What is OLAP?

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:OLAP_Cube.pngAn extremely empowering type of software that you are likely to use with your business intelligence solution is an Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) tool. OLAP is used to access multidimensional data in your database and analyze the various dimensions of the data. This is a popular technique used for trend analysis.

One of the most empowering attributes about OLAP is that there are very little technical skills required to produce high quality, accurate, and aesthetic reports. In fact, many people likely use OLAP without even knowing it. Business intelligence solutions may offer this tool and present it as a “drag-and-drop” online reporting interface. In most cases the Business Intelligence Developer will organize a relevant subset of user-specific data (much like a data mart) and the user will be able to select measures and dimensions to build meaningful multi-dimensional reports.

Drill-Down Reporting

This type of reporting allows the user to create a drill-down report which will consist of the main report hyperlinked in a way that users can “drill-down” into the details. For example, if a supply company has a list of clients who placed orders in a given week, a drill-down report would allow the user to click on the hyper-linked client name to display order details, order history, shipping details, or any other relevant detail data.

Aggregated Reporting

This type of reporting allows the user to “roll-up” data (rather than “drill-down”) that can be summed up from a particular dimension. For example, the results of a multi-division marketing campaign can be aggregated to determine the success of the campaign as a whole.

Selecting a Perspective

Reports that are created through OLAP are capable of displaying the data from multiple perspectives. Users are able to remove select sections of the reported data and view the report from a different perspective. This is highly effective when analysts are considering “what-if” scenarios.

Many people who have been in the IT industry for years might still stumble when explaining OLAP to another person. It is complicated only because of the vast possibilities that is presents, but the foundation of the concept is relatively simple: It is a browser-based reporting tool that allows for complex reporting through multidimensional analysis.

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