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BI Scorecard: OLAP

A spreadsheet can take analysis just so far; for more robust analysis you need online analytic processing (OLAP).
After a certain point in analyzing the data, you'll want to create a report that captures your findings. All of the OLAP vendors reviewed here offer reporting capabilities. However, that doesn't necessarily mean they all offer one user interface or a unified architecture. Business Objects as a DOLAP tool has tight reporting and analysis integration. However, when used to access a MOLAP source such as Essbase or Microsoft Analysis services, the Web-based user interface is quite different and lacks reporting capabilities (unlike the BusinessObjects desktop product). Similarly, the Crystal Reports interface for production reporting differs from the Crystal Analysis front end to MOLAP cubes.

Cognos's flagship product has historically been PowerPlay. It can access Essbase and Analysis Services cubes, yet its new ReportNet product (for query and reporting) can currently access only SAP BW Info Cubes.

Hyperion has long had two distinct products: Hyperion Reports for OLAP-based financial reporting and Hyperion Analyzer for OLAP analysis. With its newly acquired Brio product line, the former Brio products have been rebranded as Hyperion Intelligence (DOLAP) and Hyperion SQR for production, relational reporting. Hyperion Intelligence, then, provides a third way to access OLAP data for analysis and management reports. Throughout the year, Hyperion plans to provide further integration among these products.

Microsoft's new Reporting Services can theoretically create a report from an Analysis Services cube, although the report author must write custom MDX. For analysis, though, Microsoft relies on other partners such as ProClarity and Panorama to provide the OLAP interface, in addition to the BI suite vendors reviewed here.

Additional Features

This segment of the BI Scorecard highlights just a few of the OLAP architectures and features you must consider when selecting or standardizing on a BI tool. For an administrator, the ease of designing, building, and tuning the OLAP platform is critical. For end users, capabilities such as attribute analysis, write access for what-if analysis, traffic light displays, and time-period analysis are also important.

Next Focus: Administration

You've provided users with a full range of query, reporting, scheduling, spreadsheet, and analysis capabilities. It's now up to IT to administer the BI application. Fail to consider these criteria, and you'll have a sexy application that easily breaks. In the next installment of this series, I'll cover administration concerns.

Cindi Howson is the president of ASK, a BI consultancy. She coteaches The Data Warehouse Institute's "Evaluating BI Toolsets" and is the author of Business Objects: The Complete Reference (McGraw-Hill Osborne Media, 2003).