IBM Cognos Express Helps Schools With Financial Planning
In the last several years, many school districts across the U.S. have been faced with unprecedented budget cuts. The financial challenges are affecting school administrators, teachers, students, parents and communities. Schools must continue to provide a strong educational foundation and maintain viable budgets, while planning for future educational requirements. In a time of crisis, it’s understandable that schools may not focus on improving IT, yet it’s IT that may hold the key to resolving these challenges. Many schools view the use of business analytics as inaccessible and unaffordable relative to their size, budget and timelines. School districts, similar to midsized and large companies, should open their doors to alternative ways to get started with business analytics. This article summarizes the common challenges of midsized companies and how an entry-level analytics solution may be the key to gaining insight to solve their most critical business challenges and opportunities.
Like school districts, midsized companies are faced with many similar challenges that enterprise organizations face. They are pressured to improve efficiencies, reduce costs and optimize resources. Just as important, they also lack the insights needed to predict and respond to trends and business anomalies. In addition, some midsized businesses have limited current and historical electronic data that’s essential for good decision making. Furthermore, they lack process automation and often the tools they use today offer limited analytics capabilities resulting in no additional insight into their business decisions.
Analytics for Midmarket Companies
Mid-market companies often think that business analytics is out of reach, too expensive and unattainable, thus they don’t pursue it. In some cases, they perceive that a lack of dedicated staff to address business analysis places an additional barrier. The reality is, however, midsized companies often have existing business employees who wear multiple hats and indeed have the capability to address business analytics. Because companies vary in their current level of information maturity and analytics readiness, it’s best to find an analytics tool that matches a company’s level of information maturity. The use of analytics can provide the same measurable benefits to midsized companies as it does for enterprises.
IBM Cognos Express
IBM offers a business analytics solution that makes analytics easily accessible and consumable for midsized companies, not to mention more affordable. IBM Cognos Express is an entry-level solution designed to match the needs of midmarkets. The solution offers many of the traditional business intelligence (BI) capabilities along with financial planning and budgeting, but it comes packaged and integrated in a way that is easier to order, install, deploy and use. IBM Cognos Express provides a quicker time to value, which translates into solving real business problems. Since its debut just over two years ago, IBM Cognos Express has helped schools and midsized companies get started quickly with analytics to create new insights from limited data for smarter decisions that lead to solutions, for example, balanced budgets, high-performing students and improved customer satisfaction.
IBM Cognos Express v9.5 is an ideal solution for the midmarket business because it integrates planning, analysis and reporting capabilities into one platform as shown in Figure 1. The platform includes Express Reporter for executing queries and creating and distributing reports. The Express Advisor tool performs deeper analysis and visually presents results in graphical dashboards. The Express Xcelerator component extends traditional Microsoft Excel functionality by turning a two-dimensional Excel workbook into a multidimensional and centralized process. Lastly, the Express Planner tool provides a managed or structured planning approach to the financial budgeting and forecasting process, with a range of workflow capabilities that are necessary when closing the monthly books. In the past, companies would need to use both IBM Cognos Business Intelligence and IBM Cognos TM1 to gain this set of capabilities. For those organizations with objectives to enhance their existing use of business analytics, capabilities such as mobile, collaboration, alerting or advanced scorecarding are available within the enterprise suite of IBM Cognos offerings.
One major benefit behind the IBM Cognos Express solution is with the simplicity of IT administration. It takes just hours to install the product and an administrator can realistically be up and running minutes later. The single, centralized Web-based console manages all administrative aspects of installation, deployment and ongoing management with only a few simple mouse clicks. This makes it very easy for IT departments and business users to get started quickly.
IBM Cognos Express supports the use of many data sources and comes with its own out-of-the box ETL tool. It provides OLAP technology based on the enterprise software called IBM Cognos TM1. This allows data to be imported from any ODBC compatible database into a very powerful multidimensional TM1 OLAP cube (referred to as an in-memory analytic engine). Data may then be combined from 1 or 100 data sources as the analytic engine becomes the central data repository. A variety of interfaces are available for end-user consumption such as Excel, dashboards, Web templates and workflow.
IBM Cognos Express also offers a very simplistic pricing structure based on a per-user/per-module system; unlike traditional enterprise pricing and licensing where the price depends on many other factors such as user type and hardware type. The software entitles up to 100 named users per each of the offered modules.
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