Every night on his television show, David Letterman outlines the top ten reasons to do or not to do something. His "top ten" format seems to be a good way to look at reasons why you and your organization should be implementing OLAP.

#10. To see what all the fuss is about. OLAP is hot. The press has been having a field day reporting on OLAP vendor product announcements and user testimonials. You cannot open a technology magazine without seeing articles about enhancements to OLAP products or the value a business has derived from doing multidimensional analysis.

#9. To answer the complaint, "I spend too much of my time gathering data and not enough time analyzing it." The effort to find and filter data far outweighs the effort spent in its interpretation. If data were presented in a way that facilitates analysis, rather than having to do a separate query for each question that arises, analysts could do what they were hired to do--analyze information and make decisions on business direction. OLAP was designed precisely to facilitate analysis.

#8. OLAP complements the use of other business intelligence tools. Data access tools provide the ability to ask an ad hoc question and get an immediate result. Enterprise reporting tools allow for the delivery of information to the masses. Decision support and executive information system tools present a predefined "dashboard" approach to data analysis. Data mining, despite what some people think, is not synonymous with OLAP. Data mining involves the use of statistical techniques to determine patterns in data. OLAP is a way of presenting relational data to users to facilitate understanding the data and those important patterns that lie within it. OLAP is not specifically a tool for data mining, but rather a tool for presenting and drilling down into information to determine data interrelationships. It is truly on-line analytical processing. OLAP should be a key component in any organization's complete business intelligence tool suite.

#7. OLAP technology is mature. Well, relatively mature. OLAP has been around long enough that its mark in terms of technology has been made. OLAP does something no other product set does and is no longer bleeding edge in its implementation. This should ease any "early adopter" fears.

#6. To stake a claim in the MOLAP vs. ROLAP debate (or possibly implement each where it is appropriate). Multidimensional database management systems (MOLAP or MDBMS) use proprietary data stores. Data must be copied or moved into these data stores, and pre-aggregation provides superior response time. However, MOLAP has limited scalability. Relational OLAP (ROLAP or RDBMS), provides multidimensional analysis against data that remains in a relational database management system. It requires building and maintaining a star schema data structure, but it can support very large databases. In reality, the debate is quieting somewhat as organizations realize that one approach is not better than the other. Rather, the key is to use each type of OLAP where appropriate.

#5. To achieve speed or response time performance gains. If performance is a major requirement, OLAP (read, MOLAP) may be the only way to reach your goal. By pre-aggregating data, OLAP can provide superior response time.

#4. Results of OLAP analyses can be presented visually, which enables improved comprehension. Presenting multidimensional data graphically in addition to spatially improves its comprehension.

#3. OLAP is implementable on the Web. Many, if not most, OLAP vendors have announced or are working on Web-enabled versions of their products. This is terrific in terms of delivery of OLAP to the business masses, since users can use their browser to perform OLAP instead of having to install, utilize and learn a specific client OLAP tool. An example of a recent development is SQRIBE Technologies, which recently announced a 100 percent Java server OLAP product, called PowerSQRIBE, which downloads Java applets to clients for performing analysis and accesses databases via a JDBC (Java Database Connectivity) driver at the server level. While client-heavy OLAP tools can have more functionality, better graphical interfaces and faster response times, Web-enabled OLAP tools can be quickly deployed to thousands of distributed workers at a low cost with little training.

#2. OLAP facilitates the business decision-making process. The OLAP concept is the iterative process most business analysts use, where asking and answering one question generates three or four additional questions. The analyst's desire, when looking at a two-dimensional spreadsheet information format, to make rows into columns and columns into rows is easily performed with a rotate function. OLAP provides simple navigation of information to quickly drill down into most business questions.

And the number one reason to do OLAP: Your competition is already doing it. OLAP provides competitive advantage by providing immediate business value. And you can be assured that your competitors have been analyzing and responding to business information trends by using OLAP tools. Don't you want to shorten the cycle time on making critical business decisions? Implement OLAP. David Letterman would be proud.

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