What’s new in IBM Cognos BI 10.2.1 (Part 1/2)

What’s new in IBM Cognos BI 10.2.1: Synopsis

This post describes what’s new in IBM Cognos Business Intelligence 10.2.1 compared to version 10.2. IBM Cognos 10.2.1 is more than just a maintenance upgrade. It is not a revolution either, but apart from a long list of fixes it includes a comprehensive set of well thought out changes and new features. Many things did change in only a minor way, but at the same time it are those tiny changes that will make a huge difference in the day-to-day business. 

Some things pop out though. In this release it is clear that IBM is serious about improving the in-memory capabilities of the platform combined with improving and enhancing the ROLAP options for the Dynamic Cubes with the Dynamic Query Engine. With PowerPlay, TM1, legacy ROLAP and DB2 Cubing Services already lined up in the stack, it is more than obvious that IBM puts its money on a dimensional OLAP style of reporting preferably in-memory. Being a TM1 fan, I don’t necessarily see the point of this, but if you don’t have TM1 this is definitely the functionality to look into.

Next to improved ROLAP this release offers many improvements in the more recent components of the BI suite like Workspace (Advanced), Mobile and Active Reports with small changes that all make a lot of sense. I am always hoping for more fancy visualizations like now included for Active Reports with extensible visualizations, but maybe that’s for the next one.

But it must be said, given all the improvements and fixes, this release is worth upgrading to. This article then discusses briefly all the changes and new features of IBM Cognos Business Intelligence 10.2.1 compared to 10.2.

For Users and Builders

IBM Cognos Report Studio

Active Reports
One of the most interesting new features in Cognos BI 10.2.1 are the extensible visualizations for Active Reports. We don’t have to lie about it, cause we all love Cognos, but in the visual department we were a bit stuck in terms of trendiness. The extensible visualizations are visualizations like treemaps, heatmaps, packed bubble visualizations, and network diagrams. The visualizations actually come from the IBM website AnalyticsZone and are not available by default. An administrator must import visualizations so they become available in the visualization gallery in Cognos Administration. I’m very curious to see how they will perform. IBM promises that they will have nicer animations and more interactive features. And the best of all, the whole thing is called the IBM Rapidly Adaptive Visualization Engine (RAVE!). Is it wrong that I think that’s cool? Goodbye 1995, hello 2013!

Download the extensible visualizations via https://www.analyticszone.com:

What's new in IBM Cognos BI 10.2.1 Visualizations Analytics Zone

 Import as administrator into IBM Cognos Administration:

What's new in IBM Cognos BI 10.2.1 Import Visualizations

 How it looks in IBM Cognos Report Studio when making an Active Report:

What's new in IBM Cognos BI 10.2.1 Visualizations Overview

How it looks on the page canvas in IBM Cognos Report Studio:

What's new in IBM Cognos BI 10.2.1 Visualizations Gauge

Digging further on Active Reports, they always were a bit of a typical “good idea, but poorly executed”. The *.mht format was simple, robust, portable and easy, but in reality files were heavy, slow, incompatible and limited. I understand the line of thought and I really do see the advantages of the concept and the specific design choice. But at the same time, I’m still not convinced this is the way to go (mobile). Anyhow, in this release multiple tweaks are included that should improve performance both with the Cognos Mobile app. as in the browser. The most important tweak is probably that active reports are compressed; this will work well for active reports containing a lot of data. IBM, just a suggestion, make a feature where you can set a timer per user so that after 20pm they cannot access active reports via their tablet anymore :-).

Data Container and Query naming

We all know it and we all did it. Drag and drop stuff onto the canvas and create queries. Eventually you end up with List1, List2, List14, Query1, Query2, etc, not knowing what’s what anymore. Now you can immediately specify a meaningful name and link a query with a data container. Small stuff but very handy for report builders.

What's new in IBM Cognos BI 10.2.1 Workbench Report Studio Query Name

Bursting
New burst options are available that should improve performance; they can be configured via the advanced report options in Cognos Connection.

What's new in IBM Cognos BI 10.2.1 Report Studio Bursting

IBM Cognos Report Studio and IBM Cognos Workspace Advanced (Business Insight Advanced)

The below are features that are both true for Report Studio and Workspace Advanced. These are all minor changes, but they are all things that will make our lives easier. These types of changes indicate that IBM does take into account customer feedback. Or at least, that is what I choose to believe.

Crosstab values as percentages

In a crosstab on dimensional data, you can now show values as percentages of totals (rows, columns or both). Nough said.

Shared sets

Again only for dimensional data (trend?). Previously, when you defined a set, you could not reuse it in other reports, really annoying at times when you were experimenting. Now you can. You can choose the shared set as defined (Run Time) or as defined until the definition is refreshed (Design Time).

Better Text Filters

Now relational filters can be created based on a pattern, rather than an actual value. You can use, “starts with”, “ends with”, “contains” or “matches SQL pattern”. Needless to say that these types of filters will probably not be extremely beneficial for performance. So you really need a reason, like filtering off a big chunk that was degrading performance even more.

Excel

For people not using TM1 (shame) but with a healthy appetite for Excel, you can choose whether repeating crosstab cells or grouped list columns will be grouped upon export, or whether the values will be repeated for each row or column.

IBM Cognos Workspace (Business Insight)

Usually my advice for Workspace is that an experienced developer creates all the different objects in Report Studio and then assembles the dashboards in Workspace. So end-users just open and use a finished dashboard and don’t change things themselves. This is not because I don’t want users to do things themselves, but because Business Insight was in my opinion rather “brittle” with frustrated end-users as a result. And we all know that your day will be from hell, if you have to face rightfully frustrated users. The improvements made to Workspace seem to support this approach a bit, as the changes, however small, might just give the power back to the end-user.

Drilling and filtering on the same but not the same data

Previously if you had 2 identical data items with a different name that you wanted to filter (e.g. Customer and Client), well .. you know what that meant. Now however you can filter on both data items together. In the same lane of trouble, if you previously had a filter set on e.g. a time period and after an update that period was not available anymore, you received a nice error. Now however you can automatically refresh filter values. Continuing down the lane, drilling up and down in workspaces became much more logic as formatting and nesting characteristics are retained. And the last improvement is added context with the automatic chart recommendations.

IBM Cognos Mobile

I think Mobile BI is still an ongoing process, both in terms of exploiting the potential of mobile characteristics as the technical challenges. With IBM Cognos BI 10.2.1 there are no revolutions with Cognos Mobile, but rather evolutions making it easier and nicer to work with.

On the one hand there are some changes to improve performance. Multi-page reports can be retrieved page by page, reducing waiting time and report downloads can be paused and restarted. Next there are some nice enhancements increasing usability and interactivity. iPad users can configure their connection by clicking a URL (this means we can have users apply a configuration with a QR-code?), and the default pinch gesture to zoom in and out can finally be used properly. More general there is an enhanced support for HTML reports like page layout, prompt controls, drill-through actions and additional fonts. At the same time everything should work more touch-friendly. Finally for administrators it becomes easier to audit mobile usage behavior.

IBM Cognos Statistics

IBM Cognos Statistics is no longer part of Cognos BI. Most reports will still run as the specific statistics objects are replaced with an image. But in reality report adaptations might be required.

Read on in part II: What’s new in IBM Cognos BI 10.2.1 (Part 2/2)

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