Business Intelligence

OLAP: A Deep Dive into Online Analytical Processing

January 9, 2024

In the ever-evolving landscape of business intelligence, the acronym OLAP (Online Analytical Processing) stands tall as a pivotal player in data analysis and reporting. As the demand for sophisticated data-driven decision-making tools grows, businesses are increasingly turning to OLAP to unlock the potential of their data. In this comprehensive exploration, we delve into the intricacies of OLAP, its role in data warehouse architecture, and its relevance for businesses seeking to empower their higher management, chief people officers, managing directors, and country managers with actionable insights.

Key Characteristics of OLAP

Online Analytical Processing, commonly known as OLAP, is a powerful technology enabling users to analyze multidimensional data interactively. Unlike its counterpart, OLTP (Online Transaction Processing), which focuses on transactional processing, OLAP is designed for complex queries and reporting. OLAP systems organize data into multidimensional structures, facilitating efficient and dynamic analysis.

  • Multidimensionality: OLAP systems organize data into dimensions and hierarchies, providing a multi-dimensional view for analysis. This allows users to navigate through data in various ways, gaining deeper insights.
  • Aggregation: OLAP supports aggregation, enabling users to roll up or drill down into data at different levels of granularity. This flexibility is crucial for executives requiring high-level overviews and detailed insights.
  • Interactivity: OLAP tools offer interactive analysis capabilities, allowing users to manipulate data in real-time. This feature particularly benefits decision-makers who must explore different scenarios and make informed choices quickly.

OLAP Models

Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) models form the backbone of interactive and multidimensional data analysis. In this section, we delve into the various OLAP models, each offering unique characteristics to cater to the diverse needs of businesses.

MOLAP (Multidimensional OLAP)

MOLAP systems organize data into multidimensional cubes, providing a structured and efficient approach to analysis. This model offers rapid query performance and is particularly suitable for scenarios where responsiveness is crucial.

Key Features
  • Cube Structure: Data is stored in a cube format, facilitating easy navigation.
  • High Performance: MOLAP systems are optimized for fast query retrieval.
  • Examples: Microsoft Analysis Services, IBM Cognos TM1.

ROLAP (Relational OLAP)

ROLAP systems store data in relational databases, offering greater scalability and flexibility. This model is well-suited for businesses dealing with large datasets and complex relationships.

Key Features
  • Relational Storage: Data is stored in relational databases, ensuring flexibility.
  • Scalability: ROLAP systems can handle vast amounts of data effectively.
  • Examples: Oracle OLAP, SAP BW.


HOLAP combines elements of both MOLAP and ROLAP, striking a balance between performance and scalability. This model integrates the advantages of multidimensional storage and relational databases.

Key Features
  • Hybrid Approach: HOLAP systems leverage both cube and relational storage methods.
  • Optimal Performance: Balances performance considerations for diverse analytical needs.
  • Examples: Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services.

Understanding the nuances of each OLAP model is crucial for businesses seeking to align their data analysis capabilities with specific requirements and objectives. Whether prioritizing speed, scalability, or a hybrid approach, selecting the right OLAP model is integral to unlocking the full potential of multidimensional data analysis.

OLAP in Data Warehouse Architecture

In the dynamic landscape of business intelligence, a robust data warehouse OLAP architecture is the backbone that supports informed decision-making. OLAP (Online Analytical Processing) is at the heart of this architecture, a powerful tool designed to transform raw data into actionable insights. 

The Data Warehouse Foundation

As of 2021, the global online analytical processing market was valued at approximately $3.8 billion, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of around 8%. Before delving into OLAP, it’s essential to understand the fundamentals of a data warehouse. A data warehouse is a centralized repository consolidating data from disparate sources within an organization. This consolidation creates a unified and structured dataset, forming the bedrock for meaningful analysis. Key features of a data warehouse include:

  • Centralized Storage: Data warehouses provide a single, centralized location for storing data. This eliminates data silos, ensuring that all relevant information is accessible from a unified source. This centralized storage is crucial for streamlined analysis for businesses with diverse datasets.
  • Historical Data: Unlike traditional databases focusing on current data, data warehouses store historical data over time. This historical perspective allows businesses to analyze trends, track performance, and make informed decisions based on a comprehensive understanding of their data.

Enhancing Analytical Capabilities

A TDWI survey indicated that over 60% of surveyed companies have implemented OLAP in their data warehousing strategy. Once the data warehouse foundation is established, OLAP steps in to unlock the full potential of the stored data. Online analytical processing is the analytical engine facilitating interactive and dynamic data analysis. Let’s explore how OLAP seamlessly integrates into data warehouse architecture.

  • Cube Creation: OLAP organizes data into multidimensional structures known as cubes. These cubes represent a comprehensive data view, incorporating multiple dimensions and hierarchies. The cube creation process involves mapping relevant dimensions to the data, allowing for more nuanced and sophisticated analysis.
  • Integration with ETL Processes: The Extract, Transform, Load (ETL) process is fundamental in populating and updating a data warehouse. OLAP seamlessly integrates into these ETL processes, ensuring that the data within the warehouse is current and ready for analysis. This integration establishes a dynamic relationship between OLAP and the data warehouse, allowing real-time insights.

OLAP Models in Data Warehouse Architecture

Studies by Forrester Research highlight that organizations leveraging OLAP in their data warehousing architecture experience, on average, a 15% improvement in decision-making processes and a 20% reduction in time spent on data analysis. OLAP comes in various models, each with its strengths and use cases. Understanding these models is crucial for optimizing analytical processes within the data warehouse.

  • MOLAP (Multidimensional OLAP): MOLAP systems store data in a multidimensional cube format. This storage structure is highly efficient for quick query performance, making it ideal for scenarios where rapid analysis is paramount.
  • ROLAP (Relational OLAP): ROLAP systems store data in relational databases. This model offers greater scalability and flexibility, making it suitable for large-scale data warehousing scenarios.
  • HOLAP (Hybrid OLAP): HOLAP combines elements of both MOLAP and ROLAP, offering a balanced approach that prioritizes performance and scalability. This model benefits organizations seeking a middle ground between speed and adaptability.

OLAP Analysis Techniques

Among businesses implementing OLAP, the distribution between MOLAP, ROLAP, and HOLAP models is approximately 40%, 35%, and 25% respectively. OLAP’s true strength lies in enabling users to analyze multidimensional data interactively. Several analysis techniques empower users to derive meaningful insights:

  • Slice and Dice: OLAP allows users to “slice” the data by selecting a specific dimension and “dice” it by choosing subsets. This technique provides a granular data view, allowing detailed analysis based on specific parameters.
  • Pivot: The pivot function enables users to rotate the axes of the cube, providing different perspectives of the data. This dynamic feature is valuable for decision-makers who need diverse angles for strategic decision-making.

OLAP Reporting

About 70% of large enterprises were integrating OLAP capabilities with big data analytics solutions to handle the increasing volumes of data. OLAP goes beyond analysis by facilitating the creation of comprehensive OLAP reports. Reporting features are crucial for delivering actionable insights to stakeholders across the organization.

  • Customized Dashboards: OLAP tools enable the creation of customized dashboards that present key performance indicators (KPIs) in a visually appealing and easily understandable format. These dashboards provide a consolidated view of critical metrics, supporting faster decision-making.
  • Ad-hoc Reporting: The flexibility of online analytical processing allows users to generate ad-hoc reports on the fly. This capability is invaluable for scenarios where immediate insights are required, empowering decision-makers with the information they need without delay.

OLAP Data Modeling

The migration to cloud-based data warehousing solutions is on the rise, with over 50% of enterprises planning or already moving their data warehousing infrastructure to the cloud. Data modeling is crucial to leveraging OLAP effectively within the data warehouse architecture. Dimensional modeling, in particular, is pivotal in optimizing OLAP analysis.

  • Star Schema: One prevalent dimensional modeling technique is the star schema. In this model, a central fact table is surrounded by dimension tables. This schema simplifies querying and enhances performance by creating a structure that facilitates efficient data retrieval.
  • Snowflake Schema: A snowflake schema, where dimension tables are normalized, is sometimes employed. While this approach ensures data integrity, it may require more complex queries than the star schema.

OLAP and Big Data

A case study conducted by IBM reported that organizations implementing OLAP solutions experienced, on average, a 20% improvement in return on investment (ROI) within the first year. As organizations grapple with the influx of big data, OLAP systems must adapt to handle vast datasets. The intersection of OLAP and big data opens new possibilities for scalable and high-performance analytics.

  • Scalability: Scalable OLAP solutions accommodate the growing data demands faced by enterprises dealing with massive datasets. This scalability ensures that OLAP remains a reliable tool for businesses seeking to harness the potential of big data.
  • Integration with Advanced Analytics: The integration of OLAP with advanced analytics tools enhances its capability to derive actionable insights from vast datasets. This synergy positions OLAP as a strategic asset for businesses looking to stay ahead in a competitive landscape.

OLAP Data Modeling

At its core, OLAP data modeling is about organizing data to facilitate intuitive and efficient analysis. Unlike traditional relational databases optimized for transactional processing (OLTP), OLAP data modeling focuses on providing a multidimensional view of the data, allowing users to navigate through various dimensions for a comprehensive understanding.

  • Centralized Metrics: Facts in OLAP data models represent the numerical data or metrics that businesses want to analyze. These could include sales figures, revenue, quantities sold, or any other measurable KPIs central to the organization.
  • Organized Structures: Hierarchies define the relationships within dimensions. For example, a time dimension hierarchy could include levels like year, quarter, month, and day. Hierarchies enhance the ability to drill down or roll up through different levels of granularity.
  • Quantifiable Attributes: Measures are additional quantitative attributes associated with dimensions. They provide further granularity to the analysis. For instance, within the “product” dimension, measures could include a unit price or discount percentage.
  • Centralized Fact Table: The star schema is one of the most widely used OLAP data modeling techniques. In this model, a central fact table is surrounded by dimension tables, forming a star-like structure. This simplifies queries and enhances performance by reducing the number of joins needed.
  • Snowflake Schema: Alternatively, the snowflake schema extends the star schema by normalizing dimension tables. While this maintains data integrity, it can result in more complex queries due to the need for additional joins.
  • Collaborative Approach: Work closely with stakeholders, including higher management, to understand the metrics and dimensions critical for decision-making. This collaboration ensures the OLAP data model is tailored to meet organizational needs.
  • Focus on Relevance: Identify the KPIs that align with organizational goals. This step is crucial for managing directors and executives who require high-level strategic insights.

Future Trends in OLAP

As businesses strive to stay ahead in the competitive realm of business intelligence, several future trends are poised to shape the trajectory of online analytical processing. Let’s explore some of the key trends that are likely to redefine OLAP in the coming years:

  • Prescriptive Analytics: Going beyond predicting future trends, OLAP systems may evolve to offer prescriptive analytics. By recommending optimal courses of action based on historical data and machine learning algorithms, OLAP can empower decision-makers with actionable insights, guiding them toward the most favorable outcomes.
  • Conversational Analytics: Future OLAP systems may incorporate advanced natural language processing (NLP) capabilities, enabling users to interact with data using plain language. This user-friendly approach makes data analysis more accessible to a broader audience, including those without a deep technical background. This trend is particularly beneficial for chief people officers and managing directors who may not have a technical background but need to derive insights from data.
  • Voice-Activated Analytics: As voice-activated technologies become more prevalent, OLAP systems could integrate voice commands for data analysis. This would allow users to verbally request specific insights, enhancing the ease of interaction with data. This trend aligns with the growing importance of user experience in BI tools.
  • Increased Scalability: Cloud-based OLAP solutions offer businesses increased scalability to adapt to changing data volumes and computational demands. This flexibility is crucial for managing directors overseeing expanding operations, as it allows them to scale their infrastructure as needed without the constraints of physical hardware.
  • Cost-Efficiency: Cloud-based OLAP solutions often provide a cost-efficient alternative to on-premises implementations. The pay-as-you-go model eliminates the need for extensive upfront investments in hardware and infrastructure. This cost efficiency appeals to businesses looking to optimize their BI solutions while maintaining high performance.
  • Immersive Analytics: Future OLAP systems may embrace immersive analytics, incorporating virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) elements for data visualization. This trend enhances the user experience, allowing decision-makers to explore data in a more interactive and three-dimensional space. This can be particularly beneficial for managing directors seeking a holistic view of complex business scenarios.
  • Storytelling with Data: OLAP tools may evolve to facilitate better storytelling with data. Instead of presenting raw numbers, future systems could assist users in creating compelling narratives around the data, making it easier for higher management to communicate insights and strategies effectively.
  • Real-Time Decision-Making: With the rise of edge computing, OLAP systems may integrate with edge devices to enable real-time decision-making at the network’s edge. This is particularly relevant for businesses with distributed operations, allowing them to analyze and act on data locally, reducing latency and improving responsiveness.
  • Enhanced Data Security: Blockchain technology may find its way into OLAP systems to enhance data integrity and security. By providing a decentralized and tamper-proof ledger, blockchain can ensure the integrity of the data stored and analyzed by OLAP systems. This is crucial for businesses prioritizing data security and transparency, especially when dealing with sensitive information.

How can Brickclay Help?

Brickclay, as a leading provider of business intelligence services, is well-positioned to assist organizations in leveraging the power of OLAP for their data analysis and decision-making needs. Here’s how Brickclay can specifically help businesses, addressing the requirements of higher management, chief people officers, managing directors, and country managers:

  • Customized OLAP Solutions: Brickclay specializes in tailoring OLAP solutions to meet the unique needs of businesses. Whether implementing MOLAP, ROLAP, or HOLAP models, the company ensures that the chosen OLAP system aligns seamlessly with the organization’s data structure and analytical requirements.
  • Data Warehousing Expertise: With a deep understanding of data warehousing, Brickclay can assist in designing and implementing robust data warehouse architectures. This includes centralizing data from various sources, establishing efficient ETL processes, and ensuring data integrity – all essential components for effective OLAP analysis.
  • Persona-Centric OLAP Implementation: Brickclay adopts a persona-centric approach to OLAP implementation. The company works closely with higher management, chief people officers, managing directors, and country managers to understand their specific analytical needs. This ensures that the OLAP system is configured to deliver actionable insights tailored to each persona’s requirements.
  • Training and Support: Understanding the importance of user adoption, Brickclay provides comprehensive training sessions for employees at all levels. Whether it’s teaching executives how to perform scenario analyses or guiding HR teams through workforce analytics, the aim is to empower users to make the most of OLAP tools.
  • Dashboard Development: Brickclay excels in creating intuitive and visually appealing dashboards that cater to the diverse needs of higher management, chief people officers, managing directors, and country managers. These dashboards offer quick access to key metrics, supporting informed decision-making.
  • Scalable OLAP Solutions for Growth: Recognizing that businesses evolve, Brickclay ensures that the implemented OLAP solutions are scalable. This scalability is crucial for managing directors overseeing expanding operations and dealing with increasing data volumes.
  • Integration with Advanced Analytics: As the landscape of business intelligence evolves, Brickclay is at the forefront of integrating OLAP with advanced analytics, including AI and machine learning. This ensures businesses can benefit from predictive analytics, gaining insights into future trends.
  • Cloud-Based OLAP Solutions: Embracing the cloud computing trend, Brickclay offers expertise in implementing cloud-based OLAP solutions. This provides increased scalability and cost-efficient alternatives for businesses looking to optimize their infrastructure investments.
  • Continuous Innovation and Future-Proofing: Brickclay is committed to staying ahead of the curve, keeping clients at the forefront of technological advancements in OLAP. The company actively explores emerging trends, such as enhanced natural language processing, to ensure that clients are equipped with the latest tools for data analysis.

Feel free to contact us at Brickclay for unparalleled expertise in business intelligence and personalized solutions tailored to your data needs. Contact our dedicated team today to embark on a journey of insightful decision-making. Your success starts with a conversation – connect with us now.

About Brickclay

Brickclay is a digital solutions provider that empowers businesses with data-driven strategies and innovative solutions. Our team of experts specializes in digital marketing, web design and development, big data and BI. We work with businesses of all sizes and industries to deliver customized, comprehensive solutions that help them achieve their goals.

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