Why Excel isn’t Enough for Businesses

Why Excel isn't enough

The article, The File-less Organization: Why Excel Isn’t Enough for Businesses, from Dataversity.net is quite astute in the way it identifies Excel as a problem–noting that each manager gathers his or her own version of the numbers to bring to a meeting.  And so in the meeting everyone has a different version of the state of affairs, and things can easily devolve into an argument over whose numbers are the “most right”.  Sound familiar?

I was so excited when I began reading because this article gets it exactly right in the beginning, but at the end, it seems to recommend dashboards as the solution to this problem. Except that dashboards are usually representations of those same error-prone, manually compiled spreadsheets. The ‘replace-Excel-with-dashboards’ scenario is more of a band-aid theory: once you get past the pretty graphics, you’ll discover that you traded one problem for another! Don’t get us wrong, we love dashboards, but we think they should be real-time, fed from the data source directly. This requires a sophisticated BI solution, which the article confuses a little bit with dashboards.  Typically, dashboards have limited calculation capability. With the newest, advanced business solutions, like Olation, the relational data source is combined with a data calculation engine and modeling solution that, yes indeed, works with Excel, not against it.

Is HTAP the latest type of OLAP?

HTAP OLAP hybrid transactional systems

Some vendors have run from the four letters OLAP…and yet, articles continue to be published, and assertions made, that “analytical processing” is entering a new phase. There’s a new acronym in the market, HTAP, which stands for Hybrid Transactional/Analytical Processing. Given the close similarity (two out of four words ain’t bad—and it’s three if we consider the once-upon-a-time category HOLAP), is there a difference? This post from one of our favorite bloggers, Timo Elliott, may help you decide…

What is HTAP?

Read more about PARIS’ take on the HTAP technology on the PARIS Tech Blog

Infographic: Why BI is Key for Competitive Advantage

A great infograhic from the Master of Science in Computer Information Systems program at Boston University.  The BU researchers focused on: growth of business intelligence, management of data, decision-making and budgeting.  Enjoy!



{Originally posted here}

3 Reasons Everything in Business is About to Change

Business technologies today

There are three important patterns happening in the world that will ultimately change business in fundamental ways: where it is done, how it is done, and who does it.  An article from McKinsey Quarterly, Management Intuition for the Next 50 Years, documents these patterns in detail.  The patterns are: the aging of the baby boomer population, the inevitable climb of emerging markets, and the continuing technological changes that disrupt industries.

To give an idea of how big and how fast things are changing we can highlight just a couple of the graphs from this article. First, the estimated amount of computing capacity added in the world  in 2008 was 5 exaflops (more information on the concept of exacomputing here).  By 2012, there were 20 more, and this year it is projected that the number of exaflops will reach about 40.

{Image sourced from McKinsey Article}

The graph illustrates the sheer mass of data and computing capacity that we are heading toward.  Naturally, our ability to digest, manage, and use that information will also need to increase. According to the McKinsey article, new business management intuition must acknowledge that new businesses will start up and gain scale faster and with less money. Additionally, decision-making will need to happen at lightning speed for companies to stay competitive.

Another graph from this article illustrates the population decline that is happening worldwide.  The inevitable implication is that the world will need a major increase in productivity because the workforce will be smaller and more constrained.

{Image sourced from McKinsey Article}

What it comes down to is this: the business leaders who come out on top of this change will be those who recognize it is happening and have the strength to adapt to meet the coming changes. Change is often hard, especially for people or companies or leaders whose intuitions are well-engrained and who have, up to this point, had success.

Read the full article


OLAP for Live Time Management—Time is Money!


OLAP applications have, by most accounts, made their biggest impact in Finance Departments. Of course, financial analysts aren’t the only staff who can benefit from OLAP capabilities. There are applications that provide reports and analyses to sales and marketing staff too. But one important under-served community for OLAP solutions are managers who need to report, analyze and even plan based on employee time and other resource allocations.

In the case of measuring employee time and resources, employees rely on MS Outlook to schedule their time the same way Finance departments rely on Excel to get the reports they need. It’s basically second nature for people to schedule their time in their Outlook. So an optimal OLAP solution would include Outlook as well as a company’s accounting system, and it would provide for dynamic connectivity to Excel and other reporting front ends.

To fulfill the “online” promise of OLAP, such a system would provide the real-time intelligence to gauge the productivity of the sales team, or list the top projects that are still under budget, or are getting into trouble. In true OLAP-multidimensional fashion, there would be the opportunity to understand time and resource allocation by Project, Activity, Manager, Consultant, Billable, and Version (e.g., Actual vs. Budget). And for the financially inclined, P&Ls by Project, Team, or Employee.

The benefit for end-users would include a true fathoming of how they contribute to the business; for managers, the ability to monitor results in order to make the best-informed plans about allocating resources to the most profitable projects.

Time is Money, as the saying goes—and so, as far as OLAP applications go, there’s every reason in the world to benefit from an OLAP solution that can deliver live time and resource performance data. And after all, why should Finance professionals have all the fun?

OLAP: More LIVE than Ever?

Making OLAP Technology Fast image

The Ongoing OLAP Revolution

This is the first of several posts that will examine developments that continue to make OLAP (Online Analytical Processing) an exceptionally powerful, significantly valuable sector of the software solution market. As we will see, some of these developments have the potential of fulfilling the “promised” capabilities of OLAP as defined when the term was first used.  And in that respect they truly are revolutionary. Of particular note is a technology that provides online capabilities via in-memory calculations in relational tables combined with dynamic relational database connectivity, which will be examined further in upcoming articles.

The topic under consideration here concerns the very first word of the OLAP acronym, Online. The word conveys the expectation of immediacy and dynamic continuity—something that we understand will happen “live”.  We expect, for example, when we see someone “online” that we can send her an instant message and get an immediate, live response in real time.

What about Online Analytical Processing: has it lived up to the billing of “online-ness”?  The short answer is No: not to the extent that, for example, transaction-processing is live, as when I pay my credit card bill online! And next receive an email nearly instantaneously.

Before considering this notion of “online-ness” further, and how OLAP technology vendors have tried to address it, we can briefly review the market and note how the expectation of being online arose in the first place…

Learn More:  OLAP and Business Intelligence History

History Behind the Need for OLAP Technology

The term OLAP was coined 1993 by E.F. Codd, who listed 12 rules for defining what the technology should feature.  Known as “the father of the relational database”—OLTP (Online Transactional Processing) systems—Codd was enumerating points related to what the newly described technology, OLAP, should do.  Each of the 12 initial OLAP rules are worth examining to measure the definition versus the reality of the technology. [Further examination of these rules vs the reality in the field today will be the subjects of our upcoming posts] For the moment, we should note that Codd did not prescribe how OLAP technology should achieve online capability. In fact, the requirement to be online is not one of the 12 rules. But by bequeathing that OLAP acronym, he certainly raised expectations.

Over the ensuing 20+ years OLAP has developed into a core technology that, at minimum, provides the fastest possible access to data that can be “slice and diced” or viewed through a compelling front end, like a dashboard. Typically this is reporting data.  On-the-fly analytics are enabled to some extent, though it’s a telling fact that so much reporting and analytical data still ends up in Excel spreadsheets.

The Paradigm Shift from OLAP “Processing” to Business Intelligence Decision Making

And so by now, OLAP and multidimensional have entered the popular technology lexicon, as have friendlier terms like Business Intelligence and Corporate Performance Management.  The product market has grown to significant proportions as vendors highlight their product capabilities and benefits…and there are even some that define themselves as being the “antidote” to OLAP! But all speak to the business value and immediacy with which they deliver results, for the fastest possible decision support possible.  “Online, in real time,” or approaching it, even if not in actual fact.

Let’s consider first to how vendors provide as much dynamism in report and dashboard manipulations as possible: in this case, they have most recently employed in-memory technologies to run all processing at run time. They make the argument that the exceptionally fast results available in selecting and reorganizing report data constitutes online analysis. At the same time it is generally acknowledged that even in-memory capabilities slow down with significant amounts of data. And the definition of analysis becomes awfully limited if we are talking only about new report creation and manipulations of existing dashboard elements.  Put another way: if we require more expansive requirements of an OLAP system—one that allows ad hoc modeling and complex calculations, and even write-back for planning purposes—in memory capabilities alone don’t stand a chance of performing as well as advertised, much less in an online capacity.

Learn More: Types of OLAP Systems

Enhancing the Features of OLAP and Business Intelligence Technology Applications

Next, there are those technologies that provide far more extensive mathematical as well as planning, capabilities for “what if” applications, most often related to budgeting and forecasting.  The way most vendors in this product category have met the challenges of delivering fast results is through the use of a proprietary OLAP (analytical) database. In this product paradigm, an ETL (extract, transform and load) process is required from the OLTP system, and data aggregations and calculations occur in the analytical database.  The benefit of these systems is far greater responsiveness in building entirely new models, defining complex calculations and even expanding the definition of OLAP to include budgeting, forecasting and planning capabilities that allow for all kinds of “what if” and “write back” modeling.

The key online issue with these systems, however, is that the “write back” will occur to the analytical database, which must programmatically send it back (if necessary) to the OLTP system. Keeping in mind that an ETL process is required in the first instance (from the OLTP to the OLAP database), there is always some kind of timed update process required to bring data from “there” to “here,” or vice versa. Hardly the definition of a truly online system.

So the question still remains: is OLAP technology still alive? Yes! It’s finally evolving to completely encompass what OLAP was defined to be as proposed by Codd in the 1990s.

Related: 5 Fun Facts about OLAP Technology and Databases

Stay tuned for our next article — Codd’s Paper: A Definition or a Wish List?