Cognos PowerHouse

Dublin Core


Cognos PowerHouse




Historical context
(by Z. Stachniak)

Cognos Incorporated, formerly known as Quasar Systems Ltd., was a pioneering Ottawa-based software company renowned for its innovative business intelligence and performance management solutions. The company was established in 1969 by Alan Rushforth and Peter Glenister. Michael Potter joined the company in 1972 and, within three years, became the sole owner of Quasar. The company changed its name to Cognos in 1983, opened its new head office in Ottawa in 1985 and, a year later, went public on the Toronto Stock Exchange and the NASDAQ. By the early 1990s, Cognos became the largest independent software company in Canada. By the turn of the century, Cognos served more than 17,000 customers in 120 countries. Potter retired in 1995 and was replaced by Ron Zambonini as the company's CEO. In 2007, Cognos was acquired by IBM for $4.9 billion.

Throughout the 1970s, the company primarily focused on information system consulting, predominantly serving the Canadian federal government. Under Potter's leadership, the company's business profile changed. In an interview with the Ottawa Business Journal [1], Potter credited Bob Minns as the catalyst for this transition.
Bob was an extraordinarily important guy to the whole Cognos story. [...] Once with Quasar, Bob Minns had the bright idea, which was quite revolutionary at the time, that you could develop a higher-level language which could allow an end user, not an IT specialist, to be more directly involved in actually writing code that would extract data and write the summary reports that he needed. That higher-level language was independent of any particular application, so it could be standardized and packaged as a product. Bob then developed the idea and we released our first software product [Quiz] in the early ’80s. The margin for selling these products was much higher. The geographic constraints of having our people at each customer site were gone, so we could sell it internationally. It just took off.
The rapid success of Quiz spearheaded the firm’s transformation from a service-based business to software publishing, shifting the company's emphasis towards business intelligence and performance management tools. Quiz was followed by PowerHouse (1982), PowerPlay (1990), Impromptu(1995?), and PowerPlay Web (1998).

As of 2024, UNICOM Systems distributes PowerHouse software (including PowerHouse 4GL and PowerHouse Web), while IBM offers PowerPlay (current version is 11.0).


PowerHouse is a fourth-generation programming language (4GL) designed for developing business applications. Introduced in 1982 for the Digital Equipment VAX minicomputers, PowerHouse expanded upon the original Quiz reporting product, providing much broader functionality focused on simplifying and accelerating the development of comprehensive data management applications. In Power House Primer (version 5.04), Cognos explained that
Compared to traditional languages like Cobol, PowerHouse dramatically reduces the programming effort required to develop applications. PowerHouse applications can be functionally equivalent to Cobol applications, while development can be up to ten times faster. Simple English statements eliminate many laborious programming tasks, significantly reducing the total number of programming instructions. Fewer instructions, in turn, not only shorten the development process, but equally important, reduce the programming effort required to maintain an application.
PowerHouse consists of three main integrated components:
  • QUICK - screen builder (QDESIGN module) and screen-based transaction processor,
  • QUIZ - report generation software,
  • QTP - volume transaction processor.
The PowerHouse Dictionary serves as the foundational framework for these components, acting as a central repository for defining the basic entities necessary to describe data within a specific system or systems. The dictionary is created and maintained through a system of screens developed in QUICK.

PowerHouse was the first Cognos global product set, swiftly attracting international attention and amassing a revenue exceeding $100 million. By the mid-1980s, it became the most widely installed fourth-generation language on minicomputers worldwide. The robust sales of PowerHouse played a pivotal role in Cognos' decision to go public in 1986 and paved the way for the transformation of Cognos into a business intelligence software company. Following IBM's acquisition of Cognos in 2007, support for PowerHouse persisted until 2013, when the entire PowerHouse product line, including PowerHouse 4GL Server, Axiant 4GL and PowerHouse Web, was acquired by UNICOM Systems.

Selected PowerHouse versions

PowerHouse Quasar Systems Vax minis 1982
PowerHouse for MPE/HL Cognos HP 3000 199?
PowerHouse for MPE/iX Cognos HP 3000 199?
PowerHouse PC Cognos Intel-DOS PCs 1998
PowerHouse Web Cognos Unix-based servers 1999
IBM Cognos PowerHouse 4GL IBM multiple platforms 2010-2013
PowerHouse 4GL UNICOM Systems multiple platforms 2013-

Further Readings:

[1] Lifetime Achievement, Ottawa Business Journal, Nov. 7, 2016, pp. 14--15.
[2] Voyer, R. and Patti, R., The New Innovators: How Canadians are shaping the knowledge-based economy, James Lorimer & Comp. Pub., 1994.
[3] Cognos Inc.,,

Museum holdings

PowerHouse library of documents including:
  • PowerHouse Quiz, Cognos, 1985,
  • PowerHouse Quiz, v. 5.04, Cognos, 1987,
  • PowerHouse Dictionary, v. 5.04, Cognos, 1987,
  • PowerHouse QTP, v. 5.04, Cognos, 1987,
  • PowerHouse Quick, v. 5.04, Cognos, 1987,
  • PowerHouse Pocket Guide, v. 5.04, Cognos, 1987,
  • PowerHouse Pocket Primer, v. 5.04, Cognos, 1987,
  • E. Schurr, Introducing the PowerHouse for Application ,Development on VAX, Cognos, 198?,
  • How to Use PowerHouse Screens, Cognos, 1987.


Cognos Inc.


Cognos Inc.








Cognos Inc., “Cognos PowerHouse,” York University Computer Museum Canada, accessed June 15, 2024,

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