OLAP@Work lets PowerPoint users drill down to live information

For the millions of people working in the world of IT, few words generate more trepidation than, “and now let me show you the PowerPoint presentation.” OLAP@Work for Office is trying to do something to liven up those dreary spectacles.

Users of the new software will be able to manipulate live data from within PowerPoint, or from other Office applications.

One of OLAP@Work’s first products was OLAP@Work for Excel, which allowed Microsoft Excel to be transformed into an OLAP client. The company has now broadened its offerings, thus enabling users to perform advanced analysis from within Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint, Word, Internet Explorer, Outlook and Digital Dashboard.

“We have been building a new generation of OLAP client in the front end that talks to the Microsoft OLAP server, that leverages the Microsoft desktop as the client,” said Robert Lendvai, vice-president of marketing at OLAP@Work.

He said Microsoft’s strategy of effectively giving away an OLAP server in the SQL server box has driven the price to the point where small and medium sized businesses can take advantage of business intelligence and data warehousing technology.

And to liven up those PowerPoint presentations? OLAP@Work has also taken heed to the true meaning of the O in OLAP. “Unlike a lot of OLAP tools … when we say we are inside those applications, it is live and connected to the OLAP server,” Lendvai said.

“If someone asks why Europe is behind in sales I just move my mouse over the pie chart and it would automatically link back to the OLAP server and allow me to drill [down], and you would see the breakdown of what is going on,” he added.

Users agree this addition is a big plus since it not only increases presentation capabilities but also saves time. “It allows you to build a PowerPoint presentation with data in the charts and graphs that is always current,” said Tim Wright, application co-ordinating engineer at Hewlett Packard in Boise, Idaho. “If somebody has a question – ‘Where did you get that number from?’ – you can drill down right in your PowerPoint presentation and show them,” Wright said. He also liked the fact that you don’t have to rebuild and re-cut charts and graphs and only have to prepare slide sets once.

The full integration with Office also gives the product a consistent look and feel and a work environment with which many users are already comfortable.

“What they are trying to do is make the experience more Microsoft-like…so the OLAPness of the tools and the engines disappear,” said Bob Moran, research vice-president at the Aberdeen Group in Boston. “There has been a vote of confidence in the Excel spreadsheet as the interface of choice among a large swath of the business community.”

Nigel Pendse, London, England-based author of the OLAP Report, likes where the product is positioning itself. “It has filled a nice gap in the market,” he said. “Microsoft built a very good OLAP server but they very much neglected the front end and OLAP@Work has produced a very Microsoft-style sort of client component that complements Microsoft’s other products and basically fills a looming gap in Microsoft’s product line.”

The software works with Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 OLAP Services and is fully embedded within Office 97 and 2000, and supports functions such as write-back, distinct count and basket analysis.

All copies of OLAP for Office have a fully-exposed object model and developer’s tool kit which helps corporate software developers OLAP-enable their custom-built applications. According to Lendvai, the developers are thus alleviated of the need to learn MDX, OLE DB or ADO. “We shelter the developers from having to do that so we make it very easy for people to build extremely powerful OLAP intelligent applications with a minimal amount of effort.”

The single user price is US$399 and US$199 to upgrade from OLAP@Work for Excel. Multi-user discounts are also available.