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Monthly Archives: August 2015

MDX Compare or Rank Similar Members

Or should this be called: “Recreating DAX’s EARLIER function in MDX” – either way, a useful technique that solves a problem…

MDX makes it very easy for us to compare one member against others, using functions such as RANK() etc. But how do we dynamically compare a member against a subset of other members? I came across a customer requirement recently where we had to rank a member against other members that had similar properties, based on other measures. This will probably make more sense with an example…

Taking AdventureWorks, we can easily calculate the sales rank of each product using something like this:

WITH MEMBER [Measures].[Rank] AS
       ,[Measures].[Internet Sales Amount])
SELECT {[Measures].[Internet Sales Amount], [Measures].[Rank]} ON 0
                ,[Measures].[Internet Sales Amount]) ON 1
FROM [Adventure Works]
WHERE [Date].[Calendar Year].&[2008]


This ranks each product against all other products. But is that a fair comparison? Comparing sales of a water bottle against a top of the range racing bike. Not really. So how about we instead rank each product against all products within +/-20% of the same cost. So if the water bottle costs £20, then we would rank its sales against all products with a cost between £16 and £24. This gives a more accurate idea of how well each product is performing compared to its peers.

Although to keep the MDX simple here, let’s just say any product within £20.

In AdventureWorks we have [Measures].[Internet Average Unit Price], which can be used to determine comparable products. So how do we go about achieving this?

If we look at the RANK function, it takes three parameters; the member being ranked, the set over which to rank, and the measure to be used.

All we have to do is filter the second parameter, the set over which to rank, to include similar members. So maybe something like this:

WITH MEMBER [Measures].[Rank] AS
              ,ABS([Measures].[Internet Average Unit Price]
               -([Measures].[Internet Average Unit Price]
       ,[Measures].[Internet Sales Amount])

If we break this down, we’re just changing the 2nd parameter to be a filtered set, where the unit price is within £20 of the unit price of the current member. This should work right?

Unfortunately, wrong. The results look exactly the same as the original rank – nothing has changed.


The problem here is that CURRENTMEMBER is within the filter function, so it changes context to refer to whatever row is being considered at the time by the filter function. So [Measures].[Internet Average Unit Price] and ([Measures].[Internet Average Unit Price],[Product].[Product].CURRENTMEMBER) are always the same product, and no rows are filtered out. CURRENTMEMBER does NOT refer to the current member being considered by the RANK function, but by the FILTER function.

In DAX we have the EARLIER and EARLIEST functions, which would be great here, and would allow us to step out of the current context into the previous calculation layer. But unfortunately we haven’t been blessed with an MDX EARLIER function. So how do we fix this in MDX?

The trick here is dynamic sets, using the STRTOSET function. This allows us to grab the member being ranked, and treat it as a fixed member within the FILTER function.

WITH MEMBER [Measures].[Rank] AS
                ,ABS([Measures].[Internet Average Unit Price]
                 -' + CSTR([Measures].[Internet Average Unit Price]) + ')
       ,[Measures].[Internet Sales Amount])

We building up a string, which will fix the value of [Measures].[Internet Average Unit Price] to that of the product being ranked, and will then dynamically compare it to the value of [Measures].[Internet Average Unit Price] for all other products. Those within £20 will be included in the resulting set, and will be used to rank the original product.

MDXRankYou can see the result in the screenshot above, where the ranking is dependent on the average unit price.

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The Frog Blog

I'm Alex Whittles.

I specialise in designing and implementing SQL Server business intelligence solutions, and this is my blog! Just a collection of thoughts, techniques and ramblings on SQL Server, Cubes, Data Warehouses, MDX, DAX and whatever else comes to mind.

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