Fact Table Granularity

Data Warehousing > Concepts > Fact Table Granularity


The first step in designing a fact table is to determine the granularity of the fact table. By granularity, we mean the lowest level of information that will be stored in the fact table. This constitutes two steps:

  1. Determine which dimensions will be included.
  2. Determine where along the hierarchy of each dimension the information will be kept.

The determining factors usually goes back to the requirements.

Which Dimensions To Include

Determining which dimensions to include is usually a straightforward process, because business processes will often dictate clearly what are the relevant dimensions.

For example, in an off-line retail world, the dimensions for a sales fact table are usually time, geography, and product. This list, however, is by no means a complete list for all off-line retailers. A supermarket with a Rewards Card program, where customers provide some personal information in exchange for a rewards card, and the supermarket would offer lower prices for certain items for customers who present a rewards card at checkout, will also have the ability to track the customer dimension. Whether the data warehousing system includes the customer dimension will then be a decision that needs to be made.

What Level Within Each Dimension To Include

Determining which part of hierarchy the information is stored along each dimension is not an exact science. This is where user requirement (both stated and possibly future) plays a major role.

In the above example, will the supermarket wanting to do analysis along at the hourly level? (i.e., looking at how certain products may sell by different hours of the day.) If so, it makes sense to use 'hour' as the lowest level of granularity in the time dimension. If daily analysis is sufficient, then 'day' can be used as the lowest level of granularity. Since the lower the level of detail, the larger the data amount in the fact table, the granularity exercise is in essence figuring out the sweet spot in the tradeoff between detailed level of analysis and data storage.

Note that sometimes the users will not specify certain requirements, but based on the industry knowledge, the data warehousing team may foresee that certain requirements will be forthcoming that may result in the need of additional details. In such cases, it is prudent for the data warehousing team to design the fact table such that lower-level information is included. This will avoid possibly needing to re-design the fact table in the future. On the other hand, trying to anticipate all future requirements is an impossible and hence futile exercise, and the data warehousing team needs to fight the urge of the "dumping the lowest level of detail into the data warehouse" symptom, and only includes what is practically needed. Sometimes this can be more of an art than science, and prior experience will become invaluable here.

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