Excel-Friendly OLAP Products

Three OLAP products can combine with Excel to create a powerful system for company-wide reporting, planning, and analysis. Together, they can meet the needs of medium-sized companies through very large ones.


Three OLAP products can combine with Excel to create a powerful system for company-wide reporting, planning, and analysis.To my knowledge, only two companies offer OLAP databases that can give Excel users easy and scalable read-write access to massive quantities of data. Neither company offers products that work with Excel on the Macintosh.

IBM’s TM1 was the first OLAP database. In late 2007, Cognos acquired Applix, the owner of TM1. Several weeks later, IBM announced that they were acquiring Cognos. TM1 ships with its own Excel add-in, which offered about 25 Excel spreadsheet functions at the time of this writing.

PARIS Technologies’ PowerOLAP and Olation. PowerOLAP offers more than 60 Excel spreadsheet functions with read-write access to an OLAP database. PowerOLAP offers two significant benefits for small and medium companies and divisions.

First, PARIS sells a single-user version of their product, which allows small organizations and laptop warriors to use Excel to read and write to its database. Second, PowerOLAP costs significantly less than the other two products to purchase, install, and maintain.

I’ve arranged for a trial of a single-user version of PowerOLAP. You can download the OLAP software here.

Olation uses the Power OLAP database at its core, but it has two unique features. First, it offers real-time read-write access to massive relational databases, including simultaneous access to databases from Oracle, Microsoft, and SAP.

Second, Olation saves its cube data as a SQL Server file, not as a proprietary database, as most other OLAP products do.

Olation is an OLE DB for OLAP provider, which means that it supports Excel’s CUBE functions.

Olation supports Big Data. To illustrate, I know of two Olation customers that write more than two hundred gigabytes of data to their Olation database each month. One of them distributes its database across nearly 2,000 CPUs.

These products are similar in many ways. All three give worksheet formulas read-write access to multidimensional data. All can use the same dimension (like Month and Product) in any number of cubes. And all are programmable.

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.

On the other hand, because Olation is an OLAP database that reads and writes relational files in real time, it’s designed to be maintained by IT departments.

To get a slightly different view about OLAP, see Is Excel Planning a Mistake?