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Dundas BI logo
 
Dundas BI, from Dundas Data Visualization, is a browser-based business intelligence and data visualization platform that includes integrated dashboards, reporting tools, and data analytics. It provides end users the ability to create... Read More
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Dundas BI, from Dundas Data Visualization, is a browser-based business intelligence and data visualization platform that includes integrated dashboards, reporting tools, and data analytics. It provides end users the ability to create... Read More
 
Sisense logo
 
SiSense is a BI tool that was developed for all types of user--even those with little or no prior experience with BI software. SiSense's tools manage and support business data with powerful visuals and tools.
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SiSense is a BI tool that was developed for all types of user--even those with little or no prior experience with BI software. SiSense's tools manage and support business data with powerful visuals and tools.
 
Domo logo
 
Domo is a fully cloud-based business management suite that integrates with multiple data sources, including spreadsheets, databases, social media and any existing cloud-based or on-premise software solutions. It is suitable for company... Read More
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Domo is a fully cloud-based business management suite that integrates with multiple data sources, including spreadsheets, databases, social media and any existing cloud-based or on-premise software solutions. It is suitable for company... Read More
 
IntelliFront BI logo
 
IntelliFront BI by ChistianStevens Software enables all industries to view multiple data sets in one place. The system offers real-time dashboards with on-demand reporting. Users have access to business process automation, report... Read More
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IntelliFront BI by ChistianStevens Software enables all industries to view multiple data sets in one place. The system offers real-time dashboards with on-demand reporting. Users have access to business process automation, report... Read More
 
BOARD logo
 
We recommend BOARD to those looking for a centralized tool to house data, conduct multidimensional analyses and drill-down to examine the performance of company departments. BOARD is used by US Navy, Puma and Giorgio Armani.
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We recommend BOARD to those looking for a centralized tool to house data, conduct multidimensional analyses and drill-down to examine the performance of company departments. BOARD is used by US Navy, Puma and Giorgio Armani.

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Style Intelligence logo
 
InetSoft Style Intelligence is a business intelligence software platform that allows users to create dashboards, visual analyses and reports via a data mashup engine—a tool that integrates data in real time from multiple sources.... Read More
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InetSoft Style Intelligence is a business intelligence software platform that allows users to create dashboards, visual analyses and reports via a data mashup engine—a tool that integrates data in real time from multiple sources.... Read More
 
Sage Live logo
 
Sage Live is a web-based and mobile ready accounting platform for small and mid-sized businesses. Key features include multi-company, multi-currency, and multi-legislation support, personalization based on user role, bank integration,... Read More
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Sage Live is a web-based and mobile ready accounting platform for small and mid-sized businesses. Key features include multi-company, multi-currency, and multi-legislation support, personalization based on user role, bank integration,... Read More
 
Yellowfin logo
 
Yellowfin, a business intelligence platform, is a single integrated solution developed for companies across varying industries and scaling sizes. This system is customizable to suit businesses in accounting, advertising, agriculture,... Read More
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Yellowfin, a business intelligence platform, is a single integrated solution developed for companies across varying industries and scaling sizes. This system is customizable to suit businesses in accounting, advertising, agriculture,... Read More
 
IBM Cognos Analytics logo
 
IBM Cognos is a scalable Business Intelligence solution that can be deployed either on-premise or web-based. It provides companies in any vertical the ability to glean useful information and insight from large amounts of raw data.
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IBM Cognos is a scalable Business Intelligence solution that can be deployed either on-premise or web-based. It provides companies in any vertical the ability to glean useful information and insight from large amounts of raw data.
 
Netlink Business Analytics Platform logo
 
Netlink's Business Analytics platform is an comprehensive  solution from software, hardware, and connectivity to configuration and ongoing services. The solution can roll-out with no CAPEX and minimal IT involvement. Netlink’s... Read More
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Netlink's Business Analytics platform is an comprehensive  solution from software, hardware, and connectivity to configuration and ongoing services. The solution can roll-out with no CAPEX and minimal IT involvement. Netlink’s... Read More

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Pentaho logo
 
Pentaho is a flexible and comprehensive Business Intelligence solution. Intelligent tools for Dashboards and Scorecards, ETL, Data Mining and Predictive Analytics, and OLAP are available for deployment on-premise or web-based.
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Pentaho is a flexible and comprehensive Business Intelligence solution. Intelligent tools for Dashboards and Scorecards, ETL, Data Mining and Predictive Analytics, and OLAP are available for deployment on-premise or web-based.
 
Halo logo
 
Halo is an end-to-end supply chain management and business intelligence platform that helps in business planning and forecasting inventory for supply chain management. The system uses data from all sources - big, small, and in-between... Read More
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Halo is an end-to-end supply chain management and business intelligence platform that helps in business planning and forecasting inventory for supply chain management. The system uses data from all sources - big, small, and in-between... Read More
 
SAP - Business Intelligence logo
 
With its cohesive, consolidated approach, industry powerhouse SAP BusinessObjects gives organizations a full set of tools to manage and optimize Business Intelligence. From a centralized portal, companies can handle everything from... Read More
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With its cohesive, consolidated approach, industry powerhouse SAP BusinessObjects gives organizations a full set of tools to manage and optimize Business Intelligence. From a centralized portal, companies can handle everything from... Read More
 
Profitbase BI logo
 
We recommend Profitbase to retailers looking for a single system to help analyze inventory, merchandising and business performance metrics. The Profitbase Retail BI tool complies with the NRF ARTS Data Warehouse Standards.
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We recommend Profitbase to retailers looking for a single system to help analyze inventory, merchandising and business performance metrics. The Profitbase Retail BI tool complies with the NRF ARTS Data Warehouse Standards.
 
Exago logo
 
Exago is a cloud-based self-service business intelligence solution for software companies that offer ad hoc reporting, dashboards, and interactive data visualization tool with advanced analytics. Exago's reporting functionalities... Read More
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Exago is a cloud-based self-service business intelligence solution for software companies that offer ad hoc reporting, dashboards, and interactive data visualization tool with advanced analytics. Exago's reporting functionalities... Read More

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ClicData logo
 
ClicData is a business intelligence (BI) dashboard solution designed for use primarily by small and midsized businesses. The tool enables end users to create reports and dashboards. A drag-and-drop interface designed for ease of use... Read More
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ClicData is a business intelligence (BI) dashboard solution designed for use primarily by small and midsized businesses. The tool enables end users to create reports and dashboards. A drag-and-drop interface designed for ease of use... Read More
 
IFS EOI logo
 
IFS Enterprise Operational Intelligence (EOI) is business intelligence software for large companies and organizations. The system works for many industries and offers dashboards and scorecards, data warehousing, data mining and predictive... Read More
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IFS Enterprise Operational Intelligence (EOI) is business intelligence software for large companies and organizations. The system works for many industries and offers dashboards and scorecards, data warehousing, data mining and predictive... Read More
 
Birst logo
 
Birst is a web-based networked BI and analytics solution that connects insights from various teams and helps in making informed decisions. The tool enables decentralized users to augment the enterprise data model virtually without... Read More
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Birst is a web-based networked BI and analytics solution that connects insights from various teams and helps in making informed decisions. The tool enables decentralized users to augment the enterprise data model virtually without... Read More
 
Microsoft SharePoint logo
 
Microsoft SharePoint is a popular option for businesses looking to better manage and analyze its data. A good fit for organizations that currently use Microsoft Dynamics products and store information using Microsoft SQL Server.
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Microsoft SharePoint is a popular option for businesses looking to better manage and analyze its data. A good fit for organizations that currently use Microsoft Dynamics products and store information using Microsoft SQL Server.
 
Stratum logo
 
Stratum by Silvon is a robust business intelligence solution that was designed to meet the unique needs of business professionals working for manufacturing and distribution companies. Stratum offers a full suite of integrated analytic... Read More
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Stratum by Silvon is a robust business intelligence solution that was designed to meet the unique needs of business professionals working for manufacturing and distribution companies. Stratum offers a full suite of integrated analytic... Read More

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Buyer's Guide

by Justin Guinn,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: July 22, 2017


Online analytical processing, or OLAP, is a software capability used to create actionable business intelligence from a company’s available data by empowering analysts to navigate hierarchical relationships between categories and levels of detail in the data (known as dimensions). The power of OLAP is its ability to identify and anticipate trends—goals which are central to most business intelligence initiatives. It’s important that companies shopping for business intelligence (BI) tools be familiar with OLAP. Both end-to-end BI platforms and modern, self-service BI tools offer traditional OLAP or equivalent capabilities for multidimensional analysis.

In this guide we discuss:

What is OLAP?
What Sets OLAP Apart
Common Functionality of OLAP Tools
Benefits of OLAP Software

What is OLAP?

As we’ve already suggested, the primary characteristic of OLAP is that it’s multidimensional. Dimensions of data include geographic categories (country, city, state), temporal categories (year, month, day), levels of aggregation (total sales, sales by store, sales by dept), etc.

You may have noticed that these dimensions can generally be grouped into conceptual hierarchies, and OLAP allows analysts to easily navigate between levels in these hierarchies to understand business problems. For instance, to understand why total sales plummeted in a given quarter, it may be necessary to drill down to a more detailed level: sales by store, and then compare that category with data on the types of products sold.

Generally, OLAP tools are used for historical analysis aimed at deriving insights about trends affecting the business, problems, opportunities for growth etc. In most contexts, a human user guides the analysis. This is opposed to operational analytics, or analytics aimed at processing data used in the business’s operations in real time or near real time.

Let’s take a closer look now at what distinguishes OLAP from operational analytics.

What Sets OLAP Apart

OLAP is frequently compared to OLTP, or online transactional processing. While OLTP handles the processing of data created in a business’s typical day-to-day operations, OLAP seeks to identify trends and help companies better prepare for the future.

Other differences between the two are highlighted in the chart below:

 OLTPOLAP
Function Monitors and records ongoing business transactions, such as purchases and sales. Finds patterns that can help explain issues. Used to guide future plans and strategies. OLAP servers are commonly used in data mining and data warehousing operations.
Query types Simple, standardized queries, such as: “How many units did Store 26 order last month?” Complex, multidimensional queries, such as: “When Store 26 places a larger than average order, which other stores place larger than average orders the following month?”
Data source Core business processes Data gathered through OLTP
Database format Relational; often presented in tabular form Non-relational; comprised of data “cubes”
Read/write Dataset is read/write and updated frequently. Dataset is typically read-only to ensure it doesn’t get changed while analysis is underway.

An OLTP database can be represented as a simple table or spreadsheet. This is easy to do because OLTP databases have a limited number of variables and the variables are directly related to one another.

This simple table shows average sales per day for each of a department store’s nine salespeople (A-I):

OLTP Table With Two Variables

OLTP Table With Two Variables

 

In the table below, we’ve added information from a third variable. It includes the same information as above: which employee sold how many products—but it now also shows which brands’ products were sold:

OLTP Table With Three Variables

OLTP Table With Three Variables

Both tables above represent the straightforward and limited nature of the types of datasets used in OLTP. They provide simple, clear transactional information—and little else. They may not be fancy, but few businesses operate without them.

Now, imagine the department store from the example has six branches. Each branch maintains its own sales records in a separate OLTP database, similar to those shown above.

The department store’s head office then “stacks” the individual transactional databases from the six branches into one single dataset. This creates a data “cube”—the format used in OLAP systems—also called multidimensional cubes or hypercubes.

OLAP Data Cube

OLAP Data Cube

We’ll continue with this example as we discuss the common functionality of OLAP.

Common Functionality of OLAP Tools

The data cube above looks impressive, but astute readers may have noticed: despite the added dimension, it can still be read like an ordinary table or spreadsheet. Arranging datasets into cubes only makes it possible to begin the analysis.

The actual processing is where the value of OLAP lies. It relies on three common functionalities, all made possible by the flexibility of the non-relational database.

    • Drill-down is used to present more granular detail about a given variable. The company in the example above may wish to focus in on sales of a particular brand’s products. Using a drill-down function, they could de-aggregate the sales-per-brand totals above to learn which items from an individual brand have sold in what quantities.
    • Slice-and-dice lets users look at the business’s datasets from different angles and perspectives. In the above example, the department store might want to correlate sales to a variable other than the individual salesperson or their selection of brands. For example: They might want to know how the number of salespeople working during a single shift across all branches affects sales of one particular brand. The slice-and-dice functionality of OLAP tools makes that possible.
    • Roll-up is the opposite of drill-down, and the two are often used in conjunction. Roll-up combines data into broader categories, decreasing the level of detail. In the slice-and-dice example above, the store might roll-up the per-branch sales information before further analysis, given that they’re not concerned with that variable for this analysis.

Benefits of OLAP

Due to the unique way OLAP arranges data, it offers benefits that other methods—those using relational databases—simply cannot. The wide variety of variables allowed and the ability to slice and dice them any which way gives companies new opportunities to find value in their existing company data.

Many use OLAP systems for predictive analytics, often for the purposes of forecasting and problem solving:

Predictive analytics tool from Halo showing forecast

Predictive analytics tool from Halo showing forecast

The department store from the example might use predictive analytics to determine the ideal number of salespeople per branch for each day of the week. The OLAP tool tries several options and then “predicts” how the number of salespeople might impact sales. The store can then weigh this information against the cost of staffing and determine the ideal number of employees for per day.

Another benefit of OLAP is that it can uncover patterns and relationships that have not been previously considered. This is useful for problem solving. Let’s say the department store above is having a problem with sales of a particular brand’s products, but only in two of its six stores. OLAP analysis could reveal the root cause as an inexperienced manager who works in both of the problem stores.

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