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Easy Browsing and Modeling of Microsoft Analysis Services Cubes through Excel

Published
  • June 01 2005, 1:00am EDT

o2olap for Excel

REVIEWER: James Beresford (B.Sc., MBA), head of management information at Charles Taylor Consulting.

BACKGROUND: Charles Taylor Consulting, a managing agent for a shipping liability insurer, needed a major overhaul of its management information systems. The aging mainframe system couldn't deal with the increased demand for information arising from regulation requirements. There was also an internal demand for the increased sophistication of possible analysis.

PLATFORMS: Microsoft SQL Server 2000/Analysis Services, Windows 2000, Office 2000.

PROBLEM SOLVED: By installing a data warehouse, the quality and auditability of data improved massively, as did response times to data requests. o2olap provided an intuitive and flexible interface in the familiar Excel environment to extract information from the warehouse cubes. The use of Excel as the point of access has allowed access to the data warehouse to be given to nontechnical staff and reduced the training requirement for more skilled users as no programming language skills are required to extract data from the warehouse.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: o2olap is an Excel plug-in that provides a simple but powerful interface to extract data from MS Analysis Services cubes. It uses simple and familiar mouse-based operations (i.e., point-and-click, drag-and-drop) to build views of the data held in the cubes which are displayed as values in Excel. The dimension browser allows for the building of complex queries with ease. It is also loaded with many built-in reporting functions, such as those which allow multiple formatted reports to be generated from a single view of the data. All the formatting is customizable, again using Excel as the interface, and output can be sent to various mediums including PDF, Word, PowerPoint, CSV, HTML and XML.

STRENGTHS: Because of its simple interface, it is easy to train users, roll out the application and increase the access to data by staff who have little or no understanding of data warehousing. The power of the dimension browser enables very customized reports to be built, and the fact that it is Excel formula-based allows for building parameterized reporting. This means that very complex reporting applications can be built, but the selection parameters only need to be adjusted once at a central parameter sheet. o2olap also summarizes any combination of members in a view, enabling users to get the information they need without changing and reprocessing models.

WEAKNESSES: Due to the high level of functionality, it is not easy to fully understand the product's capabilities, and users can be a bit overwhelmed. However, o2olap developers are now focusing more closely on usability and different levels of functionality dependent on user level.

SELECTION CRITERIA: The solution was weighed against various packages (including Cognos, Hyperion, SAS and MicroStrategy), but we found that most of the enterprise-level solutions were too complex and expensive for our relatively simple needs (i.e., single site, small number of users and limited IT resource). The final reckoning came to a live test against TM1, with consultants from both camps given the task of building a simple warehouse and demonstrating the extraction of data using their chosen tools. It was found that the Microsoft-based solution performed equally well but at a significantly lower cost.

DELIVERABLES: o2olap is now the delivery channel for a large proportion of the data in our routine executive level reporting. It also provides a flexible interface for some of our reporting utilities distributed throughout the business. Additionally, it is the primary source of data for business and trend analysis. There is further scope for its use within other parts of our organization as a reporting tool for a Sun-based data warehouse.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Due to the smaller size of the company, it has been possible to build excellent working relationships with the vendor. Response times have always been very fast.

DOCUMENTATION: The documentation uses a Web-style interface and contains helpful guides and full technical details of the formula used. Also, there are flash movies available online which show how to use the basic features of the product.

o2olap for Excel
o2olap Limited
9 Gwalior Road
London, SW15 1NP, UK
+44 (0) 20 8785 4811
www.o2olap.com

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