Fixed format reporting versus OLAP (Online Analytical Processing)

Cutting through all the Business Intelligence acronyms that sometimes tend to confuse rather than enlighten, BI is simply the ability to find and extract key information to aid better decision making, by making the information available in a timely fashion in the format that is easy to understand.

Many vendors want you to believe that in order to make the best possible business decisions, your small to-midsized company needs a full-fledged cube-based OLAP (On-Line Analytical Processing) BI solution that delivers real-time, up-to-the-nanosecond data. This may make sense if you are a blue chip company with numerous divisions and databases and highly complex reporting requirements, and unlimited budget to try out different BI solutions that will take a long time to implement and much more time to learn and use. We know that a cube-based OLAP tool does enable end-users to slice and dice their data, perform multi-dimensional analysis, present information in graphs and charts, and more. However, there is a high cost associated with maintaining these pedigree cube-based systems.

On the other side of the equation are simple reporting tools that cater for transaction system reporting or fixed format reporting. If you want to know your current inventory levels or view your trial balance at a point in time, then these tools are great.

Bottom line is that OLAP is great for analyzing and spotting trends and stats in large volumes of data but is less presentable than your fixed format reporting, which really lends itself to the preparation of boardroom style financial report and management report packs. SMB companies are however too often procuring a tool to do analysis when they actually require a simple reporting tool and vice versa.

But if you’re looking for tangible business intelligence that will add considerable value to the decision-making process, you need a solution that lies somewhere in between these two realms and caters for both the OLAP and fixed format (transaction) reporting.  The right tool should also deliver information into a frontend that is familiar with the user i.e. Microsoft Excel, so that SMB companies can leverage the existing skills that their users have and use this to create efficiencies in the reporting life cycle. 

These BI solutions do exist and are available right now!

So, don’t let anybody tell you that you cannot have your BI cake and eat it!