Ad hoc reporting is the creation of dynamic, real-time reports by users on an as-needed basis. Since empowering end users with ad hoc reporting functionality enables them to answer business questions at the moment they occur, users move from static reporting to dynamic queries, asking and answering questions about their data.
But first, it’s time for a Latin lesson. “Ad hoc” literally means “for this.” But for Business Intelligence (BI), a better way to say it is “when necessary.” It’s an action done for a specific purpose. Facilis! (That means “easy”…)
What is Ad Hoc Reporting
Ad hoc reporting is a business intelligence process in which dynamic, real-time data reports are created by the user on an as-needed basis. They are designed to answer a specific business question, usually in response to an event. When the solution can’t be found in your traditional, static reports, users create an ad hoc report using the data sets most relevant to the problem.
These kinds of reports are unique to your specific business query and allow for certain insights to be gained when faced with uncertainty. And they need to be precise, easy to understand, and sharable in order to make data-driven decisions as quickly and successfully as possible
Canned Reports vs Ad Hoc Reporting
Canned reports are those pertaining to a specific recurring set of interests. They are often created by an analyst and distributed to users at weekly, monthly, or even quarterly intervals. They refer to ongoing activity and display metrics deemed necessary for the organization or department as a whole.
And since they are distributed to a large audience, they are highly formatted and polished. A good example would be a monthly financial report measuring cash flow, balance sheet, etc. delivered to the CFO and finance analysts.
Canned reports are usually an organization’s first step into business intelligence. They are designed to answer general, yet necessary business questions. But since they are meant for a wide variety of users, their content is static.
Users are unable to change report elements or manipulate the report’s content. This means if a user had a specific question related to the static report, they had to create an ad hoc report.
Read about how to handle all those Ad Hoc Requests
Ad Hoc Requests
Before business intelligence platforms became necessary for organizations, businesses relied on things like Excel or Access to explore their data on an ad-hoc basis. For highly-technical “power” users, this was the only option. So if you were a non-technical user, you were either at the mercy of power users or simply out of luck.
But even for power users, simple spreadsheet reporting posed a number of issues. Data was often siloed by department, meaning it was difficult to access and likely inaccurate. And when data is siloed by department, there is little to no oversight, data security, or disaster recovery.
Business intelligence sought to fix this, allowing ever-increasing amounts of data to be available to the organization. But ad hoc capabilities were limited and often required ETL into a data warehouse.
Using a free reporting tool? Think again.
ETL refers to the process by which data is extracted from data sources, transformed into the proper format or structure for querying and analysis, and loaded into a target database. This is a highly technical process, meaning the average end-user had to request an ad hoc report from IT. By the time the report got back to the user, it was likely out of date and essentially useless.
In today’s data-centric business, ad hoc reporting has become a critical process for improving operations, performance, and decision-making. But how you create those reports may be doing more harm than good. Let’s look at some of the signs that your organization may be ad hoc reporting the wrong way.
Data reports are requested by users but created by developers. This puts a strain on your IT department as they struggle to keep up with demand while also working on the core application. It costs them time which costs your organization money.
Data reports aren’t in real-time. Ad hoc means “when necessary.” In business, if a solution is necessary, then it is necessary now. If reports are being delivered over a period of days, then it is already too late. Users can’t gain the insight necessary to make daily business decisions, an essential practice for staying competitive.
Data reports are difficult to understand. If data is represented in spreadsheets or other types of tabular presentation, then there is no easy way for users to see trends or comparisons of data. This limits the opportunity for insight and discovery.
Data reports are one-dimensional. The best solutions are often found in the underlying data. If a report is static, then users can’t drill down and get a more detailed focus of their data, again losing insights.
Features to Look for in Ad Hoc Reporting Tools
Ad hoc reports are designed to answer a specific question. Modern BI solutions allow the user to ask the question and find the answer themselves without the need to involve IT. They are completely self-service, empowering the end-user to take charge and create the report they need when they need it, allowing for quick decision-making and opportunity for insights.
Where traditional ad hoc reports are rough around the edges, and static reports are clean and polished, modern BI solutions converge the two. They provide the specificity of traditional ad hoc reports with the shine and shimmer of static reports.
And the best way to achieve that is through embedding the BI solution into your application. Embedded BI platforms enable end-users to produce ad hoc reports inside their application’s workflow. Without ever leaving their application, users on both sides of the technical spectrum can format and manipulate reports to best reflect their specific query. And the embedded nature of the BI solution allows for real-time data for more immediate and impactful decision-making.
Ad hoc reporting, also known as self-service reporting, is becoming an expected functionality when it comes to business intelligence. But no two solutions are the same. Not all embedded BI platforms offer the same functionality needed for true ad hoc reporting.
So now that we’ve discussed what it shouldn’t be, let’s look at what true ad hoc reporting should be.
Ad hoc reporting tools should be agile. Data-driven decision making relies on defining problems quickly and solving them in the same breath. Rather than drafting requests to IT and waiting on new reports, ad hoc reports should be created and analyzed for insight as soon as possible.
Ad hoc reporting tools should be versatile. Users should have the option to either create reports from scratch or modify existing reports. If a user’s specific question stems from an existing report, they should be able to modify that report if it helps to answer the question. If not, they should have the ability to create the report they need.
Ad hoc reporting tools should be flexible. Users should be able to navigate through data on customizable charts, tables, and graphs in a variety of ways such as drill down or drill through features. And users should be able to display their data through powerful and rich visualizations – like heat maps, funnel charts, scatter plots, etc.
Ad hoc reporting tools should be accessible. This means the BI solution needs to be 100% web-based. Empower users by enabling them to access data and build reports anywhere and anytime. As long as a device has an internet connection, ad hoc reporting isn’t limited to the user’s work computer.
Ad hoc reporting tools should empower every user. Modern BI is all about data democratization. Self-service reporting should satisfy users at both ends of the technical spectrum. That means it needs a basic set of intuitive features for the non-technical end-user, as well as a more advanced set of ad hoc tools for the power user.
Ad hoc reporting tools should be sharable. If it benefits the user, it benefits the team. If reports are reusable, it allows you to distribute them to your team or whole organization for further interaction, providing efficiency, and improving decision-making.
Above all, a self-service BI solution should be focused on the achievement of your organization’s strategy and goals. The functionality of ad hoc reporting should reflect that.
While it can be tough for any organization to find the right BI solution that offers true ad hoc reporting, the benefits make it a job worthy of an organization’s time. And while there are several benefits, let’s go over the big three.
Shopping for an Ad Hoc Reporting Tool? Read our guide!
Benefits of Ad Hoc Reporting Tools
Empowering End-Users to Build Their Own Reports Saves Time (and Money)
In a study of over 100 analytics managers, they found that 50% of the team’s time was spent working on ad hoc reporting requests. That’s time (and salaries) that could be spent on the core application. And according to APQC, the average organization spends over $0.80 on reporting alone for every $1,000 of revenue. For a $250M organization, that’s $200K. By putting that ability into the hands of all the users, it frees up IT to focus on higher-order issues while enhancing core-application value.
Data Democratization Increases Data Discovery
Intuitive ad hoc reporting stimulates information sharing among departments. It enables trend recognition along with any potential relevant correlations based on the immediate availability of accurate, up-to-date data. By increasing the chance for discovery, you increase the chances of finding things like inconsistencies, new revenue markets, and more.
Ad Hoc Reporting Streamlines Decision-Making
Of all the things ad hoc reporting can be, at its core, it’s a decision-making tool. Reports give a snapshot of the current state of the business through a specific lens – sales, marketing, performance, and other measures. Organized into a sharable and easy-to-read format, all employees can have the same resources and knowledge necessary for swift action. It makes data analysis a team effort.
How to Start Integrating an Ad Hoc Reporting Solution
The first step towards integrating an embedded analytics platform that allows ad hoc reporting starts with stepping back and assessing your organization’s reporting needs. Addressing these needs will not only ensure a smoother transition, but it will minimize potential issues that come with embedded analytics integration.
- What are your most common reporting requests? What are the typical follow-on requests?
Your most common report request will point to your biggest concern. Knowing what these reports are will help your organization to define priorities and map out the way users will go through reports to answer pressing questions.
- How should reporting and dashboard configurations vary by user role or persona?
For matters of security and compliance, not every user should have access to the same data sources. These permissions can all be modified at the granular level (with the right BI solution). But it’s important to know what these roles will be beforehand to ensure a solid transition. Also, you want to make sure that it will empower all users. If front line users find it too complex, or if power users find it too limiting, it will only result in more requests to IT.
- Which reports and dashboards are the most and least popular?
Usage metrics are key in understanding which reports users see value in. By providing users with the dashboards and reports they find the most value in, you’ll likely increase adoption rates in addition to optimizing their workflow.
Ad hoc reporting can have a tremendous impact on a wide variety of industries. With the right understanding of how it can impact your organization, integration can be seamless. And while there’s a lot to consider, let’s go over some key points about ad hoc reporting.
- Organizations benefit most from ad hoc reporting when it is put in the hands of its end-users.
- By empowering users to create their own reports, you remove the burden of report building from IT, allowing them to focus on the core application.
- Ad hoc reporting needs to be agile enough to provide data in real-time, and flexible enough to satisfy the needs of both technical and non-technical users.
- An ad hoc reporting solution needs to be 100% web-based so that data access and report building is available at the time and place the user needs it.
- Empowering end-users with ad hoc reporting capabilities streamlines decision-making, encourages collaboration, and increases the chance for insights and discoveries.
Embedded Ad Hoc Reporting with Izenda
Izenda’s fully-embedded BI solution empowers all users to create and analyze the reports and dashboards that they need at the moment they need it. Izenda’s intuitive and modern self-service platform allows
you to navigate your data through a variety of functions, such as drill down, and display it in rich visualizations, such as heat maps, pie graphs, and more.
Since Izenda is fully-embedded into your application, permissions are customizable at the granular level, allowing you to clearly define user roles and personas. It also inherits your existing security model so you never have to give up any credentials, keeping your data safe and secure.
Izenda is also a 100% web-based platform. It goes wherever your application goes, so you can access data and build reports at the time and place that you need.
And deployment is easy. Izenda can be up and running in as little as 30 days, giving your users the actionable data they deserve. And since it is embedded at the code level, it can integrate with any technology stack, and in cloud, on-premise, or hybrid applications. No 3rd party hardware required.
Izenda is a leading self-service BI platform that truly empowers your users to find actionable insights and make data-driven decisions. Its highly customizable architecture makes it a one-size-fits-all solution for your business, allowing your data to work for you the way you need it to. By scaling to your application and providing unlimited users, Izenda not only encourages growth but helps foster it.