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Business Intelligence adds ‘No Value’ - The Data Man

Business Intelligence adds ‘No Value’

This post is actually about NULL values rather than any derogatory comment about business intelligence concepts or technology. The NULL value has a special place in the world of data and I thought the readers would find this perspective interesting.

The NULL value can be defined as follows:
  • Without value
  • being or amounting to nothing
  • nil
  • Nonexistent
  • empty
(All definitions provided by Dictionary.com)
A bit of background
The null value was originally introduced by Codd to represent missing data within the relational database. Nowadays the word ‘NULL’ is a reserve word in most database systems and SQL language variants. The null has been the focus of many controversies and debates due to the special handling requirements of various technologies for example Business Intelligence software.
Null often gets confused with zero or unknown but this is a mistake. While Null indicates the absence of any value, the unknown and the numerical zero both represent actual values.
If you’re BI application needs to have a value to present in the cube or report, due to technical or just user preference what should you use. Most OLAP systems, for example, require some kind of value otherwise that encounter problems with the construction of the dimensional.
So to address this problem some kind of default value that is used instead of null in any BI application can be valuable. So what value should we use? Below is a list of some of the options and my view on each.


A bit technical sounding and also a reserved word in a lot of languages.
‘NULL Value’
Not really that different from the above. This is going to be put in front of business people not IT folk and needs to be easily consumable.
‘Not Applicable’
Used to indicate when information cannot be provided because it does not apply to a particular case in question.
Not known; not within the range of one’s knowledge, experience, or understanding; strange; unfamiliar.
N/A or n/a is a common abbreviation for Not Applicable (see above)
‘No Value’
This would be my preferred option as it describes null without being long winded or technical.


This is not an exclusive list by any means and the whole subject is highly subjective therefore I would welcome any comments from readers.

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