Using OLAP@Work in the Whole Office

Since Microsoft Corp. released SQL Server 7.0 last year, many companies have jumped at the opportunity to develop products that further leverage the relational database management system’s capabilities.

OLAP@Work Inc. (www.olapatwork.com) had provided users of Microsoft Excel with tools to leverage its OLAP client -- better known as Pivot tables. Now the company is branching out to cover all of Microsoft Office with its recently released OLAP@Work for Office. The new product works with both Office 97 and Office 2000 to enhance the capabilities of SQL Server 7.0, so that all of the applications in Office transform into OLAP clients.

Previously, a user would have only been able to use Excel Pivot Tables as an OLAP client. OLAP@Work for Office makes the entire suite of Office components, capable of OLAP reporting and analysis. "The new product extends beyond our Excel product by embedding OLAP reporting and analysis into applications that come with Office. You can now do OLAP reporting in any of those applications," says Robert Lendvai, vice president of marketing at OLAP@Work. With OLAP@Work for Office, you can use Microsoft Word, Digital Dashboards, PowerPoint, Excel, Internet Explorer, and Outlook as an OLAP client.

This ability to use any Office application gives users the freedom to move data between applications. "A person could start in a Web browser, open a report, and then with the click of a button move the data to a word document," Lendvai says.

Being able to do OLAP reporting in more applications gives OLAP@Work a broader spectrum of users, says Robert Moran, vice president of decision support research at Aberdeen Group Inc. (www.aberdeen.com). "Excel has always gotten the vote of confidence among business users as the interface of choice. What OLAP@Work continues to do is enrich the interface with analytics and extend the functionality without forcing users to learn an entirely new medium."

When using OLAP@Work for Office, reports are always connected to SQL server. This means the data in a report is always the most current, and any changes made to the document are seen immediately, Lendvai says. "Data moves freely, is always live, and always connected to the server." In addition, if a user is in an Office application and wanted to do a query, they could interact live with the OLAP server to answer a question right then, without leaving the application.

Retrieving live data while within any Office application is becoming increasingly important. "We just want the answer to be where are, while we're doing what we're doing, with the additional aspect of having analysis with us," Moran says. "OLAP@Work thinks, at least within the Microsoft universe, that analysis should be an extension of what we do."

The report repository in OLAP@Work for Office is an interesting feature. It allows enterprise report sharing so users can share reports across the organization. It also takes advantage SQL Server by giving users a centralized location to store reports. But instead of storing the whole report, the repository only holds report definitions.

Report definitions are XML data tags that explain what the dimensions and members of the report are. Each time a user retrieves a report, it is the most current version of the report from the OLAP Server. "The storage of reports is very tiny, and takes up little space on the network -- also, the report is always current, and never static," Lendvai says.

Since the reports are Web-based, users can access them from any browser, making changes from a remote location. Because the reports are connected to the live OLAP server, changes are effective immediately and can be viewed by anyone.

This product was designed to leverage the capabilities of SQL Server 7.0, but OLAP@Work has been part of the beta program to develop a version for SQL Server 2000, also known as Shiloh. "We have been working with Shiloh, and when it ships we will have a new version available that leverages all its new capabilities," Lendvai says. OLAP@Work for Office has not yet been Windows 2000 certified, but Lendvai says his company is in the process of doing so.

Many corporations already employ OLAP@Work for Excel, so the company is offering upgrades to OLAP@Work for Office for $199 per user. Purchasing a single user seat runs about $399, but the company ships it with the OLAP@Work for Excel plug-in, and offers multiuser discounts.