At my job, we have bought an OLAP tool in order to facilitate some of our business intelligence activities. This is nice, as I like OLAP a lot. Really, I mean it.
OLAP is the abbreviation for online analytical processing, as opposed to the operational OLTP - online transactional processing. OLAP had its commercial breakthrough in the BI market some 10 years ago, just after the breakthrough of the ad hoc query and reporting tools. Why? Well, one reason would be that ad hoc querying is all very nice but often tends to have long response times. Enter OLAP with its multidimensional way of storing and handling data. This allows for short response times that, in turn, encourage further in-depth analyses. With OLAP, you can for example quickly answer questions such as, "Who were our top 10 customers buying chain saws in Colombia last month and did they buy more or less as compared to the month before?" Very useful indeed. You could, of course, answer this with your old-fashioned ad hoc query tool as well but often only if you had the patience to wait for the SQL query to take its time (which it sometimes very much tended to do).
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