Online analytical processing tools offer prescription for success in the health care industry.

Monica Chiarini Tremblay

Today, almost every organization—no matter the industry—finds itself awash in a sea of data. But the volume of data doesn’t make the difference. What matters most is what people do with the information and insights the data provide.

A new breed of decision-support tools now gives researchers and decision makers the flexibility to customize the selection, aggregation, and presentation of data. To understand the impact of these tools, Monica Chiarini Tremblay, assistant professor in the College of Business Administration’s Decision Sciences and Information Systems Department (DSIS), and her colleagues studied the implementation of an online, analytical processing (OLAP) tools-interface to the Comprehensive Assessment for Tracking Community Health (CATCH) data warehouse used by knowledge workers at a regional health planning agency in Florida.

According to Tremblay, the study offers unique insights into research related to data warehousing.

“We added a new dimension to prior research by exploring how OLAP technologies contribute to the successful implementation of a data warehouse,” she said. “We also identified the potential of these tools by examining their use in a real health care planning environment, and we analyzed the impact of these tools on an individual level.”

Tremblay and her fellow researchers used task-technology fit theory as a framework for their study. This theory suggests that information systems have a more positive impact on performance when their functionality aligns appropriately to user characteristics and task requirements.

“The better the match between a task’s characteristics, the technology features, and the characteristics of the individuals involved, the higher the level of individual and organizational performance,” she said.

New OLAP tools transform data providers into proactive consultants.

The results of the qualitative field study show that after the OLAP implementation, the health planners—who already were very sophisticated technology users—took full advantage of the additional capabilities, including taking greater control over data aggregation levels and engaging in more intuitive data manipulation.

“We observed that the flexible OLAP tools streamlined tasks and leveraged the skills of the health care planners, which in turn helped them take on more consultative roles with their clients.”

Monica Chiarini Tremblay, assistant professor, Decision Sciences and Information Systems Department

“We observed that the flexible OLAP tools streamlined tasks and leveraged the skills of the health care planners, which in turn helped them take on more consultative roles with their clients,” Tremblay said. “Having greater flexibility in the way they aggregate data motivated them to respond to different types of questions from their clients, and they now have the ability to dig deeper to find the answers.”

The health planning agency and the community it serves now reap the benefits. And the health care planners themselves report positive feedback from their clients, saying that “people are really happy with the data—and they keep coming back asking for more.”

“This type of OLAP technology has the potential to make significant contributions in terms of performance and outcomes, especially in data-intensive environments such as health care planning assessment and review,” Tremblay said.

She and her colleagues published the results of their study in an article titled “Doing More with More Information: Changing Health Care Planning with OLAP Tools” that appeared recently in Decision Support Systems, one of the top management information systems journals.

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