Magazine article The CPA Journal

Using Online Analytical Processing Tools

Magazine article The CPA Journal

Using Online Analytical Processing Tools

Article excerpt


On line analytical processing tools (OLAP), combined with data warehouses and similar repositories, are a subset of enterprise applications that go beyond relational databases and financial reports in their flexibility and timeliness.

The term OLAP was coined in 1993 by E.F. Codd. Cold listed 12 basic characteristics of OLAP:

* Multidimensional

* Transparency of the server

* Accessibility

* Stable access and performance

* Client-server architecture

* Generic dimensionality

* Management of data sparsity

* Multi-user

* Operation on dimension

* Intuitive manipulation of data

* Flexible posting and editing

* Multiple dimensions and levels.

Although OLAP data and relational data structures have similarities, their differences are significant. A relational structure minimizes storage requirements and data redundancy and maximizes flexibility. OLAP data is structured to optimize performance and data accessibility, and once created, its structure may be less flexible. From the user perspective, OLAP tools are simple, graphical, and focused-- friendlier than queries done on a relational database. Relational databases are efficiency-driven and OLAP databases are effectiveness-driven.

The term OLAP is sometimes used interchangeably, but incorrectly, with business intelligence (BI), decision support systems (DSS), and executive information systems (EIS). More than a particular tool or even a technology, OLAP is simply computer-- enhanced multidimensional analysis. Business managers would have been doing this kind of analysis long ago were it not for the overwhelming volume of calculations.

Exhibit 1 presents a sales table in a simple business database for an outdoor store. In OLAP terms, the figure is a cube. This table is a measure of units sold, dimensioned, in OLAP terms, by product and time. The dimensions are separated into categories or ranges of values (e.g., one year). The values in a dimension are called members or positions. As in a spreadsheet, the intersections of dimension members are called cells.

To consider another dimension, region, the cube would then have three dimensions, as in Exhibit 2. …

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