Excel is a very popular tool since it's easy-to-use and comes with the Microsoft Office package installed, by default, on all Carleton computers.
Excel also happens to offer some great ways of exploring data warehouse OLAP cubes. A typical cube consists of a series of measurements (like SAT scores, grant amounts, or salaries), a time series (days-months-years or terms-academic years), and a set of categories. The cube lets you slice and dice the measurements over time by categories you select. E.g., you might want to know average SAT scores (measurement) over the last four years (time series) by income range (category). The cube holds this raw data in a form that Excel can easily access and manipulate, typically in the form of pivot tables and charts.
To connect to an OLAP cube (assuming you have access to it):
- Start Excel up on a campus (or VPN-connected) Windows machine (Excel on a Mac lacks the ability to connect to cubes)
- In the ribbon/top menu click Data > From Other Sources > From Analysis Services
- Enter the server dwcubes.ads.carleton.edu\production into the server field and click next
- Select a database from the drop-down menu, then select a cube
- Click through the remaining menus
- You should now be looking at a pivot table connected to an OLAP cube (if you're not sure what to do next, call for help)
Note, finally, that Excel 2007 and later can accept data mining add-ins that allow people without any advanced statistical or database training to look for patterns and relationships in data, such as what data influences what and to what extent.
You can find a wide range of documentation for Excel online, including tutorials on the Microsoft web page.
Other available documentation: