MSSQL Server Reporting Services: Mastering OLAP Reporting: Relationally-Based Picklists for OLAP Reporting

September 19, 2005

About the Series ...

This article is a member of the series MSSQL Server Reporting Services. The series is designed to introduce MSSQL Server Reporting Services ("Reporting Services"), with the objective of presenting an overview of its features, together with many tips and techniques for real-world use. For more information on the series, as well as the hardware / software requirements to prepare for the exercises we will undertake, please see my initial Database Journal article, A New Paradigm for Enterprise Reporting.

As I have stated since the charter article of the series, published about the time Reporting Services was first publicly released, my conviction is that Reporting Services will commoditize business intelligence, particularly in its role as a presentation component within an integrated Microsoft BI solution. Having been impressed from my first exposure to this exciting application, when it was in early beta, my certainty in its destiny grows stronger by the day, as I convert formerly dominant enterprise business intelligence systems, such as Cognos, Business Objects, Crystal, and others, to the Reporting Services architecture. I receive constant requests to conduct strategy sessions about these conversions with large organizations in a diverse range of industries – the interest grows daily as awareness of the solution becomes pervasive. Indeed, the five- to six-plus figures that many can shave from their annual IT budgets represent a compelling sweetener to examining this incredible toolset.

Basic assumptions underlying the series are that you have correctly installed Reporting Services, including current service packs, along with the applications upon which Reporting Services relies, and that you have access and the other rights / privileges required to complete the steps we undertake in my articles. For details on the specifics of the adjustments necessary to quickly allow full freedom to complete the exercises in this and subsequent articles, as well as important assumptions regarding rights and privileges in general, please see earlier articles in the series, as well as the Reporting Services Books Online.

About the Mastering OLAP Reporting Articles...

As I have noted in many articles and presentations, one of the first things that becomes clear to "early adopters" of Reporting Services is that the "knowledgebase" for OLAP reporting with this tool is, to say the least, sparse. (I recently heard an internal "reporting guru" say, during a BI strategy session with a major soft drink manufacturer in Atlanta, that "we didn't evaluate Reporting Services because it doesn't do cubes ...") As most of us are aware, minimal, if any, attention is given to using Analysis Services cubes as data sources for reports in the handful of books that have been published on Reporting Services to date. All are written from the perspective of relational reporting, as if with existing popular tools for that purpose. One Reporting Services book discusses OLAP reporting with Reporting Services, and then performs illustrative exercises with Office Web Components (OWC), instead. Another depicts an MDX snippet at the end of the book, as if as an afterthought. All of the early books focus entirely on relational reporting, and most make heavy use, typically enough, of the Books Online and other scraps of documentation that we already have anyway. (I could go on, but my overall opinion of the technical book industry is already well known.)

As I stated in my article, Mastering OLAP Reporting: Cascading Prompts, the purpose of the Mastering OLAP Reporting subset of my Reporting Services series is to focus on techniques for using Reporting Services for OLAP reporting. In many cases, which I try to outline in my articles at appropriate junctures, the functionality of the reporting solutions of well-established, but expensive, solutions, such as Cognos PowerPlay, can be met in most respects by Reporting Services – at a tiny fraction of the cost. The vacuum of documentation in this arena, to date, represents a serious "undersell" of Reporting Services from an OLAP reporting perspective. I hope to contribute to making this arena more accessible to everyone, and to share my implementation and conversion experiences as the series evolves. In the meantime, rest assured that the OLAP potential in Reporting Services will be yet another reason that the application "commoditizes" Business Intelligence.

For more information about the Mastering OLAP Reporting articles, see the section entitled "About the Mastering OLAP Reporting Articles" in my article Ad Hoc TopCount and BottomCount Parameters.

Overview

Throughout this and other of my series, we have examined parameterization and parameter picklist support. While my focus has often been support of picklists using datasets generated through MDX queries against the cube under consideration, I have often found myself in client engagement scenarios where differing reporting requirements, as well as various "exceptions," drive a need to extend picklist support beyond the capabilities of the basic MDX queries that we have examined. (For step-by-step exercises surrounding the creation and use of cube-based picklists, see Create a Cube-Based Hierarchical Picklist in my Database Journal MDX in Analysis Services series).

While there are many avenues to meeting the business requirements we encounter within the integrated Microsoft business intelligence solution, I have found that the combination of MSSQL Server, Analysis Services and Reporting Services offers us a great deal of flexibility, with regard to "where we can install intelligence" in the reporting system. One of those options, in the case of parameter picklists, is likely to be obvious to most of us: using a table in the relational database to house the actual MDX that we pass into our primary OLAP Dataset queries. This option, combined with the fact that we can combine both OLAP and relational data sources within a Reporting Services report, provides yet another example of the powerful features that accrue to an organization that implements the integrated solution for enterprise reporting.

We will explore a simply constructed, relationally based solution for OLAP picklist support in this article. While the intent is to convey the possibilities, rather than to offer a "one size fits all" solution, we will discuss logical extensions that might leverage our approach even more, by allowing us to customize the approach to the scenarios we encounter in the business world.

In this article, we will:

  • Discuss example business needs within the OLAP reporting environment of a hypothetical client;
  • Discuss the use of relational picklist support as a possible solution for the expressed business needs, highlighting advantages in this approach;
  • Explore a sample layout for a table to support parameter picklists in our OLAP reports;
  • Investigate the manner for "connecting" the picklist support to the report via the Report Parameters dialog.







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