Mastering OLAP Reporting: Prototype KPIs in Reporting Services

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 tips and techniques for real-world use. For more information on
the series, 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, MicroStrategy, Hyperion, 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.

Note: To follow along with the steps we
undertake within the articles of this series, the following components, samples
and tools are recommended, and should be installed / accessible, according to
the respective documentation that accompanies MSSQL Server 2005:

Server Requirements

  • Microsoft SQL
    Server 2005 Reporting Services

  • Microsoft SQL
    Server 2005 Database Services

  • The
    AdventureWorks sample databases

  • Microsoft SQL
    Server 2005 Analysis Services

  • The
    AdventureWorks OLAP cube

Client Requirements

  • Microsoft
    Internet Explorer 6.0 with scripting enabled

  • Business
    Intelligence Development Studio (optional)

Sample Files

For purposes of the
practice exercises within this series, we will be working with samples that are
provided with MSSQL Server 2005. The samples with which we are
concerned include, predominantly, the Adventure Works DW database. This
database and companion samples are not installed by default in MSSQL Server
2005
. The samples can be installed during Setup, or at any time
after MSSQL Server has been installed.

The topics "Running
Setup to Install AdventureWorks Sample Databases and Samples
" in SQL
Server Setup Help
or "Installing AdventureWorks Sample Databases and
Samples
" in
the Books Online (both of which are included on the installation CD(s), and
are available from www.Microsoft.com and other sources, as well),
provide guidance on samples installation. Important information regarding the
rights / privileges required to accomplish samples installation, as well as to
access the samples once installed, is included in these references.

Note: Current Service Pack updates are assumed for the operating system, along
with the applications and components listed above and the related Books
Online
and Samples. Images are from a Windows 2003
Server
environment, but the steps performed in the articles, together with
the views that result, will be quite similar within any environment that
supports MSSQL Server 2005 and its component applications.

About the Mastering OLAP Reporting
Articles …

One of
the first things that become clear to "early adopters" of Reporting
Services
is that the "knowledgebase" for OLAP reporting with this
tool is, to say the least, sparse. 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 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

In Mastering
OLAP Reporting: Reporting with Analysis Services KPIs
, a member of my Database Journal MSSQL Server Reporting Services series, we introduced an exciting new feature
within MSSQL Server 2005
Analysis Services
("Analysis
Services
"), Key
Performance Indicators ("KPIs")
. In that article, we focused upon using Analysis
Services KPI
structures within Reporting Services. Our practice
exercises centered upon preparing a scenario within which we used KPIs
that existed in an Analysis Services cube, presenting them within a
report we created within Reporting Services.

NOTE:
For detailed information about Analysis Services 2005 KPIs (from an Analysis
Services, versus Reporting Services, perspective), see my
introductory article Mastering
Enterprise BI: Introduction to Key Performance Indicators
, a
part of the Introduction to MSSQL Server Analysis Services series at Database Journal.

In response to the article, I received several e-mails that,
in varied ways and with diverse objectives, touched upon a common thread: the
need to generate KPIs at the presentation layer without creating KPI structures
within Analysis Services. The reasons ranged from a need to generate KPIs
from relational data sources to the requirement for presenting KPIs
based upon an Analysis Services 2000 cube, where KPI
capabilities, per se, do not exist. Moreover, I come across the need to
prototype KPIs on a regular basis for prospective clients, as well as
for clients who have yet to implement them (as an organization in general, or
for various organizational units that do not currently make use of KPIs).
At times, client representatives wish to develop the concepts behind
prospective KPIs on the fly – when they may not have the capability to
make ad hoc modifications within a cube that is currently in place – with the
intent of backfilling the structures in Analysis Services once the
concepts are tested and perfected.

Other reasons exist for a desire to create "quick and
dirty" KPIs at the presentation layer, and so I suspect that an
introduction to an easy approach for creating them within Reporting Services
might be useful. The concepts behind the steps we take to do so in this
article can be extrapolated to many similar strategies. While the best place
for KPI support is likely to ultimately be the Analysis Services
layer (or perhaps the relational database layer) of the integrated BI solution,
the highly flexible Reporting Services environment lends itself to
prototyping in this regard, as we shall see.

As
always, performance optimization and other (often competing) factors need to be
weighed in deciding "where to put the intelligence," and, for this
reason, a "reporting specialist," an "Analysis Services expert,"
an "MSSQL DBA," or other "single-layer practitioner," no
matter how experienced, might not serve as the best architect for an overall BI
solution. For more of my observations on this
subject, see Multi-Layered
Business Intelligence Solutions … Require Multi-Layered Architects
.

In this article, we will focus upon the generation of "prototype"
KPIs, housed solely within Reporting Services, to meet the
business requirements of a hypothetical client. As a part of our examination of the steps involved in
prototyping KPIs within Reporting Services, we will:

  • Create a new Analysis
    Services Project
    within a Business Intelligence Development Studio solution,
    so as to make our entire solution freestanding (perhaps to ease further
    independent exploration);

  • Ascertain Connectivity
    of the Relational Data Source within the Analysis Services Project;

  • Deploy the Analysis
    Services
    Project;

  • Add a new Reporting
    Services Project
    to the solution;

  • Add an Analysis
    Services Shared Data Source
    ;

  • Create a new,
    basic OLAP Report to work with a sample cube;

  • Add measures
    and associated KPIs to the report;

  • Verify the
    correct operation of our prototype KPIs within the report;

  • Discuss, at
    appropriate junctures, the results obtained within the development techniques
    that we exploit throughout our practice session.

Prototyping KPIs in Reporting Services

Objective
and Business Scenario

As I
discuss in Mastering Enterprise BI: Introduction to Key
Performance Indicators
and in Mastering OLAP Reporting:
Reporting with Analysis Services KPIs
, a Key Performance Indicator ("KPI") is a
performance measure that specifies an emphasis intended to produce a
desired result. As quantifiable measurements that gauge business success, KPIs
can be diverse in nature, but they typically represent values, statuses,
trends, or goals. KPIs often combine two or more of these into a single
indicator. Because their purpose is to present high level, summary information
to executives or other managers of the enterprise, who then use the information
to steer an integrated organization, we typically limit the number of these
vital measures to only a few.

KPIs are usually graphic in nature, and are collected into a
dashboard, scorecard, or other central point of reference, where they can be
easily accessed by the management team, to obtain a quick and accurate summary
of business success, or of progress toward success. KPIs make it
possible for management to make decisions and take action. Based upon the
information the indicators convey, managers can pull the processes and activities
that the KPIs represent into alignment with strategic goals and
objectives. KPIs can range from simple to complex, and they are often
evaluated over time. These indicators can be used alone or in combination to
support rapid management decisions and actions, and to provide an indication of
progress toward the accomplishment of intended strategic outcomes.

Our focus in this article is the generation of ad hoc KPIs
in Reporting Services. While we would ultimately design and implement KPI
support in Analysis Services (or even elsewhere), we will do so within Reporting
Services
within this session to illustrate an approach to prototyping KPIs
in a scenario that supports a hypothetical client need. The concepts we apply
will work equally well within an environment whose data source is Analysis
Services 2000
or Analysis Services 2005, in combination with Reporting
Services 2000
or Reporting Services 2005. The basic ideas can even
be extrapolated to relational data sources, the use of MS Excel as a presentation
medium, and elsewhere, with only a minimal amount of imagination.

Let’s say that representatives of the Controller’s Group
of our client, the Adventure Works organization, have asked us to
consult with them to meet a new reporting requirement. Management, having
become excited by the sheer volume of information in the recent media about KPIs,
has asked that the Controller’s Group investigate the use of KPIs in
general, and that they present a working prototype, based upon existing OLAP
data, to show that they can support the Controller with KPIs. We ask
the group members for the details, and note the requirements.

Members
of the Controller’s Group explain that they wish to be able to present two
basic KPIs for Fiscal Year 2004. They would like to generate,
based upon existing data, a Gross Profit Margin KPI and a Growth
in Customer Base KPI
for each respective Territory Sales Country. Instead
of presenting any of the common images for the indicators (which include
everything from Smiley faces in various stages of apparent happiness, to
meters, gauges and so forth with "readings" ranging from "low"
– or "bad" – to "high," "good," etc.), the
requirement for the Controller is simple. Based upon his highly traditional
background, the Controller wishes simply to see a small square, containing one
of three colors, for each KPI for each country.

For
the Gross Profit Margin KPI, the specification is for a Gross Profit
Margin
of less than 41 percent to be represented by a red indicator;
for a Gross Profit Margin equal to, or greater than, 42 percent to
be represented by a green indicator; and for a Gross Profit Margin between
the lower and upper thresholds (equal to, or greater than, 41 percent,
but less than 42 percent) to be represented by a yellow indicator.

The Growth
in Customer Base KPI
works in a similar fashion, only with the growth
factor the supporting measure. The specification is for a Growth in
Customer Base
value of less than 4 to be represented by a red
indicator; for a Growth in Customer Base value equal to, or greater
than, 5 to be represented by a green indicator; and for a Growth in
Customer Base
value between the lower and upper thresholds (equal
to, or greater than, 4, but less than 5) to be represented by a
yellow indicator.

Detailed discussion with the client representatives
reveals that, although we can access a cube (as a report data source) that
contains the data to support the KPIs requested, we cannot modify
the existing cube, which is used for critical reporting support, in any way. We
realize that this means no KPI support at the cube level (via KPI
structures, calculated members, etc. in Analysis Services), and that the
entire prototype solution must be based within Reporting Services.
Because we have found the flexible Reporting Services environment to be
ideal for such efforts in similar situations in the past, we agree to prototype
the two proposed KPIs, once we have ascertained the existence, in the
cube, of the data we need to serve as the bases for our KPI calculations.
Moreover, we agree that, once we have successfully prototyped the required KPIs,
we will offer advice to the team about a more optimal approach for their
creation and maintenance, within Analysis Services.

Hands-On Procedure

We will begin by
creating a new Report Server Project, within the SQL Server Business
Intelligence Development Studio
, wherein we will establish a Data Source
pointed to a database sample provided with MSSQL Server 2005. This way,
anyone with access to the installed application set and its samples can
complete the steps in the practice session.

NOTE: For more exposure to the MSSQL Server Business
Intelligence Development Studio
itself, and the myriad design, development
and other evolutions we can perform within this powerful interface, see other articles
in this series, as well as in another of my Database Journal series, Introduction to MSSQL Server Analysis Services.
In this article, we will be commenting only on the Studio features
relevant to our immediate practice exercise, to allow us to get to the focus of
our session more efficiently.

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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