Key takeaways:

  • Ad hoc reports are generated using business intelligence tools to meet a one-time specific need that answers a unique business question.
  • Embedded ad hoc reporting allows businesses to be flexible and scalable.
  • A good ad hoc reporting tool will provide multiple sharing options, artificial intelligence (AI) features, and BI tools that assist in generating ad hoc reports.

Ad Hoc reports are essential in any successful business in that it helps answer specific questions quickly. We’ll review the importance of ad hoc reporting and its role in business intelligence.

Business Intelligence software requires specific IT knowledge to get the most out of the tool. Still, the self-service option for non-technical IT staff must be user-friendly enough that the IT staff is not burdened with producing ad hoc reports. 

What is Ad Hoc reporting?

Ad hoc reporting is a quickly generated report used once to address a specific business question. Ad hoc reports can be created as a one-page data table, a comprehensive crosstab report, or a visualization report that can be a dashboard view displaying graphical information. Ad hoc reports are created in the easiest and most digestible format, conveying a clear answer. 

How is Ad Hoc reporting different from standard or canned reporting?

Standard reports are fixed predefined reports produced on a routine schedule for updates, such as weekly progress reports, monthly sale reports, or marketing reports. Canned reports are similar to standard reports, except the canned report is prebuilt to meet a recurring set of specifications but modifiable using business intelligence (BI) tools. 

How is Ad Hoc reporting used in business intelligence?

Ad hoc reports are generated using business intelligence tools to meet a one-time specific need that answers a unique business question, such as an impromptu request for a critical widget inventory count or completed sale orders for the last eight days. 

Ad hoc reports answer questions not typically asked. The business intelligence tool should present the ad hoc report in a visual format that the user can easily interpret, which helps managers make smarter, data-driven decisions. 

Ad hoc analysis is used to generate ad hoc reports. Ad hoc analysis can identify patterns or trends in data generally not easily identified by a person or an existing business process. Besides using ad hoc reports to generate one-time, as-needed reports to answer a question, an ad hoc report can validate suspicious results not typically seen in a standard report. 

For example, ad hoc reports can provide actionable information in a one-time report for unique situations requiring a business decision to realign business resources if the report’s conclusion indicates a business goal or objective will not be realized in a specific period. 

What are the benefits of Ad Hoc reporting in business intelligence?

Embedded ad hoc reporting allows businesses to be flexible and scalable to meet as-needed ad hoc reports that are adjustable to meet any similar situations of a growing business. Ad hoc reporting is vital to business functions because it provides decision-makers with accurate and timely information to ensure business can meet their objectives.

Ad hoc reporting benefits your business in multiple ways:
  • Enhances faster decision-making—creating as-needed reports quickly helps decision-makers with timely decisions.
  • Helps businesses remain aligned with business goals—accessing specific data when needed and generating an ad hoc report with relevant results will help businesses continually achieve business goals.
  • Improves business operational efficiency—using business intelligence and ad hoc analysis, businesses can access precise data when required to produce an ad hoc report that leads to business making decisions, which improves overall business operations.
  • Saves business time and money—ad hoc reporting can be generated when an anomaly is identified in a canned or standard report that can be immediately corrected with the results from the ad hoc report to save business resources.
  • Customization—ad hoc reporting has prebuilt dashboards and templates to help with report creation.

What are the challenges in using ad hoc reporting?

Ad hoc reporting tools certainly can improve a business’s productivity, but there are some drawbacks you need to be aware of with ad hoc reporting too. To fully take advantage of ad hoc reporting, you must be sure the correct data set is used when creating an ad hoc report, so knowing the exact data set needed to get relevant information from an ad hoc report is essential. Inconsistent data can produce incorrect ad hoc reports, so the data chosen for an ad hoc report must be correct to derive insight and actionable information that managers can use.

The lack of a data governance process can lead to unsecure and inconsistent data that is not readily available to be executed in an ad hoc report, so the success of ad hoc reporting depends on a proven data governance process that is strictly enforced and validated on a routine basis. A functioning data governance board dramatically increases the validity of ad hoc reports. Lastly, finding the right balance between using standard and canned reports versus when to use ad hoc reports can be a challenge. Using prebuilt reports to meet expected reporting requirements is the standard practice. Still, any unique questions or deviations from a company’s prebuilt report are precisely what ad hoc reports are for, even if only one value differs from a prebuilt report. 

What are the key features of an Ad Hoc reporting tool?

A good ad hoc reporting tool will provide multiple sharing options, artificial intelligence (AI) features, and BI tools that assist in generating ad hoc reports. To create the most effective ad hoc reports, here is a list of the essential features needed:

State-of-the-art interactive features: Interactive ad hoc report allows you to drill down into applicable data using advanced interactive features from business intelligence software versus a database or spreadsheet with thousands of rows and columns. Advanced interactive options include chart filters, time interval widgets, dynamic textboxes or images, and dashboard chart filters.

Data source availability:  Ad hoc reporting software provides access to multiple data sources that can answer a business’s most pressing question from all the available data sources. Functioning ad hoc software includes data field options such as screen filters, drop-down lists, sliders, and conditional formatting that can easily change dashboard values, which can be compared to other dashboards using the same data sources.

Advanced and basic analytical features:  Ad hoc reporting and ad hoc analysis tools must have basic and advanced options to extract and create simple or advanced reports using custom queries for either report. Drag and drop options are available, including a SQL tool for building custom queries that offer more flexibility for complex queries.

Artificial Intelligence features: A must-have feature is a predictive analytical option to help forecast a valid response based on provided historical data points. Predictive analysis is a powerful tool used to estimate revenue generation, inventory restocking, or the projected number of incident tickets completed over a certain period. Predictive analysis uses valid historical data for the projected due dates.

Data visualization options: Data visualization is valuable in ad hoc analysis and ad hoc reports. Visually displaying information helps non-technical personnel understand the information easily extracted using business intelligence software. Charts and graphs are easier to understand versus data in a spreadsheet with rows and columns or a Word document.

What are ad hoc reporting best practices?

Businesses get the most out of ad hoc reporting and ad hoc analysis by following the recommended best practices to ensure that ad hoc reporting produces the best results to help managers make smarter data-driven decisions. Using the best practices for ad hoc reporting and analysis ensures that non-technical personnel such as managers, executives, sales and marketing staff, and other department personnel can quickly grasp what is presented in an ad hoc report. 

Identifying the question the report will answer: An ad hoc report is created to answer one specific question. The question should be clear and concise, and the degree to which the answer may impact the business. The impact can be as simple as cutting back on widget production or investing in a technical solution that improves a business process.

Ad hoc reports are visually uncomplicated: The report should be visually easy to understand, and the critical ingredient to ensuring the audience understands the report is knowing your audience. Knowing the purpose and intent of a report will help decide which key performance indicators (KPIs) or data elements are necessary, and your audiences’ knowledge of a subject will also help determine which elements are included in a report. Using metrics your audience is familiar with helps them quickly grasp the report’s purpose. A report overpopulated with data elements will also confuse an audience no matter how well a report designer may know an audience.

Using report templates: Report templates are an excellent way to gather ideas for a good report layout. When selecting a report, the layout of the report is built around the KPIs that should occupy the top left side of the report. Other supporting elements that support the KPIs will occupy lesser-known positions in the report. Try and limit the number of KPIs to six on a one-page report, but if you have to display more than six, prioritize the remaining KPIs or data elements that support the report’s intent.

Consistency in report design format: For reports with more than one page, design consistency helps the audience quickly visualize the metrics in the report. Colors, fonts, theme, and layout must be balanced on each page to make the information more easily understood and digestible. When using the same layout format and color schemes, the audience will take less time to understand the report as they traverse through the report.

Highlighting summation data points:  Any data points that summarize total cost or sales on a weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annual basis must be easily accessed in the ad hoc report. Aggregate data points readily displayed on an ad hoc report provide managers with the most meaningful information upfront, allowing them to quickly compare against similar periods like weekly or annual reports. The summation data points can be highlighted in a different color or bolded in the ad hoc report. Avoid putting summation data at the bottom of a report. Additionally, using a graphical legend near the top left side of the report will aid an audience in understanding the report quickly.

What are examples of Ad Hoc reporting?

Ad hoc reporting generally occurs outside the scope of staff members’ assigned duties and responsibilities. The same can be said for ad hoc analysis used to generate ad hoc reports. Ad hoc reports differ for each business industry, like finance, healthcare, human resources, government, retail, and manufacturing. Regardless of the specific business industry, all businesses use ad hoc reporting to get the most updated information to make an accurate decision.

For example, a business notices a delta between last month’s cash flow and the current month that deviates from the expected amount of money. An ad hoc analysis will look beyond the details of a financial statement by individually analyzing revenues, expenses, income from interests, and investments. In this example, the ad hoc analysis determines a product was sold during a current month, but the cash will be paid later than the current month, which will be reflected in the ad hoc report.

In another example, an IT business notices an increase in the incident ticket queue and wants to know the reason for the ticket increase. An ad hoc analysis indicates a mandatory software update occurred over a weekend, and the update corrupted a printer driver for one model of a desktop printer used in the organization.

The resulting ad hoc report shows that a specific printer model is the reason for the increase in incident tickets, which started on Monday morning. By the middle of the week, the ad hoc report shows not one ticket is resolved. With this information, management can either roll back the update or instruct users with the desktop printer to use the local network printer in their workspaces.

Ad hoc analysis removes the guessing from a business anomaly occurrence and pinpoints a specific cause shown visually in an ad hoc report. Ad hoc analysis and reporting reduce cost, increase accuracy and efficiency, improve performance monitoring, and promote faster decision-making.

How to select the best Ad Hoc reporting tool for your business?

Any good business intelligence solution will include ad hoc reporting and analysis, so selecting a BI solution may come down to cost and user-friendliness. Here are two examples of BI solutions that will meet most business needs.

Zoho Analytics:   Zoho Analytics is offered as a cloud or on-premises solution. Zoho is a powerful BI solution with a plethora of BI tools to meet any business needs. Users can easily create ad hoc reports in a few minutes without much IT experience. Zoho allows users to import data from multiple applications and databases with the Zoho DataPrep tool. Zoho provides a free trial period and a free version too. The Enterprise version of Zoho Analytics starts at $455 a month.

Wyn Enterprise:  The Wyn solution features ad hoc reporting and ad hoc query tools, including many other useful BI tools. The Wyn BI solution provides a self-service BI option so non-technical users can create ad hoc reports when required. Interested businesses can download the Wyn Enterprise on-premises solution for a 30-day test drive. This BI solution does not use a per-user license arrangement, but Wyn uses a per-server licensing payment structure. The most popular Wyn enterprise BI solution is the enterprise edition.

Zoho Analytics and Wyn Enterprise BI solutions are just two of the many available BI solutions. Here is a comprehensive listing of the top BI dashboard solutions available in 2023 that you can use for comparison purposes.

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