Category Archives: OLAP

Data-related tips & tricks from around the web

You’ve probably noticed that you shouldn’t trust this blog for real-time news tracking. The following are essentially timeless, however, so here we go…

Rob van Gelder (of DailyDoseOfExcel fame) shared a tip back in May on how to build a simple Gantt chart in Excel. I’m posting a link here because it’s the easiest I’ve seen so far.

Jeff Smith exposes his Golden Rule of data Manipulation over at While he elaborates on his statement from a programmer’s standpoint, it’s all applicable to knowledge workers and spreadsheets:

“It is always easier and more flexible to combine data elements rather than to break them apart”

From a data analysis standpoint, Jeff’s examples are essentially related to what I would call attributes (such as phone numbers). His rule still holds true with values, though. As you work towards summarizing a data set (say, daily financial transactions that you want to analyze by month), you’ll want to aggregate values as late as possible instead of running the risk of losing valuable information by aggregating too early. Spreadsheet programs hit a limit between 65k and 1M records, but there are tools to take it from there – which brings us to Paul Steynberg’s advice for considering OLAP tools as part of a financial system manager’s toolbox.

OLAP technologies are particularly well suited to handling large amounts of data. I personally share Paul’s opinion of Microsoft’s SQL Server Analysis Services, which I would describe to the non-initiated as Excel on steroids. On lots of steroids, that is. SSAS gives you access to summaries and advanced computations based on millions of underlying records, usually responding in just a few seconds.

EDIT (Sep. 10, 2008): Using a definition as crude as “Excel on steroids” for SSAS left me feeling a little guilty. I’m over it now, having just read Andrew Fryer’s post on business intelligence for small business;-)

OLAP Quickies

I can’t seem to find the original Hugh McLeod quote Andrew Fryer is referring to, but here is how it goes anyway:

On-Line Analytical Processing (OLAP) is actually about business, it just sounds like a science project.

This potential confusion is one more hint that this field (multidimensional modeling and analysis but really Business Intelligence in general) requires both technical skills and business acumen. Probably just another argument in favor of Business Intelligence Competency Centers

Still on the OLAP front, a new (beta) version of Palo is available. Wikipedia has a short summary:

Palo is a memory resident multidimensional (OLAP or MOLAP) database server […] typically used as a Business Intelligence tool for Controlling and Budgeting purposes with Microsoft Excel as a user interface. Beyond the multidimensional data concept, Palo enables multiple users to share one centralised data storage (“Single version of the truth“).

There’s a (somewhat old) discussion thread here. I only played 10 minutes with it – it seems to offer many interesting features. You can also apparently connect Palo and Microsoft Analysis Services using software from Cubeware.

XLCubed acquires BonaVista Systems, publisher of MicroCharts

Now this is interesting. Not only do the XLCubed and MicroCharts Excel add-ins work much better together today than when I originally wrote about combining them, but the publisher of the former has actually acquired the publisher of the latter. This is extracted from the message that went out to MicroCharts users:

Linking XLCubed with MicroCharts connects Dashboards direct to the data and makes them dynamic. It also makes them easier to build as the OLAP Cube can also store the control information for the dashboard as well as the data.

This sounds promising, particularly if microcharts are made available within XLCbubed grids. Formula-mode integration is perfect for dashboard-style reporting but remains limited for dynamically exploring data. More on all this when I’ve had a chance to actually try the “integrated” version.

The power of Excel-friendly OLAP

Dick Kusleika pointed a few days ago to a paper by Charley Kyd. In it, Charley gives a convincing overview of the possibilities revealed by OLAP-powered Excel solutions. Speaking from experience, I can only attest to the amazing things this combination allows you to achieve.

I’m surprised by Charley’s statement that TM1 and PowerOLAP “return data to Excel about 100 times faster than Analysis Services does”, but then I haven’t tested either to compare it to SSAS coupled with XLCubed. This combination is so fast already that I’m not sure how a user would pick up a 100-times increase in query speed. The article is nonetheless very much worth reading, particularly if the combination of OLAP and Excel sounds new to you.

If you think you’re familiar with cubes because you’ve used Business Objects before, you may want to check out my post comparing Business Objects Universes (and cubes) to the cubes provided by Microsoft Analysis Services.

MDX Trick: Top 10 Plus Other Query

Here is – essentially for my own future reference – a trick that Reed Jacobson posted a while ago. I didn’t use it yet but this will come in handy at some point.

SET [TCat] AS TopCount(
[Product].[Subcategory].[Subcategory],10,[Measures].[Sales Amount]
MEMBER [Product].[Subcategory].[Other] AS
Aggregate([Product].[Subcategory].[Subcategory] – TCat)
SELECT { [Measures].[Sales Amount] } ON COLUMNS,
TCat + [Other] ON ROWS
FROM [Adventure Works]

Microsoft Office PerformancePoint Server 2007 CTP available now

Following up on several earlier posts by Charlie Maitland and probably soon to appear all around the BI-related blogosphere, the CTP for PPS is available now! At least I can see it through the Microsoft Connect program. Can’t wait to install a copy and start exploring what’s there – Microsoft seems to be up to something really big here.