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Posted Jul 26, 2004

MDX in Analysis Services: Create a Cube-Based Hierarchical Picklist

By William Pearson

About the Series ...

This article is a member of the series MDX in Analysis Services. The series is designed to provide hands-on application of the fundamentals of MDX from the perspective of MS SQL Server 2000 Analysis Services; our primary focus is the manipulation of multidimensional data sources, using MDX expressions, in a variety of scenarios designed to meet real-world business intelligence needs.

For more information on the series, as well as the hardware / software requirements to prepare for the tutorials we will undertake, please see the first lesson of this series: MDX Concepts and Navigation.

Note: At the time of writing, Service Pack 3 updates are assumed for MSSQL Server 2000, MSSQL Server 2000 Analysis Services, and the related Books Online and Samples. Images are from a Windows 2003 Server environment, upon which I have also implemented MS Office 2003, but the steps performed in the articles, together with the views that result, will be quite similar within any environment that supports MSSQL Server 2000 and MSSQL Server 2000 Analysis Services ("Analysis Services" or "MSAS"). The same is generally true, except where differences are specifically noted, when MS Office 2000 and above are used in the environment, with respect to any MS Office components presented in a given article.

Along with MSAS, of which we have made repeated use in the previous articles of the series, additional application considerations apply for this article, because it introduces another Microsoft application, MSSQL Server 2000 Reporting Services ("Reporting Services").

For those joining the series at this point because of a desire to work with Reporting Services and its components from the perspective of authoring or managing reports, it is assumed that, along with Reporting Services (with Service Pack 1), MSSQL Server 2000, Visual Studio.NET and any other appropriate support applications are accessible to / installed on your PC, with the appropriate access rights to the associated environments, to parallel the steps of the article. If this is the first time Reporting Services is being accessed on your machine, you may need to consult the Reporting Services ReadMe files, and any associated online documentation, for installation and configuration instructions. In addition, my Reporting Services series at Database Journal offers a growing body of guidance in various aspects of using Reporting Services, which may be of assistance.


As most of us who work in the Business Intelligence community are aware, parameters (sometimes known as "prompts" or "parameter prompts") are a staple of enterprise reporting, because they enable information consumers to quickly find the information they need from a report. These filters can be put in place "on the fly," and are typically enacted when the consumer types or selects a value, or a series of values, at run time.

There are two primary types of parameters, type-in and picklist, which can be mechanized through various means. Type-in parameters accept directly typed user input for the value upon which the report is based. Alternatively, the picklist presents a selection of choices to a consumer based upon a static file, a dataset from a larger data source, or through other means. The picklist is often the tool of choice, because of its inherent elimination of typing errors. A well-constructed picklist makes selection easy for the consumer, who is not often pleased with a long scrolling process, or other cumbersome method, as the initial step in generating a commonly requested report.

Every enterprise level reporting system of which I am aware allows parameterization, most in various forms. The mechanics behind parameters differ between them, at least to some degree, but all provide the capability for prompting the consumer for filter information at runtime. The skill and forethought with which parameterization is built into a report is a critical matter, and deficiencies in this arena can ruin the user experience, no matter how capable the underlying system with which we are creating business intelligence applications.

Because it is important to always anticipate consumer desires, I maintain an "inventory" of successful approaches to meeting the "need for user friendliness." I come across such nuances frequently as a BI architect and consultant. In working with MSAS, I have found countless opportunities to "embed" support for such instrumentality at the MSAS level.

In this article, I will provide an option for the support of a picklist that we leverage within the parameters of the reporting environment. After constructing its foundation within the components of the cube, I will show the use of the picklist in Reporting Services, primarily because it is free and readily available to anyone with an MSSQL Server license. (A 120-day evaluation of both Reporting Services and MSSQL Server / Analysis Services can also be downloaded free by anyone with access to the Microsoft site, at the time of writing). It has also been my reporting tool of choice since I began beta-testing it last year. The concepts involved, however, extend to any enterprise reporting package designed to report from common OLAP data sources, and even some of the more proprietary ones, like Cognos, Business Objects, and others that provide "one-way" connectivity to MSAS cubes. It is especially applicable in the cases of tools like Crystal Analysis Pro, ProClarity and other advanced, yet relatively "open," OLAP reporting applications.

If you can successfully designate an MSAS cube as a data source, regardless of the reporting application you have, you can probably use the concepts we will be discussing here. In this article, we will:

  • Create calculated members to support a hierarchical pick list for the reporting environment;
  • Explain the MDX that we use to create the calculated members;
  • House the calculated members in a named set for easy re-use in the report authoring process;
  • Create a very basic report in Reporting Services with our MSAS cube as a data source;
  • Add a parameter to the report, based upon the structures we have created in the cube;
  • Generate the report with run-time parameter to verify its operation.

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