Introduction to MSSQL Server Analysis Services: Mastering Enterprise BI: Relative Time Periods in an Analysis Services Cube

About the Series …

This
article is a member of the series Introduction to MSSQL Server Analysis
Services
. The series is designed to provide hands-on application of
the fundamentals of MS SQL Server Analysis Services, with each
installment progressively adding features and techniques designed to meet
specific real – world needs. 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 article, Creating Our First Cube.

Note: Current Service Pack 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, in cases where MS Office components
are presented in the article.

Introduction

In
this article, we will examine the design and creation, within Analysis
services
, of relative time periods, a popular feature that can be
generated automatically or manually for reporting in the Cognos PowerPlay application,
within its cube design component, Cognos PowerPlay Transformer, as well
as other popular enterprise BI applications. A common request among scores of
e-mails and calls I receive, centering upon the replication, in Analysis
Services, of features found within popular enterprise BI applications, is for
assistance in setting up these time periods, examples of which include current "period,"
(meaning month, quarter, year, or other levels of the Time / Date
dimension), prior period, period to date, and others. In this article, we will
examine the creation such a time grouping in
Analysis Services, which we can later put to use in the reporting component of
the Microsoft integrated BI solution, Reporting Services, much as we
would report from a cube created in Cognos PowerPlay Transformer using Cognos
PowerPlay
as the reporting application.

In this, the first half of a two-part discussion surrounding relative
time periods
in an Analysis Services cube, we will overview the
capabilities found in Cognos PowerPlay Transformer and other enterprise
cube design applications, and then:

  • Discuss a
    simple approach to meeting the requirement for relative time periods;

  • Highlight the
    differences between our approach and the Cognos PowerPlay Transformer
    capabilities;

  • Perform a
    practice exercise, whereby we add relative time capabilities with this
    straightforward method;

  • Verify
    adequacy of our solution by demonstrating the use of the new capabilities from
    the perspective of the Cube Browser in Analysis Manager;

  • Look forward to
    a more sophisticated solution we will propose and build in Part II, to
    more closely replicate the functionality in Cognos PowerPlay Transformer
    and make the solution even more user friendly for reporting specialists and
    information consumers.

About the Mastering Enterprise
BI
Articles …

Having worked with Cognos PowerPlay, together with its
cube design component, Cognos PowerPlay Transformer, for over ten years (along
with numerous other enterprise BI applications), I have come to appreciate the
leadership roles Cognos has played in the evolution of OLAP and enterprise
reporting. As I have stated repeatedly, however, I became convinced, from their
earliest appearance, that the components of the Microsoft integrated BI
solution (including MSSQL Server, Analysis Services, and Reporting Services)
will commoditize business intelligence. It is therefore easy to see why a
natural area of specialization for me has become the conversion of Cognos
enterprise BI to the Microsoft solution.

Having
been impressed from my first exposure to each member of this exciting group of
integrated applications, my certainty in the destiny of the Microsoft BI
solution 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.

The
purpose of the Mastering Enterprise BI subset of my Introduction to
MSSQL Server Analysis Services
series is to focus on techniques for implementing features in
Analysis Services that parallel those found in the more "mature"
enterprise OLAP packages. In
many cases, which I try to outline in my articles at appropriate junctures, the
functionality of the OLAP solutions of well-established, but expensive,
packages, such as Cognos PowerPlay Transformer and Cognos PowerPlay,
can be met – often exceeded – in most respects by Analysis Services / Reporting
Services – at a tiny fraction of the cost. To this
end, I welcome input from readers who are performing comparisons between the
two vendors, or are perhaps undertaking or considering evaluations of Analysis
Services / Reporting Services against their Cognos counterparts. I look
forward to opportunities to show, in future articles, ways that the same
capabilities can be accomplished in the Microsoft solution.

The
vacuum of documentation comparing components of the Microsoft BI solution to their
counterparts among the dominant enterprise BI vendors, to date, represents a
serious "undersell" of both Analysis Services and Reporting Services,
particularly 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 ease of replicating popular enterprise BI features OLAP in
Analysis Services will be yet another reason that the Microsoft solution "commoditizes"
Business Intelligence.

William Pearson
William Pearson
Bill has been working with computers since before becoming a "big eight" CPA, after which he carried his growing information systems knowledge into management accounting, internal auditing, and various capacities of controllership. Bill entered the world of databases and financial systems when he became a consultant for CODA-Financials, a U.K. - based software company that hired only CPA's as application consultants to implement and maintain its integrated financial database - one of the most conceptually powerful, even in his current assessment, to have emerged. At CODA Bill deployed financial databases and business intelligence systems for many global clients. Working with SQL Server, Oracle, Sybase and Informix, and focusing on MSSQL Server, Bill created Island Technologies Inc. in 1997, and has developed a large and diverse customer base over the years since. Bill's background as a CPA, Internal Auditor and Management Accountant enable him to provide value to clients as a liaison between Accounting / Finance and Information Services. Moreover, as a Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP) - a Certified Public Accountant recognized for his or her unique ability to provide business insight by leveraging knowledge of information relationships and supporting technologies - Bill offers his clients the CPA's perspective and ability to understand the complicated business implications and risks associated with technology. From this perspective, he helps them to effectively manage information while ensuring the data's reliability, security, accessibility and relevance. Bill has implemented enterprise business intelligence systems over the years for many Fortune 500 companies, focusing his practice (since the advent of MSSQL Server 2000) upon the integrated Microsoft business intelligence solution. He leverages his years of experience with other enterprise OLAP and reporting applications (Cognos, Business Objects, Crystal, and others) in regular conversions of these once-dominant applications to the Microsoft BI stack. Bill believes it is easier to teach technical skills to people with non-technical training than vice-versa, and he constantly seeks ways to graft new technology into the Accounting and Finance arenas. Bill was awarded Microsoft SQL Server MVP in 2009. Hobbies include advanced literature studies and occasional lectures, with recent concentration upon the works of William Faulkner, Henry James, Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Honoré de Balzac, and Charles Dickens. Other long-time interests have included the exploration of generative music sourced from database architecture.

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