About the Series …
article is a member of the series MSSQL Server Reporting Services. The series is designed to
introduce MSSQL Server Reporting Services (“Reporting Services”),
presenting an overview of its features, with tips and techniques for real-world
use. For more information on the series in general, please see my initial Database Journal article, A New Paradigm for Enterprise Reporting. For the software components, samples and tools
needed to complete the hands-on portion of this article, see BlackBelt Administration: Linked
Reports in Report Manager, another article within this series.
the Intelligence: Conditional Formatting in the Analysis Services Layer (a recent member of my Database
Journal Introduction to MSSQL
Server Analysis Services series), we introduced conditional formatting in
the Analysis Services layer of the integrated Microsoft business
intelligence solution. We noted, there as well as elsewhere throughout my
series’, that an important consideration, when designing a business intelligence
system within any environment, is “where to put the intelligence” among the various
“layers” within the system. I have stated many times in the past, in both
articles and presentations, that “multi-layered reporting solutions require
multi-layered architects.” Nowhere is this more apropos than within the design
and implementation of the integrated Microsoft business intelligence
solution. A “typical” implementation for me includes the following:
Server: An RDBMS
layer, consisting usually of both relational / OLTP data sources and
warehouse(s) / mart(s);
The OLAP layer, at the heart of which resides one or more OLAP cubes;
The Reporting layer, within which both relational and OLAP reports are
authored, managed and delivered.
my articles give examples of layering considerations among the above,
just a few of which include:
functions and calculations at the MSSQL Server (or any other enterprise-level
RDBMS) Database layer (be it relational, star-schema, or other), which
are leveraged in the cubes or reporting system;
structures within the Analysis Services OLAP layer to provide picklist,
conditional formatting and other support to the Reporting layer of the
virtually anything we need in the way of calculated fields, parameterization
support, conditional formatting, and more at the Reporting layer.
This can be seductively easy within the flexible vacuum of the Reporting
Services design environment, but can often be the worst place to house the
associated structures from an optimization perspective.
of whether the enterprise implements the entire solution using in-house talent
or seeks skill / other resource augmentation from consultants, it is critical
to seek a multi-dimensional perspective in the planning and
design stages of the implementation, at a minimum. Much of the time,
money and aggravation that are the natural issue of a haphazard approach is
unwarranted, and can haunt the enterprise for a long time. Relying upon
application specialized “gurus” (or, even worse, the placement organizations
that purport to “pre-qualify” such specialists) to meet business requirements,
with an architecture that will scale with the organization, can be a career-limiting
general summary of my opinions surrounding the importance of thinking
"multi-dimensionally" within the design and implementation of a
business intelligence system, see Multi-Layered
Business Intelligence Solutions … Require Multi-Layered Architects.
Leverage Conditional Formatting Logic from the Analysis Services Layer
The reporting / presentation layer
of the integrated Microsoft business intelligence solution is often the only
point of interaction for organizational information consumers. It is here that
we often find it desirable to manifest the effects of conditional formatting.
Conditional formatting typically includes the modification of the visual
appearances of report items, such as size, fonts, color or background color to
draw attention to a given condition (such as the assignment of a red background
color to any value representing an inordinately high expense total for a
division), to generally class / group values based upon conditions (for
example, the operating income of all units meeting their expressed goals is
presented in green numerals, with the values for those falling short of the
mark exhibiting red numerals), and so forth. Conditional formatting can serve
many purposes, ranging from simple “highlighting” of conditions of this sort to
more sophisticated functions that go well beyond mere color changes.
Because a reporting tool like MSSQL
Server Reporting Services (“Reporting Services”) makes conditional
formatting easy to put into place, and because it is within the deployed
reports that the resulting data presentations are manifest, we often assume
that conditional formatting is naturally handled within the Reporting layer.
Complications arise, however, when we have multiple values to which such
formatting is applied, or when our conditional formatting expressions become complex
and resource intensive. Say the expression performs a somewhat lengthy
comparison process between the value under consideration and multiple possible
values, for classifying the resulting value within a bucket, to each of which
we assign a specific formatting attribute. It is easy to see how report
processing time can be adversely affected when the conditional testing and
resulting formatting are applied to, say, every measure in a given column (or
even multiple columns) of the report.
Analysis Services allows us to apply conditional
formatting at the cube level, where the values can be calculated and stored as
a part of structure of the cube, in some respects. This not only might mean
far more efficient report processing (where, for example, the expression in the
report that dictates the conditional formatting is substituted by an expression
does a straightforward “pull” of the result(s) of the conditional test from the
cube (say, a color description), where it has already been determined, versus
performing the logic in the report itself at runtime, and then assigning the
desired attribute for each report value individually. In addition to the often
obvious performance enhancement that results, the logic can be stored (and
consistently maintained and enforced), from a single location within the
integrated solution, instead of hardcoded into every report for which the same
conditional formatting logic is applicable.
In Positing the Intelligence: Conditional Formatting in the Analysis
we examined the placement of conditional formatting logic within the cell
properties of a calculated measure. As examples, we illustrated the use of
the MDX CASE() and IIF() functions in setting the cell
properties listed in Table 1.
Possible Use in Reporting Layer
Color Expression: Fore Color
Specify / dynamically
Color Expression: Back
Specify / dynamically
Font Expression: Font
Specify / dynamically
Table 1: Sample Cell Properties and
Possible Uses …
NOTE: For detailed information about the MDX CASE() and
IIF() functions, see related articles within my Database Journal MDX Essentials series.
The cell properties to
which we refer above are ignored within client applications that do not support
them. Support for cell properties is not among the multiple (largely
performance related) benefits provided by Reporting Services’ algorithm
for generating a flattened rowset (as defined in the ODBO specification).
While these properties may be accessed in other ways, we will examine an option
for achieving this objective in a very “out-of-the-box” manner that is both
intuitive and easily maintained. A primary advantage gained by embedding
conditional formatting logic within the Analysis Services layer is still
provided: the support of dynamic attribute presentation within the reporting
layer is stored in, and consistently applied from, a central, easily accessible
In this article, therefore, we
will focus upon such an approach, which we will then leverage in Reporting
Services. We will begin with a scenario similar to the one we used in Positing the Intelligence: Conditional Formatting in the
Analysis Services Layer, from which we will obtain an identical
end result within Reporting Services, albeit through a different
mechanism within the Analysis Services layer.
Adding Conditional Formatting Support within the Cube
We will again consider an example
of a need for conditional formatting that we might, at least initially,
consider putting in a report: let’s say that a client needs a couple of things
to happen based upon the value of a calculated measure within the Adventure
Works cube. Not only does the client want the color of the value text
(referred to as the “Fore Color” property for the calculated member in Analysis
Services) to vary, based upon the magnitude of the value, but the
representatives with which we are working tell us that it is also desirable for
the background color of the cell containing the value (referred to as
the “Back Color” property for the calculated member in Analysis
Services) to also vary, depending upon the value of the resident measure.
To be specific, the client wants
to enhance an existing report, which deals with measures based upon the reasons
driving Internet Sales, the Sales Reason Comparison report (one
of the samples that accompany the installation of MSSQL Server 2005
Reporting Services). First, the client wishes to add Internet Gross
Profit Margin (a calculated member currently existing in the cube) to the
existing measures contained in the report, Internet Orders, Internet
Sales Amount, Internet Total Product Cost (a calculated field in the
report). Moreover, and the focus of our discussion in this article, the client
representatives make known a requirement for conditional formatting of the
proposed addition, Internet Gross Profit Margin.
Our client colleagues tell us that
the information consumers have expressed a need to see conditional
formatting of the Internet Gross Profit Margin to alert them, at a
glance, to the margins (related to the expressed reasons that customers made
purchases) that fall above and below certain thresholds, so as to isolate these
occurrences for more in-depth exploration (as to the root causes, etc.).
Specifically, they would like to see any margin falling below forty percent
(40%) to be displayed in an attention-grabbing red font, coupled
with a yellow background color for the cell housing the margin
(producing a “highlighter” effect to further draw attention to the
underperforming margin). Moreover, the margins within the ranges of forty –
to – forty-two percent (40.0% – 42.0%), inclusive, are to remain in
the standard black text, with the white background that currently
exists in the report. Finally, the group tells us that any Internet Gross
Profit Margin exceeding forty-two percent (42 %) needs to be
presented with a green font, with an accompanying light green
background, to once again emphasize its “outlier” nature to information
consumers. As a finishing touch, our client colleagues tell us that they would
prefer a bold font to accompany the green text assigned to the Internet
Gross Profit Margin exceeding forty-two percent (42 %), so as
to highlight even more the respective superior performance.
We discuss the requirements with
the client representatives, mentioning that, while the conditional formatting
can certainly be managed within various property settings of the report, we
will demonstrate the generation of the desired physical attributes from the Analysis
Services layer. Positing the intelligence within the cube will, we assert,
mean that the same logic can be carried forward to multiple reports by simply
referencing the calculations in the data source, versus performing the
calculations for every affected measure in the report (and adding to processing
time, etc.). Moreover, we emphasize that maintaining the logic in a single location
in the Analysis Services layer means a single point of maintenance: we
can modify the logic in one place and rely upon the changes to “ripple through”
to all reports that reference that logic, versus having to mechanically modify
each individual report. This also ensures consistency of application of the
logic to all affected reports, as none will be overlooked (or different logic
accidentally applied to different reports) when a change of this nature becomes
Conditional Formatting in
We begin our efforts by opening
the cube within a project in the Business Intelligence Development Studio.
I like to set up a lab environment for each of my client projects where I have
both the respective cubes and reports involved with the engagement within an
integrated solution in Visual Studio, both for ease in testing cube
modifications through to the report layer from a single, central location, as
well as for taking advantage of effective source control and numerous other
conveniences and advantages. For example, in this particular case, I have both
a copy of the sample Adventure Works DW and the AdventureWorks Sample
Reports projects added into a single solution within the Business
Intelligence Development Studio, where I can access all member objects from
one point, the Solution Explorer.
Open the Adventure
Works cube from within the Solution Explorer.
Once the Cube
Designer opens, select the Calculations tab.
we will create an independent calculated member for each of the three
attributes (Fore Color, Back Color and Font Flag, to which
we refer in Table 1 above) for which we set cell properties used in Positing the Intelligence: Conditional Formatting in the Analysis
Services Layer. As is quite
often the case in meeting business requirements via the tools and features of Analysis
Services in general, there are multiple ways to achieve our ends. In situations
like the present scenario, I have created derived measures, as well as taken
other approaches, to achieve what we will accomplish with calculated
measures in this session. (I sometimes use the terms “calculated member”
and “calculated measure” interchangeably; in the present session, we
will be working with calculated members that we add to the Measures
dimension, hence I’ll refer to them as “calculated measures” in most
cases.) The needs of the local environment should, of course, dictate the
criteria by which solutions are selected for production systems; we are only
examining one simple approach in this article.
started by adding the conditional formatting for Fore Color to
our cube, via a calculated measure.
clicking) Internet Gross Profit Margin within the Script Organizer
pane in the upper left corner of the Calculations tab, simply to place
Click the New
Calculated Member button in the toolbar just above the Script Organizer
entry is added to the Script Organizer pane, underneath the row labeled Internet
Gross Profit Margin (we can, of course, move entries up or down via the
buttons / context menu items provided).
following into the Name box within the Form View that has
appeared for the new calculated member:
[Internet GPM Fore_Color]
NOTE: Be sure to enclose the name within the brackets as shown,
anytime there are spaces within the string.
Expand the Expression
section of the form, if necessary, and then type the following MDX expression
into the box:
WHEN [Measures].[Internet Gross Profit Margin]< .40
WHEN [Measures].[Internet Gross Profit Margin]> .42
All we are
doing here is generating a color description that will be acceptable to Reporting
Services (as are the appropriate color codes). We are using the MDX CASE()
function to drive conditional formatting. (Another option might have been to
do so with the (appropriately nested) IIF() function, of course; we will
see an example of IIF() at work in the last of the three calculated
measures we create in our practice session.)
Expand the Additional
Properties section, if necessary, and leaving all other settings at
default, select Internet Sales Amount within the Non-empty behavior selector.
Click OK to close the selection dialog, once completed.
for the new Internet GPM Fore_Color calculated measure appears, with our
input, as depicted in Illustration
1: Our Input for the New Calculated Measure …
will add the logic to support the conditional formatting requirements
for Back Color and Font Flags that we have mentioned.
In a manner
similar to that performed above, add two additional calculated measures, with
the Name, Expression and Non-empty behavior settings
specified in Table 2.
[Internet GPM Back_Color]
WHEN [Measures].[Internet Gross Profit
WHEN [Measures].[Internet Gross Profit
Internet Sales Amount
[Internet GPM Font_Flags]
IIF([Measures].[Internet Gross Profit
"Bold", "Normal" )
Internet Sales Amount
Table 2: Settings for Two Additional
calculated measures appear, within the Script Organizer, as shown
in Illustration 2.
2: The New Calculated Measures within the Script Organizer …
point of input, we can check the syntax we have accumulated within the Calculations
tab via the Check Syntax button in the Calculations toolbar. The
next step will be to deploy the project, which we will do in preparation for
using our new conditional logic support structures within Reporting Services.
Deploy the Analysis
Services project within the local environment.
deployment is complete, close the Deployment Progress viewer.