THINK 2018 Thursday – and a quick recap

It’s been a hectic week for me, so my apologies for not posting this earlier.

Thursday was the last day of the conference, and had the absolute best session so far. While the sessions so far have been mostly introductory or soft, Thursday finally had a hard technical session.

Sadly I missed most of the morning sessions, so I only have two to report on.

Merck Pharmaceuticals upgraded to Cognos 11, Series 7 authentication to Active Directory. While this would normally be a nightmare-and-a-half, Merck brought in the IBM AVP group to help handle the migration. Apparently they have tools that will ease the process, and map from one auth source to the other. Sadly the cost of these tools are bundled with hiring AVP to come and help. It’s not something I can download and play with.

Baxter wins the best technical session of the week. Alex used the Cognos audit model, modified it to his needs, and then built a data set on top of it. In the presentation, which I’m helpfully providing a link to, he added a number of calculated fields to better group the data. Furthermore, he did a count distinct on the request ID. As the audit package stands, it counts the timestamp of the run, which changes for each prompt selection. Once that was done, he wrapped the entire model in a data set, giving tremendous improvements in speed and usability. The presentation can be found here:

Ultimately the conference was somewhat disappointing this year. The technical sessions were few and far between. The few Cognos sessions there were tended to emphasize the same, albeit good, lesson – “When upgrading Cognos, plan twice, implement once”. Due to the extreme number of attendees, coupled with the dearth of BA sessions, rooms were overcrowded, and occasionally impossible to enter. Several people I talked to had to choose between eating lunch, or staying in the room to make sure they could attend the next session.

The roadmap was good, as was the session with the designers. Wonderful news on that front, we’ll be able to “pin” the popover toolbar to the top. Basically we’re getting the toolbar back! I’m hoping to get early access, in some way or another, so I can write about the awesome new features.

Think 2018 – Wednesday

Wow, today was busy. The crowds are much smaller, the rooms still fill up all the way, but everyone can actually attend.

I started the day with “Front Row Seat to the Future: Ticketmaster’s Journey to Cognos Analytics on Cloud”. It’s interesting that many of the Cognos user success sessions involve moving to the cloud. It’s certainly seems to have worked for them. Part of the process involved a good amount of planning. Auditing users, reports, usage. Migrate only things that were used. By embracing the new self-service capabilities, TicketMaster managed to successfully migrate, and improve user adoption of Cognos.

Next was the Road Map. This was the session I’ve been waiting for. It was set up as a game-show type thing, with Rachel Su, Kevin McFaul, and Jason Tavoulis taking turns presenting changes in their products (Report Studio, Dashboards, and Exploration) to a panel of judges. BI Execs WestJet, GameStop, and QuadReal all took part and gave hearts, thumbs up, and indifferent emojis in response to the new features.

Rachel was demoed the changes to report studio. Dragging in new objects essentially creates a table son the fly, making positioning things much easier. Formatting things is much easier, including multi select formatting! Navigating between pages is much easier, with a menu at the top letting you switch, without having to go to the insertable pane.

Kevin was showing off dashboard. Copy from existing reports, nice grid background and can see underlying data. Better formatting. He got a hug from WestJet over the dashboard formatting. I think users could very quickly copy/paste from existing reports to dashboards. I’m curious how this would work with really complex reports. Custom polygons on mapbox maps. Can lasso points in a map to filter other objects. Can lasso other visualizations. New vis, Watson spiral.

Jason showed off something new. From any visualization, you can now expand it and EXPLORE. Remember the old Watson Analytics stuff? Watson, now in Cognos, will suggest related visualizations, it will use natural language to talk about points in the visualization, including things that may not be readily apparent. Any insights it makes can be clicked on, and explored further. You can even see the decision tree used to make that insight. Another interesting thing is that Watson will accept natural language questions. In the demo Jason asked “show me the hourly capacity rates by day” and Cognos/Watson returned a graph. In every case, looking at a new graph will save the previous graph in a list on the left. And, again, you can copy the graph from there and paste into a dashboard.

Kevin did talk about the future, including some (incredibly light on details) things about user data modelling, and a new tool to extend and embed the dashboard in applications.

I spoke with the Design Team, not the developers making Cognos, but the ones making it look nice and easy to use. I had an interesting conversation with one of them about some of the issues I’ve encountered with Report Studio. She’ll get back to me on some of it, but did say that in some future release the super annoying popover menu will be pinnable to the top of the screen. Almost like a toolbar.

I wasn’t able to make some of the afternoon sessions due to some time constraints, but I did get to the Ikea and GameStop sessions. Ikea upgrading to Cognos Analytics, “How to Flat Pack the Cognos Analytics Migration—The IKEA Way!” and GameStop “Gamifying Success: How GameStop Shifted from BI Producers to Analytics Enablers”. In both cases I was super impressed. Ultimately, with both sessions the lesson was clear. Make a plan, set dates, and clean up the environment before making huge changes.

The GameStop session had a really great session doc here:

Think 2018 – Tuesday

The conference is going strong, but there are still a few problematic areas.

The keynote from the chairman was interesting, but it can boil down to a few salient details. IBM is investing heavily in AI, but not to replace humans, but to work with humans. No matter how smart we make the systems, it will always lack the critical biases necessary to actually make it truly useful. The second thing is blockchain, but that’s a little outside of my area of interest. The full video can be found here. You don’t really need to watch it, listen to it while you work. Guests from Verizon, RBC, and Maersk have things to say.

The first session I tried to attend was the “Upgrading to Cognos Analytics”. I’m currently in the last phase of an upgrade project, C10 SSAS on CQM to C11 SSAS on DQM, and it’s been very challenging. I was hoping to pick the experts brains. Unfortunately the session actually took place in the Expo, and they weren’t provided with a sound system. The end result was shambles, the people in the back (including me) couldn’t hear anything, and the people in the front were complaining the presenter was yelling. Ultimately I switched to attending the Cresco/FleetPride session. It was fairly interesting, and they have their own case study on the IBM website.

Next I made it to the Harley-Davidson session. I like near their headquarters and decided to attend to support the local economy. The session, again no microphone, was hard to hear. The focus was mostly on showing process of an internal IT team acting as a consulting group. They showed how by managing the workflow, and expectations, they would improve the deliverable. It was a little less technical than I would have liked, but interesting none-the-less.

Finally I attended a “Experience onboarding to Cognos Analytics on Cloud”. This was pretty much the only quasi-technical hands-on lab for Cognos, and possibly the most informative session I’ve had all week. It basically guided you through gathering the information you need to get Cognos working on the cloud. It also walked you through the basic architecture of how a cloud-based Cognos system works, and how it connects to the local databases. Long story short – get the VPN and database connection details ASAP. Network guys are apparently all overworked, underpaid, and under appreciated, and it the biggest blocker is making sure they have time to get you the information you need.

I spoke to a few interesting people in the Expo today.

The Weather Company (now an IBM Company), has a pretty interesting data set. Wind currents, temperatures, precipitation. Exposed as API or in an App. Subscription based data. You could, in theory, set up a web service datasource f.rom Cognos. Practically I think it would be easier to just pull the data you need as part of an ETL build. I can think of a dozen use cases for this. Shipping, manufacturing, farming. The granularity is a 4KM grid over land, but they can model the data to work with streets, and with predictive forecasting.

And finally, a big shout out to Arul from American Airlines and Kandha from Bloomfield. Bloomfield made an awesome application at American Airlines. A mobile device, for Android and iPhones that connects to your Cognos instance. It can monitor server state, and lets you remotely restart (and schedule restarts) for your Cognos environment. You can have it test the latency for logging in, and various system state settings. When you do have it restart a distributed environment, it’s smart enough to do it in order.

Cosmo_Screenshot_Samples.pdf (101 downloads)

And lastly (you didn’t think “and finally” meant the last thing, did you?) on Wednesday I’ll be hanging out with the IBM Champions at around 11:30. We’ll be talking about Cognos. So if you’re at Think, make sure to stop by. I’m not a champion yet, but I will be very glad to participate in any discussions!