I'm a IBM Certified Cognos developer who is just learning Business Objects. With many years of Cognos experience and just a few weeks with BO I must be clearly biased towards Cognos and I probably am. So with my bias why even write something comparing the two technologies? Why not? As a consultant I am always learning new technologies and being asked to compare and contrast them. Given the number of different tools offered by both vendors, I think the comparison is best done at the individual tool level. It is also important to note that I have not used all the tools Business Objects has to offer.
Web Intelligence vs. Report Studio/Query Studio
I started my BO tour by looking at Web Intelligence. The first big difference I noticed right off the bat was that Web Intelligence is the equivalent to both Cognos Report Studio and Query Studio. BO has merged the two and not provided a division between a developer based report writing tool and an end user business based reporting tool. At first I thought this was a nice change since there are less tools to provide training on and less to support for an administrator. After spending some time using the tools, my opinion changed. There is no question that Web Intelligence is easier to learn than Report Studio, but that ease of use comes with a penalty. The power provided in Report Studio just cannot be compared with what is provided by Web Intelligence. For example, Report Studio gives you freedom to build and format prompt pages any way you see fit, while Web Intelligence provides very limited prompting functionality. Report Studio also provides more flexibility to create and join queries, adjust cardinality and change the method of aggregation applied. Cognos 8 gives you more control over report formatting, and provides more predefined objects to use on a report. One object that I really missed in BO is the feature to allow drill through from one report to another. While it can be done, it requires some detailed and time consuming changes to be made using the SDK, a pain for something I often need to use. When it comes to charting, the two tools are similar, both provide all the basic chart functions as well as more charting options than you will ever need. Again, I think Web Intelligence has the ease of use nailed, with a simple right click to turn a report to a chart. Cognos Report Studio makes it more difficult to create a chart, with more options needing to be set up front before the chart can be viewed.
What about Query Studio? Can that be compared to Web Intelligence? In my mind, it can and should be compared. When thinking about these two tools from a business user standpoint the they are neck in neck. In my experience ease of use is the most important factor, if you can't get users to adopt the tool and use the data you are no better off then when you started. Query Studio is a simpler tool, with many less features and object properties to scare off end users but with that simplicity comes less flexibility. I don't think it is a cut and dry choice on which tool is better. It is truly dependent on the sophistication of the end users involved. If they are more technically oriented and have the need to build fairly complex reports, Web Intelligence makes more sense. If they just need to quickly look at data with little formatting Query Studio gets the nod.
I think that the bottom line is that BO expects you to have a metadata model (Universe/Framework) and underlying database that is well thought out and designed for reporting. If that is the case, you won't need most of the advanced features that Cognos provides because you won't be trying to get around a limitation of the database or metadata model. In my experience, databases and models are rarely perfect, so having the flexibility that Cognos provides is worth the extra time it will take to learn the product.
Xcelcius vs. Cognos Go! Dashboard
After looking at the report building tools, I changed my focus over to the dashboarding toolset. There is not much to say here - Xcelcius is the hands down winner. Cognos is just not there yet with the new Go! Dashboard product. Xcelcius provides an Excel based data format that allows you to transform excel data easily into sophisticated dashboards. The Cognos tool is not much more than a way to take existing canned report and chart content and display it to the user in a flash based format. Xcelcius is not just a way to create charts in a flash format, it is a true dashboard development tool. I think future releases of Cognos will eventually catch up to the features offered in Xcelcius but for now, if your client is demanding complex and sharp looking dashboards, go with Xcelcius. The one downside with the Xcelcius tool is that it is not well integrated with InfoView. Getting dashboard content published to the portal and updated is a bit of an undertaking and not as intuitive as I would expect. The data needed to produce the dashboard has to be refreshed to the excel worksheet, and then the dashboard can be built off the excel data. This can be accomplished by scheduling jobs to build the data and create the dashboard but I would like to see it as an integrated feature.
Universe Designer vs. Framework Manager
I have not yet done a deep dive into Universe Designer but I do have a few initial thoughts about how the products compare. At a glance, the tools are strikingly similar in how they work. Both have nice GUI's that provide a visual representation of the model, and both offer the ability to create formulas, rename objects and organize data elements in a meaningful way. The biggest difference I have seen is that Framework Manager lets you bring in multiple disparate data sources while Designer does not. In the end both tools can handle reporting off of multiple data sources they just have different approaches. Congos handles it completely within Framework Manager while BO allows a report to contain multiple universes. This allows a BO report developer to connect multiple data sources at the report level while a Cognos report developer cannot. BO also offers a more robust and complex solution called the Data Federator tool. This tool allows the ability to create relationships across data sources and then use those relationships in a universe. Beyond the data sources, the two tools handle dimensional modeling differently, but both are effective in their approaches. One feature of Designer that I found to be useful was the context tool. Setting context allows the Universe Designer the ability to force a query to use a specific and consistent join path through the data. Cognos would argue that you should never create a model with more than one path through the data, but the reality is that it happens and it is nice to have a way to address it.
Although I have not spent much time with Universe Designer, I think it is safe to say that it is very comparable to Framework Manager. The biggest issue with building effective models in either tool will almost surely be the skill of the metadata modeler and the quality of the database design.
Business Objects and Cognos are more similar than different but certainly they both have their own unique spin on BI. Both tools can be successful in your organization if you have a quality reporting data model and spend the time up front planning and preparing for your implementation. Likewise, both tools can end up a failure if the underlying data model is poorly constructed and the implementation is not well planned. Taking time up front to conduct BI assessment and plan your BI strategy will be far more important than the tool you select.