Dickeson–The Analytical Power of OLAP

Until recently we’ve mostly used two-dimensional databasing (RDBMS—relational database management systems), where the elements appear in rows and columns like a spreadsheet. With the RDBMS applications, we’re confined to OLTP (online transactional processing). OLTP is optimized for creating, updating and retrieving individual records, such as our accounting systems, for receivables, payables, payrolls, etc.

In contrast, OLAP is used by analysts and managers who frequently want a higher-level, aggregated view of the data. OLAP databases are optimized for analysis.

The data world of RDBMS is two-dimensional—like a flat spreadsheet. The MDBMS multidimensional world is a cube, three-dimensional—like a Rubik’s Cube. With it you can drill up, down and across. The RDBMS data can become a “virtual” cube for OLAP inquiries with certain software, but with restricted speed and efficiency. Or the data can be stored as a true cube in a multidimensional server set of “arrays” that are interlinked by dictionaries and pointers.

Using the MDBMS true cubic aspect, analysis is far faster and more efficient. If this technical stuff intrigues you, have a look at these Web sites: www.pilotsw.com/ olap/olap.htm; www.datamation. com/plugin/workbench/olap/stories/virt.htm; www.picksys. com/product/whtpapr.html.

Enterprise Effectiveness
Most of the literature about OLAP deals with marketing phenomena such as the correlation between diapers and beer. That’s fine.

If some of you reading this column are printing sales or marketing people, give this some thought. Think about products, materials and customer base. Could online analysis lead to conclusions about core competency of your shop? Account preferences? Market segmentation?

If so, you’d be using OLAP for insights into enterprise effectiveness. I’m suggesting that we think “out of the marketing box” about OLAP—that we use this tool to improve printing process efficiency. There may well be more usefulness in printing process management for OLAP than in product marketing.

As E.F. Codd, the dean of the database world, puts it: The relational databases “were never intended to provide powerful functions for data synthesis, analysis and consolidation (the functions collectively known as multidimensional data analysis).” Online analysis—the MDBMS—is a concept whose time has now come for print process management!

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