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

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.
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.

Latest Articles