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Benefits of Adding OLAP Services to Dashboards and Business Intelligence Applications

, 25 Mar 2008
Discussing the benefits of OLAP

Editorial Note

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Introduction

OLAPWhitepaper.png As the benefits of investing in Business Intelligence solutions have become more apparent, many organizations have made a push towards developing digital dashboard and scorecard applications. By ignoring OLAP, many of these applications have not maximized their data analysis potential. In doing this, they have constrained themselves to a finite set of data views. As companies grow, so does the size and complexity of their data. In turn, the task of manipulating and visualizing this data becomes increasingly difficult and time consuming. To mitigate the risk of data becoming unmanageable, a flexible data analysis and visualization solution is needed. Dundas Chart OLAP Services was built with all these considerations in mind.

Latest Release

In its latest release of Dundas Chart - OLAP Services, Dundas Software has made a series of advances to its OLAP specific controls to simplify the process of creating and deploying data visualizations using OLAP data. The new release heralds the launch of a brand new control, the Dundas OLAP Grid. The OLAP Grid control is comprised of a multi-dimensional table with expandable nodes. These nodes group and display data according to the hierarchies used to define the measures and dimensions upon which the underlying data has been organized. In tandem with the Dundas OLAP Chart, the Dundas OLAP Grid provides an ideal means of clearly conveying data to the user.

gridShot.png

Fig 1.0: the New OLAP Grid Control

The Dundas OLAP Grid control is highly navigable and can quickly provide detailed information to the user. The speed with which data recall occurs and the strong formatting the grid enforces ensure that data is always presentable and easily understandable. As part of this strong formatting, the OLAP Grid will append appropriate symbols to the data such as "%" for ratios and "$" for monetary figures. Consequently, Dundas OLAP Grid views can easily be ported to spreadsheet applications for report compilation purposes.

Additionally, the Dundas OLAP Grid control allows users to effortlessly add and remove categories, filter and sort categories, and drill up or down on data using powerful built-in menus. One of the greatest benefits this affords is that it allows users to explore, navigate and refine data until the desired snapshot is achieved. Once in place, this snapshot can then be reflected in a complementary chart. This is possible as OLAP operations in Dundas OLAP Grid controls can be synchronized with Dundas OLAP Chart controls. These two data views can then be deployed side-by-side or on top of one another. In instances where the Dundas OLAP Client is used, tabs are already in place to further simplify the task of implementing such functionality.

sidebyside.png

Fig 2.0: a Side-by-side OLAP Chart and OLAP Grid

As true .NET components, the new OLAP-specific controls from Dundas can be easily integrated into existing visualization solutions. Providing that the underlying data cube is designed effectively, existing data views will continue to be available along with a host of other data views. The flexibility of OLAP ensures that virtually any level of data aggregation is permissible. With this in mind, Dundas OLAP services can be used to answer almost any query that can be satisfied by the data within any given cube.

Consider the following screenshot of the Dundas OLAP Client:

client.png

Figure 3.0: Chart View in the New Dundas OLAP Client

From the displayed chart we can see that warehouse profits are strong and they are all higher than their respective costs. This visualization could be achieved with a non-OLAP solution. However, if deeper inspection of each region was required, things quickly become complicated in a non-OLAP environment. If a user wished to examine the sales figures pertaining to a specific product at two specific stores in a given timeframe, this may not be possible given the multiple dimensions needed to make such an assessment. Additionally, making this comparison in a single chart would not be possible without significant data manipulation. The time and complexity associated with performing this type of manipulation will in many cases make doing so unviable, or at the very least undesirable. By contrast, achieving the data view described above would be simple in an OLAP environment.

client2.png

Figure 4.0: Multi-constrained View of Sales Data from an OLAP Cube

The chart shown in Figure 4.0 depicts the sales of a specific product (Portsmouth Import Beer) at two different stores (Store 24, San Diego and Store 15, Seattle) for a specific period of time (01/01/1997-31/12/1997). This was achieved with just a few mouse clicks using the Dundas OLAP Client. Dundas OLAP controls have been designed to make performing tightly constrained analyses, such as the one above, extremely simple. This ease of use ensures users of all skill levels will be able to quickly achieve the exact data view they require. The greatest benefit this brings is that it makes managers self-sufficient. By removing their dependence on IT personnel, managers are free to model problems without requiring developers to make changes to schema, resulting in more agile organizations. This ability to distill raw data into usable information is the core benefit of Dundas OLAP Services.

It may be possible, through effective dashboard design and clever programming, to incorporate visualizations showing all of the relevant information for the above scenario. However, to accommodate all of this data in a fixed screen space, compromises would have to be made. This would ultimately result in decreased readability and usability. Not only does OLAP provide the power to make complicated analyses, it does so in a relatively small amount of space ensuring effective use of precious screen space in digital dashboard solutions.

Another real strength of OLAP is its ability to examine and view data in ways not ordinarily possible. By allowing varying levels of granularity during data inspection and visualization a lot of information can be revealed that would otherwise be hard to attain. Given that most business models are constrained by more than three dimensions, it is hard to fully evaluate a business without the ability to inspect each dimension in detail while preserving context eliminating all guesswork. OLAP is perfectly suited for this purpose.

We have seen the power of Dundas OLAP controls and how cleanly they can be implemented in business intelligence solutions. While these are both important qualities, we must also consider how easily information derived from OLAP applications can be shared between that informations stakeholders. With the new Dundas OLAP controls this is a simple task. Users can save and load reports to/from file. These files can then be shared across an organization to disseminate findings. In addition, Dundas OLAP Chart and OLAP Grid controls permit quick copying of data and chart images to other applications. This greatly simplifies the task of creating detailed, data-rich documents.

Conclusion

There is no question that harmonizing and aggregating information across an organization can be a taxing and cost-prohibitive process. However, the long-term benefits associated with doing so are undeniable. The intrinsic agility and power of the Dundas OLAP controls used in conjunction with the .NET languages affords developers and ultimately users a single platform on which to execute business intelligence solutions. The OLAP Client was designed specifically with the needs of the end user in mind. Its simplistic point-and-click interface will ensure managers easily achieve the high-level views of information they require. Additionally, the OLAP client makes creating reports destined for different management levels a simple task - eliminating managers dependence on IT personnel. By unifying data analysis needs on a single platform, Dundas OLAP services provides an unparalleled array of reporting tools for web portals, intranet applications, websites, and other data-rich applications.

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

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About the Author

Ayush Yash Shrestha
Software Developer (Senior) Dundas Consulting
Canada Canada
No Biography provided

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GeneralFailed to fulfill Code Project's users' easiest requirements PinmemberShabbazz8-Dec-08 21:17 
...and that is: code.
 
Why don't you simply put a few examples with your demo-libraries integrated so we can test your "superior software"?
 
Volker
GeneralRe: Failed to fulfill Code Project's users' easiest requirements Pinmemberbilal haider10-Dec-08 19:49 

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