Cognos Data Modules are a web-based data acquisition, blending and modeling feature available in Cognos Analytics. They first hit the scene as part of Cognos 11 and are meant to supplement and eventually replace Framework Manager for both self-service and IT data modeling needs. I’ll pause for a second to let you long-time Cognoids hyperventilate a little… is everyone back? Good. Through this and subsequent posts I’ll try to dispel misconceptions about this awesome feature of Cognos while making you comfortable and – dare I say – excited to use them.
Data Module Features
Imagine a data modeling solution that has the following features:
- Easy to install and manage
- Join dozens or hundreds of tables across multiple databases
- Execute cross-grain fact queries
- Build simple or complex calculations and filters
- Build alias, view, union and join virtual tables
- Secure tables by groups, roles and data elements
- Create OLAP-like dimensional hierarchies
- Enterprise governance, auditability and security
‘Okay easy, I’m imagining Framework Manager’ you’re thinking right now. Yes! But, add in:
- Natural-language and AI powered auto-modeling
- Automatic join detection
- Easy integration of excel data
- Automatic extraction of year, month, day from date data types
- Automatic creation of relative time filters (YTD, MTD, etc..) and measures (YTD Actuals, MTC Actuals, etc…)
- In-memory materialized views (data sets)
- In-memory query cache
- Direct access to members for relational sources!
‘Well that’s not Framework Manager… it must be Tableau, right!?’ No, in fact Tableau doesn’t offer even half of these capabilities. This is what every Cognos Analytics customer gets out-of-the-box in data modules today, with more features being added all the time.
Who are Data Modules for?
Many of my longtime customers have the misconception that data modules are for ‘end users’ only and that real data modeling can only be accomplished in Framework Manager. Conversely my new customers have built entire BI practices while having no idea what Framework Manager is. Clearly something is out of sync here, so let me make it very clear: Who are data modules for? If you’re reading this, the answer is you.
The Business User
The line between ‘end users’ and the BI team has gotten fuzzy in the last few years as increasingly complex models are built by people outside the IT department. Data modules are ideal for someone who wants to quickly and easily combine enterprise data with departmental data or excel spreadsheets and cannot wait for IT to build an FM package or SSAS cube. The interface is clean and easy to use and the ease of creating custom groups and building relative time calcs makes data modules an ideal place to combine data – even easier than Excel in many cases. As an added bonus, it’s very simple for the IT team to take a ‘self-service’ data module and incorporate into enterprise reporting without significant development work.
The Cognos Pro
Many Cognos pros kicked the tires in 2016 and could only see the yawning chasm of functionality that separated data modules from Framework Manager, myself included – for years I encouraged my clients to consider them for niche applications but to rely on FM for anything important or difficult. No longer! As of the 11.1 release, data modules have reached feature parity with Framework Manager is almost all respects and even surpassed FM in important modeling automation tasks like relative time automation. It is no longer the obvious choice to default to Framework Manager for new Cognos development.
Data Modules vs Framework Manager
Given the enhancements to data modules, which should you choose? As of the 11.1 release my recommendation is to do all new development in data modules for the following reasons:
- Significantly easier and faster to create
- Great features like relative time, date column splitting, grouping
- Target of all future development
- Unlock modern BI workflow
These points are explored in detail here – for now I’ll leave you with a final thought. My new clients use the same ol’ Cognos to deliver with the speed and scale you’d expect from Tableau or Power BI – my friend Vijay can tell you all about it. The key differentiation between them and legacy Cognos installations with orders of magnitude more resources is the embrace of data modules and the iterative, build-it-in-prod approach to BI delivery that data modules enable.