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OLAP: A Fast, Easy, Affordable Executive Information System -- Finally! Copyright 1995 CAUSE.

From _CAUSE/EFFECT_ magazine, Volume 18, Number 3, Fall 1995, pp. 47-48, 51. Permission to copy or disseminate all or part of this material is granted provided that the copies are not made or distributed for commercial advantage, the CAUSE copyright and its date appear, and notice is given that copying is by permission of CAUSE, the association for managing and using information technology in higher education. To disseminate otherwise, or to republish, requires written permission. For further information, contact Julia Rudy at CAUSE, 4840 Pearl East Circle, Suite 302E, Boulder, CO 80301 USA; 303-939-0308; e-mail: OLAP: A Fast, Easy, Affordable Executive Information System -- Finally! by Henry M. Stewart ABSTRACT: Online analytical processing (OLAP) has emerged as a "breakthrough" technology that can provide the foundation for EIS solutions. Using OLAP, senior managers are able to view hundreds of graphic and tabular displays that present a visualization of their institution's business process.

If you have attended SIG meetings on executive information systems during the last four years, you know the story: with very few exceptions, developers have found that technology constraints have inhibited colleges and universities from meeting the ever-changing EIS needs of senior management. By the time EIS answers are created, the questions have changed! The few EIS systems that have survived are usually based on static data from fact books, data that are less interesting to management when they are pursuing answers to pressing, momentary business needs. Take heart, EIS visionaries -- technology has finally caught up with your expectations. The University of Rochester has been experimenting with online analytical processing (OLAP), and the results have been startling. During the spring of 1995 we began demonstrating the service to senior management and other IS staff members. Their reactions were all very similar -- spontaneous, short bursts of uncontrolled laughter. They couldn't believe what they were seeing! OLAP technologies have enabled us to develop special-interest EIS systems very quickly. These systems feature fast response, graphic, and tabular displays, drill-down/drillup between levels of detail, and an easy screen interface featuring drag-and-drop and point-and-click technologies.[1] OLAP Technology How does it work? OLAP technology consists of two major components, the server and the client. Typically the server is a multi-user, LANbased database that is loaded either from your legacy systems or from your data warehouse. You don't need a data warehouse in order to implement OLAP, but if you have historical data, OLAP's visualization will reveal patterns of your business process that are hidden in the data.

The Server Think of OLAP databases as multi-dimensional arrays or cubes of data -actually cubes of cubes -- capable of holding hundreds of thousands of rows and columns of both text and numbers. The current terminology for these database servers is multi-dimensional databases (MDDs). The MDDs are loaded from your data source (legacy or warehouse) according to an aggregation model that you define. Fortunately, defining the model and loading the database can be very easy; for some OLAP products, no programming is required to build the model or to load the data. The Client The client component for several OLAP products presents a spreadsheet-type interface with very special features. Features available in some products include the ability to instantly change the data component of either the x, y, or z dimension of your spreadsheet using drag-and-drop. You can change your display from tabular to any one of various charts, including pie, bar, stacked bar, clustered bar, line, or multi-line -- all with one-second response. Exception highlighting is another very nice feature. This allows your display to dynamically change font, point-size, and color of rows or columns based upon the value of a component of the display. You can also hide rows or columns based on dynamic values. Instant drill-down/drill-up is a particularly valuable feature. For example, placing your mouse over a school name and double clicking can invoke a drill-down to department-level numbers. Double clicking on a department can take you down to account-level data. At any point you can then jump from one graphic or tabular display to the next, including multi-year displays, each with a one-second response time. Rapid Development As stated above, some OLAP products require no programming in order to define an MDD model or to load the data. At the University of Rochester, the average time required to create a model is twenty minutes. The average time to load an MDD is another twenty to forty minutes. Therefore, we tell our customers, "Once you give us a data file, we will have you paging through graphics within one hour." With such rapid development capabilities, it is possible to think of EIS solutions that address a short-term business opportunity. In fact, disposable solutions can be considered. Develop a system, use it for two to four weeks, and then discard it. OLAP vs. data warehouse You may ask, "Doesn't a data warehouse provide us with all we need for queries, reports, analysis, and answers to EIS queries?" The answer is, "yes and no." A data warehouse is an excellent data structure for queries and reports, especially if those queries and/or reports request data for a specific point in time. But if your query needs to summarize, total, or aggregate data from a year or more (i.e., analysis), response time can change from seconds to hours! A well designed data warehouse should provide good response to queries/reports. It probably will not provide good response for analysis. The only way in which a warehouse will provide rapid response to

analysis is if database administrators create summary tables within the warehouse. This approach may work for a few of the most common summaries, but it could easily consume your valuable DBA's time. No matter how fast your DBAs work, they won't be able to outguess the creative minds of senior management. The summary table they didn't create will be the one that management needs. Our suggestion is to allow OLAP to create those summary tables, charts, and tabular reports. That's what it is designed to do, and it does it fast and dynamically, according to the wishes of the manager who is controlling the mouse. Summary Although at the University of Rochester we were not seeking a solution to EIS specifically, we believe that OLAP technologies can serve as a foundation for the elusive EIS systems that CAUSE member schools have sought over the last few years. Best of all, these products can be very affordable. Prices will vary between vendors, but very good solutions are available for as little as $500 per workstation. When comparing OLAP functionality and cost to the EIS products of the 1980s, OLAP emerges as a "breakthrough" technology, capable of providing rich functionality and ease of use at a price that we can afford. If your campus is ready to begin experimenting with information visualization, a good place to begin is by researching recent OLAP articles such as those listed below.

For further reading: Arbor Software Corporation. _White paper: Multi-Dimensional Analysis: Converting Corporate Data into Strategic Information_. Sunnyvale, Calif.: 1994. Bulos, Dan. "Comprehensive Guidelines For Evaluating OLAP Servers." _DBMS_, August 1995, pp. 96-102. Codd, E.F. _Providing OLAP (On-Line Analytical Processing) to User Analysts_. Arbor Software Corporation, Sunnyvale, Calif.: 1994. Finkelstein, Richard. _Understanding the Need for On-Line Analytical Servers_. Chicago: Performance Computing, Inc., 1994. ________. "MDD: Database Reaches the Next Dimension." _Database Programming Design_, April 1995, pp. 27-38. Frank, Maurice. "A Drill-Down Analysis of Multi-Dimensional Databases." _DBMS_, July 1994, pp. 60-71. ________. "The Truth About OLAP." _DBMS_, August 1995, pp. 40-46. ================================================== FOOTNOTE: [1] We investigated several products, including those from Brio, Business Objects, Andyne, Trinzic, IMRS, and Cognos. Our investigation

revealed the expected -- varying levels of ease of use, performance, functionality, and cost. PowerPlay from Cognos best met our needs. ********************************************************************** Henry M. Stewart has been Director of Planning and Data Administration for Administrative Computing Services at the University of Rochester since 1990. He has led the development of a three-tiered information technology architecture incorporating legacy systems, a data warehouse, and executive information systems. OLAP: A Fast, Easy, Affordable Executive Information System -- Finally!

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