing what you bought that you should cover up your incompetence by frustrating, and later blaming, the little people. Yes I know that buying this software took a huge chunk out of your budget. Yes I know that you where ignorant enough to believe the SALES people when they told you that this is the most cost efficient piece of BI software that ever walked upon the earth. Or maybe they were just bringing the second bottle of wine and you choose not to listen. Yes I know that your intentions where sincere and that you are too humble to go and ask for more budget. And yes, putting the stress on ICT looks like the logical solution as they are already there and you think they are doing nothing anyway. And yes, if this fails you will look more stupid in the eyes of your fellow managers then a teenager with his pants down to his knees and his boxers pulled op under his armpits. All very logical and thoughtful arguments. So enough with the rambling.

Buying IBM Cognos: To all managers out there, this is what you should do:

  • If you are not into BI, no problem, but don’t pretend you are. This means if you are not into BI, planning, OLAP and Data Warehousing, then find some people who do, hire external expertise, find people internally or get your people properly trained. But don’t pretend you know all and impose unrealistic goals and then get mad because you think nobody listens or cares.
  • Realize that buying IBM Cognos is like buying a big piece of Meccano. It contains all sorts of bits and pieces to create your own world. But just as with Meccano, you need a vision of what you want to end up with, you need a plan to know what it takes, identify the risks of things that might fail, etc. That is the case with Cognos, you can choose to make a cost center based rolling financial forecast application or you can an inventory follow up reporting system. It is up to you, the bits and pieces won’t build themselves. Your ICT department might advise based on their experience, but you need to identify and clearly communicate the solution you want to pursue.

Buying IBM Cognos, don't take it out on ICT

  • You bought a box of software. That’s it, nothing more. So starting with that, you need to take into account additional investments in hardware infrastructure, resources to analyze, design and build a solution and, not to forget, training and guidance for users. Simply put, your software cost will only be 25 to 40% of your total investment. So before you buy make sure you have enough funding to make it a success. Be supportive.
  • A BI solution can never be a success without good management support. If you dump it on ICT, you will end up with something that will not meet your expectations and will not be accepted by end-users. Dump it on your business and you will end up with something that most of the time won’t work and probably will never be finished. BI sales people like to talk about putting you in the driver seat. Well make sure you actually are and be there from the start.
  • Take your time and start modest after buying IBM Cognos. Besides decent management support the biggest BI fail reason is that management usually wants to go too quick too fast and with too large a scope. Invest in an analysis; take the time to build a prototype, let users play with it. It’s all extra money, but at least you won’t be spending it on expensive rework and on a suboptimal solution.
  • It doesn’t stop. A BI solution is all about supporting and facilitating a business process. Businesses change, so will your BI. So do not assume that when ICT says that it is ready, it is. That’s just the start. That is the new shiny car that just got delivered. Then you will start driving, you need maintenance, you want some new carpets, maybe a roof rack and so on. And next year, maybe you buy a dog, so you need a bigger trunk. Same with BI, it is a living thing and to keep it successful it requires feeding. Otherwise you will end up with a solution that is not aligned with your business anymore. Think about this when making your budget. A 25% annual amount of your total initial investment is a good measure given that you won’t expand. And you probably will.

Sigh, I got it of my chest I guess. If you know me, I guaranteee this was not about you (…), and if you don’t, think about it. Just think logically when your start with BI and be a real manager.

Cognos Service