LESSON - Solving the Chief Information Officer Dilemma: Breaking the Reporting Backlog with a New Formula for Self-Service

By Mark LaRow, Vice President, Products, MicroStrategy

Every CIO who has invested in a data mart or data warehouse faces a daunting problem of report development backlog. Even though BI projects start off with modest reporting requirements of 20 reports for the HR department and 15 reports for Finance, the report requests quickly balloon well beyond this initial set. It seems as if every report inspires the user to request two more related reports to help answer questions raised in the original report.

To provide an idea of how serious this problem is, consider the vast number of reports that can be generated from even a modest size data mart. Imagine a data mart with the following:

  • 5 dimensions
  • 10 attributes per dimension
  • 10 metric areas
  • 20 specific metrics in each area

If we assume that all users will only ask for one simple uniform report structure containing two attributes and two metrics, and consider all the potential combinations and variations of data in the data mart, it would require a staggering 1.9 million different reports to show all the useful combinations of the data. (This even assumes that not all attributes need to be combined with all metrics.)

The traditional response to this problem proffered by BI vendors is to encourage users to design their own reports using selfservice. However, this strategy has only had limited success. The subtleties of report design and the mechanics of design interfaces limit this solution to only power users. Even then, 1,000 power users would need to create 1,900 reports each to satisfy all realistic demands.

The more practical answer lies in a lesson learned from the Internet where almost one billion people browse and find information without becoming Internet programmers. While HTTP, search, and browsing works for Internet documents, a different technology is needed for surfing through the data warehouse. That technology is relational online analytical processing (ROLAP). ROLAP allows a handful of reports to deliver the same analytic range as thousands of traditional reports using two powerful features unique to ROLAP: object prompting and drill anywhere.

Object prompting allows users to freely select any attributes and metrics to appear on a report each time they run the report. Once a user selects initial attributes and metrics and runs the report, he or she can drill down anywhere within the multi-dimensionally modeled warehouse and, thus, successively surf through combinations of data using simple right mouse click actions. In this unique model of self-service, users see new combinations of data that might have never been explicitly designed before, because the ROLAP system can dynamically assemble any combination of attributes on the fly. Once a user finds a useful new combination of data, they can save that combination as a newly created report, just like bookmarking a useful Web site, and can then access it directly in the future. In this way, users can create new report designs as a natural part of their investigative process without ever having to learn how to design a report. What’s more, users can share those newly created report designs with other people without fear of exposing inappropriate data, because the ROLAP system automatically applies personalized security filters to every report regardless of how that report was created or by whom.

With ROLAP enabled self-service reporting capabilities, such as object prompting and drill anywhere, users are empowered to design their own reports exactly to their specifications. Streamlining the reporting process enables any business user, not just power users, to efficiently access the data they need to manage their area of the business.

This article originally appeared in the issue of .