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What Is Ad Hoc Reporting? Your Guide To Definition, Meaning, Examples & Benefits

The essential guide to Ad Hoc Reporting by datapine

Digital data is all around us. In fact, we create around 2.5 quintillion bytes of it every single day, with 90% of the world's digital insights generated in the last two years alone, according to Forbes.

If utilized correctly, data offers a wealth of opportunity to individuals and companies looking to improve their business intelligence, operational efficiency, profitability, and growth over time. In this day and age, a failure to leverage digital data to your advantage could prove disastrous to your business – it’s akin to walking down a busy street wearing a blindfold.

With the rate of available data growing exponentially, it's crucial to work with the right online reporting tools to not only segment, curate, and analyze large data sets but also uncover answers to new questions that you didn't even know existed. And when it comes to finding actionable answers to specific questions, ad hoc analysis and reporting are essential. We will explain the meaning, benefits, and uses in the real world. Let's kick it off!

What Is Ad Hoc Reporting?

Ad hoc reporting and analysis example showing a marketing forecast for the next 6 months

**click to enlarge**

Ad hoc reporting is a brunch of business intelligence used to generate one-time reports in the form of dynamic dashboards with real-time data. With the help of self-service BI tools, business users can easily create ad hoc reports without the need for technical knowledge.

Working alongside recurring or ongoing (daily, weekly, or monthly) data reports, ad hoc reporting forms a vital part of any business, brand, or organization’s growth and sustainability by offering a level of insight that adds an extra layer of substance and success to the data driven decision making process.

While these reports are typically developed using SQL (structured query language) by an IT department which can take several days, there are tools and platforms that allow non-technical business users access to these most precious insights, simply using a SQL report generator. And this lies in the essence of the ad hoc reporting definition; providing quick reports for single-use, without generating complicated SQL queries. 

Moreover, a host of ad hoc analytics or reporting platforms boast integrated online data visualization tools to help enhance the exploration process. This reduces the reliance on software developers or IT personnel for simple reporting.

After explaining the report's meaning, we will now take a closer look at the analysis part in more detail.

What Is Ad Hoc Analysis?

Ad hoc analysis is a business intelligence (BI) process used by companies to answer critical strategic questions on the spot. With the help of modern dashboards, decision makers can visualize multiple sources of data and extract actionable insights from them.

With ad hoc analysis tools, users often create a report that does not currently exist or drill deeper into an existing dashboard report to achieve a deeper level of insight that ultimately benefits the ongoing success and sustainability of the organization.

Ad hoc data analysis is the discoveries and subsequent action a user takes as a result of exploring, examining, and drawing tangible conclusions from a report.

Typically, ad hoc data analysis involves discovering, presenting, and actioning information for a smaller, more niche audience and is slightly more visual than a standard static report. Now that you know the two main definitions, it is time to look into the benefits, and afterward, real-world and practical examples.

The Benefits Of Ad Hoc Reporting And Analysis

Now that we have answered the question, ‘what is an ad hoc report?’,  let’s look at the clear-cut benefits of using these types of data reports:

1. Reduces the IT workload: 

The self-service nature of ad hoc reporting catalyzes the report creation process by allowing end-users to work with customized reports on niche areas of the business without relying on the technical assistance of developers. This saves time and costs while minimizing any potential interdepartmental roadblocks.

2. Easy to use: 

As ad hoc data analysis platforms or dashboards are intuitive and visual by nature, uncovering the right answers to the right questions is simpler than ever before, allowing users to make decisions and roll out initiatives that help improve their business without the need for wading through daunted streams of data.

3. Ensures flexibility within the constantly changing business environment: 

Ad hoc analytics offers an interactive reporting experience, empowering end-users to make modifications or additions in real-time. As report elements are picked individually, users can ask questions and make customizations that suit their needs and goals. It is of utmost importance to answer business questions as quickly as possible, and one of the benefits of ad hoc reporting provides just that - the possibility to follow the ever-changing business environment, as the business moment requires and continually evolves.

4. Saves time and costs:

Modern ad hoc reporting tools are designed to save countless hours since their interface is designed to be simple, yet powerful. The intuitive nature helps users to create interactive visuals without the need to wait for a professional analyst or, as mentioned, the IT department. This self-service BI nature that enables a data-driven system completely in control by the user, ultimately, saves countless working hours and costs since users don't have to wait for reports and build as many types of ad hoc reports as needed.

Moreover, the team will be more engaged if they can immediately manipulate formulas and avoid multiple spreadsheets to consolidate data or static presentations that are fixed upfront and give no possibility to dig deeper into the data.

5. Completely customizable:

While ad hoc enterprise reporting is focused on gaining and keeping visibility across a large organization, it's important to consider the customization possibilities that these reports have on offer. Some of the tools offer built-in dashboards, for instance, that already have templates that you can use and adjust based on your needs. That way, you can save even more time and focus on what truly matters: the business answer you were looking for. But not only, as the possibility to build your own queries within the advanced SQL box, as mentioned, will provide you with even more freedom if you're an experienced analyst and looking for modern software solutions.

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Ad Hoc Analysis Examples - The Real World

There’s no doubt about it: ad hoc analysis offers a wealth of value to businesses across industries and sectors. To demonstrate its potential, let’s delve deeper into the practical applications of this invaluable data-driven initiative in the business world.

  1. Ad hoc financial analysis:

The first in our list of ad hoc reporting examples is focused on finance. By its very nature, the financial industry (or the financial departments) is rife with facts, figures, financial KPIs, metrics, and data. Ad hoc data analysis has offered businesses the means to drill down deep into very concentrated segments of data – or business aims – gaining the ability to spot trends that will provide the best return on investment (ROI).

In essence, you perform ad hoc financial reporting whenever you need to gain a deeper understanding of your financial data. For instance, at the end of the month, you need to find out how much revenue you have left after deducting your direct costs. Essentially, you (or a stakeholder) want to know your gross profit margin asap.

Ad hoc financial reporting example showing the gross profit margin

What is ad hoc reporting bringing here is an immediate answer, without the need to wait for days from the IT department to generate a simple visual like the one above, or complete ad hoc dashboards if you have a specific meeting or presentation planned.

While these are the primary industries that benefit from this analytical practice, regardless of your sector, by utilizing reports like this alongside interactive business intelligence dashboards, you will see notable improvements in key areas of your business.

  1. Ad hoc reports in sales:

Ad hoc reporting and analysis can be used in a company with a large sales database. Let's say a user wants to find out the outcome of a specific sale related to a particular scenario, s/he would build a single report, used only once, to provide that result. This scenario can be found in companies with a large outside-sales force which then can export an ad hoc report showing results from his/her territory (number of clients visited, or leads generated) against overall sales goals.

  1. Ad hoc reporting in healthcare:

Another area we can focus on is healthcare. A physician may not know how to build an HTML report or run a SQL query, but a reporting tool can easily generate data that are needed quickly, and only once - a blood test report, for example, or how many people were admitted to the ER on a specific day/week.

Ad hoc analysis has served to revolutionize the healthcare sector. Utilizing healthcare analytics software by providing greater data visibility and improving accuracy while helping senior stakeholders in such institutions make swift and accurate decisions that ultimately save lives, improve operational efficiencies, and decrease mortality rates.

  1. Government:

Governmental entities deal with a wealth of critical information, insights, and decisions that ultimately affect a lot of people. By gaining the ability to hone in on very specific tasks or challenges and reach the level of insight needed to make accurate, prosperous decisions while automating once manual data gathering tasks, governmental bodies across the globe enjoy improved public fund allocation while boosting productivity. A testament to the power of ad hoc analysis.

  1. Ad hoc recruiting reports:

Running personalized, quick, and accurate recruiting reports is of utmost importance in our competitive business environment. Using an ad hoc reports example from HR, companies have the chance to spot deficiencies within their human resources management and improve employee satisfaction levels, which is critical considering the lack of talents across industries.

ad hoc report example for generating the absenteeism rate.

In a practical sense, you could suspect or assume a higher absenteeism rate over the course of a year or 6 months. Investigating further by generating an ad hoc reports example similar to the one above could prove to be extremely advantageous. The company can identify if the assumption was correct, meaning if rates went higher, are stable, or decreased. In case there is an increment, you can easily determine the cause by engaging with employees and finding an appropriate solution to your problem. To create such visuals, you can explore our article on the most prominent recruitment metrics.

  1. Retail:

These types of reports prove particularly effective in loss prevention in the retail sector. Through store-specific retail analytics reports, tailored to particular areas of loss prevention, such as shoplifting or employee theft, a host of notable retailers have been able to track inventories and spot trends that have saved them a great deal of money (and time) in the long run.

The total volume of sales, a retail ad hoc report showing the amount of sales over a period of time

In retail, it's important to regularly track the sales volumes in order to optimize the overall performance of the online shop or physical stores. An ad hoc report example such as the one above could pinpoint specific weeks where the sales volume was lower than usual. By examining the report deeper, you can conclude that the demand was lower due to external conditions, for example, such as a heavy storm that postponed deliveries and caused many cancellations.

  1. Education:

The educational sector is vital to the future of our society, and ad hoc data analysis has played a significant role by streamlining a host of processes through focused data and analytical reporting. It also facilitates the sharing of information between departments to help engage students on a deeper, more personal level. This level of initiative results in improved success for faculty, students, and in turn – the economy.

What these types of reports bring to the table is simple: efficient decentralization of data management and transferring the analytical processes directly to the end-user. While there are numerous data analysis methods you can utilize, an ad hoc reporting system will enable you to perform analyses on the spot and immediately answer the question you have asked. This is not only critical in business intelligence but, as we have seen, in other areas such as education or government services.

  1. Customer service: 

Maybe more than any other department, customer service can benefit from one-time reports to answer critical questions that will guide them on the path to offering the best possible support to customers. For instance, a support manager might need to generate a report to understand how many tickets were solved in the past week and on what communication channels so they can plan their strategies accordingly. 

Ad hoc reporting example tracking the number of customer service issues per month

A deeper drill down into this data can shine a light on other elements that are interesting to look at. For example, by comparing the peak times in which customers are most likely to call, managers can ensure that agents are available at those times to cover the demand. Additionally, you can look into the average time to solve an issue and tackle any inefficiencies. 

  1. Marketing: 

As seen throughout this post, ad hoc reports present data in a visual format that makes it easier to analyze and extract actionable insights on the spot. This is particularly true when it comes to making the most out of your marketing efforts. When dealing with promotional campaigns, you need to make the most out of the resources you have available. When a promotional campaign was launched in the past, it was not known whether it was successful or not until a report was generated after a few weeks. Thanks to the speed of this kind of report, marketers can now understand in real-time how a campaign is being perceived and adapt it accordingly to avoid wasting resources.

Ad hoc report example for marketing: Goal conversion rate comparison to measure the success of various campaigns
  1. Manufacturing: 

In the manufacturing industry, the use of real-time data provided by an ad hoc report proves to be extremely useful. Being able to quickly understand the status of the different production stages allows businesses to stay on top of any issues and ensure production runs as planned to meet shipping deadlines with customers. 

The production volume as a manufacturing ad hoc report example

For instance, a manufacturing company that has a big delivery coming can create an ad hoc report to understand the share of production for the different machines. If a machine is observed to be underperforming, the report will show it and corrective measures will be implemented. 

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Static Reports vs. Ad Hoc Reporting: Key Differences

So far, we’ve covered some definitions, and benefits, and looked at practical examples of how ad hoc reports can facilitate the way average business users can manage data on their daily activities. To keep putting their value into perspective we will compare them to a more traditional approach to data management: static reports. 

Also known as canned reports, this traditional way of reporting has been performed for decades and used by businesses to assess their past performance. These documents are usually generated by data analysts or the IT department and handed to decision makers on a weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annual basis, depending on previous requirements. Some of the main differences between these two include: 

  • Generation: The first difference between these two analytical tools is the way they are generated. As mentioned, static reports are usually created by the IT team upon request of the different departments who use them to answer vital questions. Due to their static nature, the information on them can’t be explored which makes them less versatile. On the other hand, ad hoc reports are easily generated by the average business user on a need-to-know basis and used to make important decisions. It is true that the learning curve for users with no experience can be a challenge, but with the help of the right self-service tool, it is fairly easy to manage. 
  • Usability: Next, we have usability. As mentioned, static reports can’t be navigated or manipulated to respond to a specific question on the spot as they are generated with a specific aim in mind and for a wider audience. If a different need arises, a new report needs to be ordered which can take hours or days to be completed as the IT department might already be busy with other tasks. On the contrary, ad hoc reporting has interactivity and real-time data as a base. They can include various levels of data and are easily navigable to answer any vital question that arises. This is possible thanks to interactive filters and visualizations provided by a dashboard tool.  
  • Format: The format in which reports are utilized is another huge difference between these two methods. On one hand, static documents are usually sent via email in the form of a spreadsheet or PowerPoint presentation. On the other hand, ad hoc analysis can be accessed online from any device with an internet connection. This is one of the multiple BI features you can enjoy if you pick the right solution for your organization. 
  • Accessibility: Following on the same line as the last point, accessibility is a key element when comparing the two. As mentioned above, a static report is usually shared via email in traditional formats such as an Excel sheet. If something is changed, the user needs to browse through several versions of the same document which makes it confusing and harder to collaborate. Ad hoc reporting has shearability and data transparency at its core. Thanks to their online nature, reports can be easily shared between departments to implement a collaborative data-driven environment. 

All these points are not to say traditional reporting is bad. In some cases, static documents prove to be useful for businesses, for example, to show financial compliance to authorities. That said, their static nature can seem tedious and repetitive for the daily decision-making process. Not to mention, it burdens the IT department with a load of work that is not even as efficient as it could be. For this reason, BI solutions with a self-service approach present a way to manage data in a way that is time-efficient, accessible, and interactive. Regardless, the use of these technologies also comes with challenges for organizations. We will explore some of them in the next section. 

Challenges Of Ad Hoc Analysis & Reports

While implementing ad hoc reporting and analysis into the organization might seem perfect on paper, it doesn’t come without challenges. Although the use of data has become a mandatory practice for modern businesses, there is still a big knowledge gap for average users that make it a bit harder and intimidating to use data for their decision-making process. This is paired with other limitations that we will explain below. 

  • Lack of literacy: Studies say that 90% of company leaders cite data literacy as a driver for overall success. However, only 25% of employees say they feel confident working with it. Considering the self-service nature of ad hoc analysis, the lack of knowledge or confidence can present a big challenge. Paired with the lack of general data knowledge, it is also possible to face challenges with employees that are simply not tech-driven or don’t have the initiative to learn. To tackle this problem, implementing training instances to show the friendlier side of analytics is a good way to start empowering employees to implement this practice into their regular workflow. 
  • Incomplete data: Having all your data in one centralized location is a key element to ensure a successful ad hoc reporting system. If your information is spread across multiple locations it can make the report generation process a lot more difficult. Luckily, BI dashboard tools offer fast and efficient integration of multiple sources that can then be visualized together in an interactive report with just a few clicks. 
  • Lack of governance: Not having an appropriate system to manage the massive amounts of data coming into your organization is another great challenge when it comes to ad hoc analysis. Data governance is the practice that ensures data remains secure, available, and usable. Therefore, it is fundamental to implement it to ensure efficiency across the entire reporting process. 
  • Covering the needs of all departments: Another challenge is to cover the needs of all departments. This point is related to the stage in which company leaders are deciding on what tool to invest in. As mentioned earlier, traditional reports were meant for wider audiences, while ad hoc ones are more specific and required to answer particular departmental needs. To tackle this challenge, it is necessary to generate an outline in advance and select the tool with the features that will serve all organizational needs the best. To assist you with this task, you can find key features below. 

What To Look For In Ad Hoc Reporting Tools?

Ad hoc reporting tools should have these features: 1. Advanced interactivity features, 2. Access to numerous data sources, 3. Basic and advanced analytical possibilities, 4. Data visualization capabilities, 5. Artificial intelligence features, 6. Numerous sharing options

To create the best possible reports, there are some features that these solutions should have on offer in order to ensure maximum application value. Here we list the most critical ones:

1. Advanced interactivity features

It's fairly easy to generate a spreadsheet but if that spreadsheet doesn't give you the answer you're looking for, then you will have thousands of rows and columns that will cannot easily manipulate with. Interactive ad hoc reports will enable you to drill into bits and pieces of specified data analysis and ensure you can interact with your report by using advanced interactive features of professional business intelligence dashboard software.

From advanced chart options and sophisticated filters to time intervals and chart zooms; the possibilities to interact with your data are immense. Besides, overcrowding your screen space is a thing of the past - interactivity features of the modern dashboard software continue to evolve and adjust to the users.

2. Access to numerous data sources

By having access to different data sources in one single place, a report can easily answer current and upcoming business questions with every piece of data a company has.

With solid ad hoc reporting software, it's possible to apply controls to specific dashboards by adding elements like screen filters, sliders, conditional formatting for filtering, and link reporting dashboards for direct comparison. That way all data can be easily accessed and managed.

3. Basic and advanced analytical possibilities

These reporting solutions need to offer basic and advanced analytical capabilities. No matter if you're an average business user that needs to extract a simple report or an advanced analyst that creates custom queries, ad hoc analyses should cover both. That way, the business user has a chance to utilize a drag-and-drop interface where you simply need to drag the values to be able to analyze them, and the analyst has a special SQL box where s/he can build queries on their own.

4. Data visualization capabilities

It's a scientific fact that humans are visual learners since half of the human brain is devoted to processing visual information. Data visualization helps in understanding larger or smaller volumes of data much faster than a written or spoken word. In other words, charts are much more powerful than pure numbers, columns, or rows of raw data. For example, a sales graph will immediately show you the main developments in your sales processes in comparison to simply presenting a spreadsheet filled with numbers or a PowerPoint presentation clogged with bullet points and sentences.

5. Artificial intelligence features

Operational ad hoc reporting oftentimes includes also questions about the future. Professional software has built-in predictive analytics features that are simple, yet extremely powerful. For a practical ad hoc analysis example, let's say a stakeholder wants to know what kind of revenue they can expect in the next 6 months based on the specified marketing channels. Based on selected past data points, the tool will automatically calculate predictions and you have your answer within minutes. Keep in mind that although these features are extremely advanced, no one can predict the future with 100% accuracy. The point is to gain a data overview in order to better prepare for potential business changes.

6. Numerous sharing options

One of the goals of business intelligence and ad hoc reporting is to simplify the decision-making processes while enabling a collaborative culture between colleagues and departments. The creation of reports is fairly easy but the sharing process should be as well. Professional business reporting software will cover multiple sharing options:

  • sharing through e-mails immediately or with a specified time interval
  • viewer area that enables external parties to manipulate the dashboard based on filters you have assigned
  • public URL will enable you to send a simple link
  • an embedded dashboard that you can insert within an application or website, e.g.
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Ad Hoc Reporting Tool Example

It's clear that ad hoc reporting offers a host of benefits to the ongoing success and growth of any ambitious modern business. And when it comes to an ad hoc reporting software that offers freedom, flexibility, and usability while helping answer critical questions both swiftly and accurately, datapine's data visualization and reporting tool ticks all the boxes.

Drag and drop interface by datapine's dashboard tool

Aimed specifically at the end-user, our different types of dashboards and self-service reporting tools are intuitive and accessible, which means you don’t have to possess a wealth of technical knowledge to utilize our platforms. The drag-and-drop interfaces make handling important data sets both logical and digestible. Moreover, our cutting-edge algorithms run in the background of our applications to fortify our interface with enhanced built-in intelligence to help you during every step of your ad hoc data analysis journey.

For reporting on the go, our tools, applications, and dashboards also allow you to monitor data and generate fresh insights any time, anywhere with your web browser or tablet, safe in the knowledge that your data privacy and security are being preserved to the highest standards.

At datapine, we've invested an incredible level of time and effort in developing an enterprise-level security layer akin to core banking applications. As a result, it’s possible to copy existing data into our data warehouse to speed up your workload or retain your data in-house by connecting datapine to your server remotely. And as you’re free from the shackles of managing your data from one specific location, sharing your dashboards, KPI reports, discoveries and insights with colleagues are possible with just a few clicks.

To discover more about our tools, solutions, and services, explore our business intelligence features page.

If you want to delve deeper into the power of superior data analysis, then our completely free 14-day trial will help you to start your journey towards data-driven enlightenment!