Analytics Dashboarding

Cognos Insight is here! A first look.

Cognos Insight & Personal Analytics

Exciting news! The latest member of the IBM Cognos family of business analytics solutions IBM Cognos Insight is here. This solution will provide business users with analytical freedom while allowing IT to maintain proper control.  Some of you have might have already seen a demo.  The purpose of this post is to give you a really quick overview of Cognos Insight. Please keep in mind, though, that this post won’t cover all the exciting things you can do with this new solution. Check back for follow-up posts later this month.

Cognos Insight sits on the desktop

Cognos Insight Home ScreenCognos Insight is a desktop tool that allows you to do a lot of things: data exploration, analysis, what-if scenarios, planning, forecasting, dashboarding, prototyping, etc.. You download it and install it on your Windows machine. Having the software on your desktop provides you with the advantage of being able to work in a disconnected and connected mode while leveraging the full power of your machine. Speaking of power and speed – Cognos Insight runs in-memory. The product is based on the highly successful IBM Cognos TM1 engine. When you first open it up, you will see the desktop that invites you to create a new workspace or to open up existing applications.

Analytics Visualization

Freedom to think?

Change that viewpoint

Last summer I participated in a Bavarian wedding.

As a photographer I was really excited to see three traditional alphorn players. The early results looked good on the camera monitor (left photo). At that point I was tempted to pack up and celebrate with my friends. But I resisted and began to experiment with different viewpoints. The final shot ended up as my personal favorite (photograph on the right). Same scene, different perspective. Changing viewpoints paid off.


Business Analytics and Viewpoints

Changing our viewpoint is especially critical for Business Analytics.


The power of what if analysis

What if analysis

What do Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Thomas Watson and Pep Guardiola (coach of FC Barcelona) have in common? – All of them have challenged the old and set ways of doing things. Challenging old ways provided them with new opportunities and their success speaks for itself. That raises a question: What can we do to challenge set views to be more successful? Indeed, there is a very simple tool that most of us ignore: what if analysis.

What If?

Asking what if can help us see our world in a new and fresh way. Why? Humans are creatures of habit. We are often stuck in our old and set ways and often see just the familiar patterns around us. This limits our thinking and we often miss opportunities or risks. It restricts our creativity. Take a look at Kodak. If we can trust reports in the newspapers, former management assumed that film and paper photography would prevail. That’s what most employees were comfortable with. What if digital photography became the standard?

What if analysis can therefore help us identify risks and opportunities. What if analysis can help us make better decisions about the future.

“Creativity is the ability to see things in a new way, a way that combines existing things, viewpoints, elements, in a way that hasn’t been done, or  in a way that uniquely solves a problem. It is, in short, the power of “What if…?”  David du Chemin, Photographer

Examples of what if analysis

What if analysis can be extremely powerful in business. Think about these questions:

  • What if air traffic was shut down due to another volcano? What would this do to our supply chain?
  • What if we offered our client a new discount model? Would they buy more products in the future?
  • What if we were able to reduce our expenses by 5%? How much flexibility would we gain?
  • What if every employee reduced their business travel by just one trip per year?
  • What if we changed our fixed phone plans to variable ones? Would we be able to save cost?

Developing those what if questions is the first step. The second step requires us to understand the answers and the potential impact on our business.

Obstacles to what if analysis

what if analysis
What if the winter was really harsh? Increase production capacity?

It is the second step where we need to sit down and play with our planning and forecasting models. We sometimes even have to create small models from scratch to identify the right answers and solutions. But that part is often too complicated. Corporate data is complex. Spreadsheets are often too cumbersome and slow to handle the complexity. As a result, too many people shy away from performing what if analysis.

Start: What if analysis

Start asking what if questions today. It is a very powerful too, indeed. And it is not only limited to business.



A post full of business analytics updates

Here are a few updates, news and noteworthy links for this week.

New book about Performance Management

Make sure to check out the latest book about Performance Management written by Steve Player and the late Jeremy Hope. It’s called Beyond Performance Management: Why, When, and How to Use 40 Tools and Best Practices for Superior Business Performance. I just downloaded it for my Kindle and will post a review as soon as possible.

IBM Finance Forum 2012

IBM Finance Forum is a great event for all finance professionals.


Stacked bar charts? Mixed feelings!

Stacked Bar Charts

Part-to-whole analysis is a common task in business. Let’s say we want to analyze how much different product groups contribute towards total revenue. Or we want to analyze our cost across different cost element groups. One way to do this visually is to leverage waterfall or pareto charts. Another popular option is to use stacked bar charts. Stacked bar charts are just a special type of bar chart. Instead of spreading the different categories out across the x or y axis, we stack them. But are they really useful? I have mixed feelings about them.

Single Stacked Bar Charts

Below is an example of a stacked bar chart. This provides an overview of the cost structure for a certain fiscal quarter. You can see that each stack in the chart represents a specific cost element group. The entire stack indicates the total cost.

Is this a good chart? Sort of. Notice how much effort is involved in reading the graph. Comparing the individual stacks requires effort (look at Commissions and Travel, for example). I also find it hard to read the specific values of each stack (how much was spent on advertising?).  On the positive side, this chart allows me to quickly identify the total cost. And I obtain a somewhat solid overview of how the money was spent. However, most business analytics platforms like Cognos 10 allow you to hover over a chart section to see the individual values. That makes the stacked bar chart above somewhat more useful.

Another way to display this – and I prefer this option – is to use a regular bar chart. Take a look:

Bar Chart CognosNotice that the comparison of the different cost categories is a lot easier. You can quickly read the individual values and the comparison between the cost elements is easy as well. But I am missing the total of my cost. We would either have to calculate that or include the information in a different manner. The stacked bar chart therefore does not really impress me in this type of setting.

Multiple Instances

So, should we toss those stacked bar charts then? Not necessarily. Take a look the next example. The analysis is now extended to the entire fiscal year. There are multiple instances of the stacked bar chart.

Stacked Bar Charts Cognos

Notice how different this looks. You can quickly see that total cost have increased in the last quarter (after decreasing slightly). I am also able to see how the different cost elements have changed throughout the fiscal year (look at advertising, for example). The stacked bar chart is now much more useful. I personally like this. But what about the traditional bar chart in this situation? Let’s take a look:

Multiple Bar Charts

The graph invites you to compare the cost composition quarter by quarter. The comparison between different quarters is also not difficult. The only problem with this version is that the overall cost are difficult to assess.  Both versions have their strengths and weaknesses.

Stacked Bar Charts – Summary

Stacked bar charts are certainly not bad. But as the examples above show, they are stronger in a multi-instance setting. But even then, you need to be careful: stacked bar graphs tend to look strange when you have negative values (give it a try!). The single stack is not that strong as compared to the traditional bar chart. Both offer different insights. And let’s not forget about waterfall and pareto charts as well.

From an analysis point of view, I would probably want to switch between the different charts. IBM Cognos 10 provide users with the ability to change chart types on the fly. That makes the analysis of data very interactive.

Have you added stacked bar charts to your toolbox? If yes, make sure to use them in the right circumstances.

P.S.: I will take a look at stacked area charts in February.

Events IBM Cognos

What’s happening in the IBM Labs? The BA Forum Keynote – Day 2

Information on Demand 2011

The IBM Business Analytics Forum 2011 featured two keynotes this year. The day 1 keynote focused on the general IBM strategy in the business analytics segment along with several product updates and demos. The day 2 presentation had a bigger focus on specific solutions. And not only that: There was a preview of what is being developed in the IBM Labs. You will have to watch the hands-on demo.

The Cognos keynote chapters

In case you have limited time, here are some key chapters that can view in the video below.

  • Minute 10:30 – Trends & Decision Making with Deepak Advani
  • Minute 23:30 – Demo: Social Media Analysis – Jason Verlen
  • Minute 28:30 – Solution update with Deepak Advani
  • Minute 45:00 – Demo: Decision Management – Jason Verlen
  • Minute 55:30 – IBM Labs (Personal Analytics) with Harriet Fryman, Eric Yau and Christoph Papenfuss

Watch live streaming video from ibmsoftware at


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