OLAP tools, which are often found in business intelligence software, help users gain a deeper understanding of data. OLAP stands for on-line analytical processing. You may have heard of another term for OLAP tools, OLAP cubes. Visualize a cube with different colors on each side right now. If you look at the cube from the top, you’ll see the top color but little else. Meanwhile, you know there’s more to it than that top color. If you pick up the cube and spin it around, you’ll see the various side colors. If you flip it over, you’ll see even more information, the bottom color.
OLAP “cubes” represent this concept of looking at data from different angles. Business intelligence software with OLAP tools allows you to examine data from various perspectives. You can drill-down and slice and dice the data as you see fit. As a result, instead of only seeing the data initially presented to you, you can discover related information.
For example, let’s say you’re interested in how many people suffer from wheat allergies in America. Your initial query may display the numbers of cases reported across the nation. While this is useful information that answers your question, there’s likely more to the story. What if you could look at the same information from a different perspective? With OLAP tools, you can. You could drill-down and look at wheat allergies by age, gender, state, race, and other factors. Depending on how deep you want to go, you might even want to compare the data alongside other data such as weather data to see if there’s a connection (Source: http://www.inetsoft.com/company/olap_reporting/).
Another way you can look at data from a different perspective is to change the data visualization type that you’re using (Source: Data Visualization & Business Intelligence) . If you’re looking at data using a bar chart, try changing the view to a pie chart or scatter chart.
Business intelligence software with OLAP tools can help you visualize data in different ways. As a result, it can also help you gain a deeper understanding of the data.