Cubes render data in many dimensions

THE CONCEPT OF a cube of data is central to business intelligence software, but these cubes aren't the common 3-D blocks that might come to mind. Instead, a BI cube can have multiple dimensions in which each is an element of a data category.

Data elements might be durations in minutes, hours or months. Or they might be the number of visits a person makes to a hospital.

'Cubes typically have between five and 10 dimensions,' said Nigel Pendse, an independent BI analyst, author of the annual Business Intelligence Survey and lead analyst for the Web-only OLAP Report.

'The software can do more, but people have trouble understanding it,' he said.

Data dimensions can be linked or cross-tabbed to find correlations or relationships, just as a Microsoft Excel user finds a cell that links one unique row and one unique column. In fact, Excel is the most commonly used BI software tool.

Because of the sheer quantity of data it manages from local, state and federal sources, the South Carolina Office of Research and Statistics, part of the state's Budget and Control Board, uses Microsoft SQL Server to create its 20 data cubes, and more are being developed.

The office uses Panorama's NovaView to query the data cubes for information that will help client agencies do their jobs better.

'The beauty of the software is that you can define the relational database and how the data are related, define the data, and the computer does all the work for you,' said Pete Bailey, chief of health and demographics at ORS.

About the Author

Bridget Mintz Testa is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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