Business intelligence has come a long way since the days of paper punchcards. As of 2021, there are hundreds of BI software products available. And while choice is good, it can be tricky to differentiate between BI vendors. In this article, we’re going to compare two of the heavy hitters: Power BI vs IBM Cognos.

Let’s start with a brief biography.

Microsoft Power BI appeared in 2011, making it 10 years old this year. The brainchild of Microsoft’s SQL server reporting team, this was Microsoft’s first popular foray into business intelligence.

IBM Cognos was formed when IBM acquired Cognos in 2008. The IBM Cognos Analytics product appeared in 2018. This release (11.0) was a major development from the previous Cognos Business Intelligence product. Notable features found in version 11.0 include self-service design and smart in-context search.

Side note: declaration of (dis)interest

When you read a product comparison article, it’s reasonable to ask whether the writer is biased. That’s why we want to declare our interest up front.

Influential is a Microsoft Gold Partner with a specialist Power BI consultancy. However, we’re also an IBM Silver Business Partner with an IBM Cognos Analytics consultancy.

Microsoft competencies badge for Power BI use cases

This puts us in a unique position when it comes to Power BI vs IBM Cognos. Because whichever you choose — Microsoft or IBM — we’re here to consult, optimise, and support.

If you’d like help selecting or supporting a BI tool, please get in touch.

What are enterprise BI and self-service analytics?

Before we get into the product features, we should state the key difference between IBM Cognos and Power BI.

  • IBM Cognos Analytics is an enterprise BI tool
  • Power BI is a self-service data analytics tool

An enterprise BI tool like Cognos has the following features:

  • a central IT department manages the data and architecture
  • scales to thousands of users and high-volume report delivery
  • has rigid and well-structured data models on top of data warehouses
  • data access happens in a governed way through browser-based tools
  • uses enterprise-grade data sources that need IT to adjust

Meanwhile, a self-service data analytics tool like Power BI differs in these ways:

  • teams and departments can procure and manage the software themselves
  • it’s possible for business users to acquire and blend data
  • there’s no IT involvement, with access through individuals’ desktops
  • data sources such as desktop-based files, cloud, and semi-structured data
  • popular with business groups like HR, outside of sales and finance

With these general differences in mind, let’s dive into the pros and cons of Power BI vs Cognos Analytics.

1. Pricing Power BI vs IBM Cognos

Power BI

If you’re just starting out with BI, Power BI is the cheaper option for small-scale use. Power BI Pro is the lowest price point, at £8.20 per user per month.

Power BI Premium costs £4,105.60 per capacity per month. The per capacity option permits on-premises reporting, unlimited distribution, and multi-geo support.


IBM Cognos Analytics

The starting price for IBM Cognos Analytics is slightly higher. The On Demand version costs $15 (£12.09) per user per month, for one to 200 users.

Cognos’ enterprise-grade software comes in two variations: On Cloud Hosted and Client Hosted.

On Cloud Hosted (for up to 10,000 users) starts at $40 (£32.23) per viewer licence per month. Other user roles are priced separately.

The Client Hosted version, for on-premise hosting, starts at $450 (£362.64) per year, with an admin subscription.

Power BI and IBM dashboard visualisations

Example Power BI and Qlik Sense dashboards

2. Data connections

Power BI

Microsoft listed 166 connectors for Power BI in May 2021. Popular connectors include Salesforce, Oracle, Google Analytics, QuickBooks, SAP, and Microsoft applications. An experienced Power BI integration team can also help you build custom data connectors.


IBM Cognos Analytics

IBM Cognos supports a wide range of relational, OLAP, and DMR data sources. The most common connections include IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, ODBC, Informix, external repository, SAP, Sybase, TM1, XML.

Cognos allows you to combine data from multiple sources into “packages” with the Framework Manager tool. Cognos’ data security features cover data inside Cognos and also the security defined within the data source itself.

3. Data visualisations and dashboards

Power BI

Power BI’s built-in visualisations include area charts, bar charts, clustered columns, scatter charts, doughnuts, and more. An expert Power BI development team can help you create highly customised visualisations as well.

IBM Cognos Analytics

Cognos allows you to share insights in two formats: dashboards and stories. A story is a set of visualisations played in order, so you can build up to a compelling conclusion.

Cognos makes dashboard creation simpler with the ability to drag and drop data into auto-generated visualisations. You can quickly drill down into the data and share via email or Slack.

4. AI capabilities

Power BI

One of Power BI’s most time-saving features is its natural language queries. You can type Google-like queries and get smart answers from your data. For example, the query “What is our most profitable department?” would find and present the relevant data for you to use.


IBM Cognos Analytics

Cognos also has plain language queries, via its AI assistant. The answers are presented to you in an auto-generated visualisation. Cognos also helps you predict seasonal trends through time series modelling.

5. Platforms and devices

Power BI

As of May 2021, Power BI supports all major browsers except Internet Explorer 11. The Power BI mobile apps work on iOS, Android, and Windows 10 devices.


IBM Cognos Analytics

Cognos supports major browsers including Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge, and Safari. You can access the Cognos web-based UI on an iPad tablet (iOS 11 or later). The Cognos mobile app runs on iOS and Android phones and tablets.

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