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BI Products for Excel
Several software products combine with Excel to create a powerful
Business Intelligence system. All of them work for medium and
large companies, and one also works for small companies.
by Charley Kyd
Business Intelligence (BI) is the systematic use of information about your company
and its business environment to analyze, report, predict, and manage business performance.
Several products with OLAP databases enhance the way Excel gets its data, turning Excel into
a powerful and flexible BI system.
I know of three such products: PowerOLAP
from PARIS Technologies,
TM1 from IBM, and,
to some degree,
from Microsoft. As far as I know, none of these products works with Excel
on the Macintosh.
PowerOLAP offers more than 60 Excel spreadsheet functions that read from and write
to an OLAP database. You
will use only a few of these regularly. However, with so many functions
to choose from, PowerOLAP provides Excel users significantly greater
spreadsheet power for reporting and analysis than do the two products that follow.
Although PowerOLAP's features are roughly equivalent to those of IBM's TM1, PowerOLAP
offers two significant benefits for small and medium companies and divisions. First, PARIS
sells a single-user version of their product. This allows small organizations and laptop
warriors to use Excel BI. Second, PowerOLAP costs significantly less than the other two
products to purchase, install, and maintain.
TM1 was the
first OLAP database, and has been on the market for about 25 years. The
product ships with its own Excel add-in, which offers about 25 Excel
spreadsheet functions. In late 2007, Cognos acquired Applix, the owner of TM1. Several weeks
later, IBM announced that they are acquiring Cognos.
Analysis Services is an OLAP database that's bundled with
Microsoft SQL Server.
Microsoft also provides
an Excel add-in that links Excel spreadsheet formulas to Analysis
Services. Although the add-in offers only a few spreadsheet functions,
several third-parties offer Excel add-ins with additional functions.
Additionally, Excel 2007 provides functions that can read (but not
write) Analysis Services data.
These products are similar in many ways. All enable Excel formulas to
return values from multidimensional data. All can
use the same dimension in any number of cubes. All are programmable.
And all have many additional features.
However, the products are designed for different types of use. Analysis Services is designed to be administered by
an IT Department. In fact, I hesitate to use "Analysis Services" and
"friendly" in the same paragraph.
On the other hand, TM1 and PowerOLAP both were
designed to be administered either by users or the IT department. In
fact, most TM1 and PowerOLAP installations I've seen were created
and maintained by Excel users, not the IT department.
Because PowerOLAP offers Excel users the most functionality for the
least cost, ExcelUser.com uses PowerOLAP to illustrate Excel-friendly OLAP applications.