What Is Ad Hoc Reporting – And Do I Need It?

on July 24th, 2017
What Is Ad Hoc Reporting – And Do I Need It?

See our complete guide on how to compare ad hoc reporting across top BI technologies.

We all know the saying, “fail to prepare, prepare to fail,” but in modern business environments, things are moving too fast to be able to predict the next ten steps. What you most need to know right now – whether to improve performance, boost profits, or storm ahead of the competition – could be totally different to what you’ll need to know this afternoon.

There’s a new way business people are preparing for the future, and that is: by arming themselves with the ability to move quickly.

A good business intelligence platform will help you handle this data and set the formulas that calculate this analysis at the drop of a hat.

With better BI, you can run those calculations on your own, with near-to-real-time data, producing reports fast.

…But what you need is great BI.

That’s because we rarely know for a fact that the same insights will remain our priorities until the end of time. Rather, you need to be agile enough to delve into your data and find out anything you want, with speed and ease, even when things change.

What is Ad-Hoc Reporting

Ad-hoc is Latin for “as the occasion requires.” Ad hoc reporting refers to any kind of report that you, the user, put together yourself, as and when you need it, rather than using a predefined template. This might be a one-off query, a customized version of analytics you’ve run before, or an entirely new report or dashboard feature that you’ll use again and again.

The point – the meaning of ad hoc reporting – is less to do with frequency, and more to do with whether you get to build your own, just the way you need it.

So, that’s what ad hoc means. Making sure your BI includes this feature is another story.

Plenty of BI vendors will tell you how powerful their platforms are, or how you can extract just about any insights you need from the data you collect. Certainly, it’s sensible to be as specific as you can about your business goals from the outset – that way, you start with the best dashboard reports and underlying structures to get the job done.

The trouble forms when vendors think that’s the problem solved, and build you a static system that won’t bend when you need it to.

The point of ad hoc analysis is to fill in the gaps left by regular reporting. You should be able to produce reports and visuals on the fly, or quickly tweak a regular query or report, without having to a) rewrite the whole thing from scratch or b) drag in your IT department to do it for you.

“Parameterized” vs Ad Hoc Reporting

To avoid getting stuck, it’s essential to ensure that your BI provider offers genuine ad hoc reporting, and not just parameterized reports. As the name suggests, the latter is a form of report or dashboard that’s created on a regular basis, say every day, based on set parameters

For example, you might produce a regular, parameterized report telling you how many leads were created in the past week.

This is useful, but it will likely open up more questions for a savvy marketing manager than it answers. They might want to know, for instance, where these leads actually came from, or how many were converted into sales opportunities, or what the demographic makeup was. To do that, you would need to be able to run or adapt a new query, not decided in advance.

Getting Results Fast

It’s all very well taking your new question to IT, but if they take a week to answer, it’s not much good to you. Instead, you really need a data-driven system that allows you to drill down to the details beyond the headline numbers, manipulate queries and formulas and pose additional questions – even if you lack the traditional tech skills.

What’s more, for your team to engage with the answers, boring long-form reports that no one reads will hardly cut it. Look out for a BI vendor that can provide all these perks while presenting insights in a dynamic, visual style that helps you grasp the situation and put your insights to action, fast.

That’s what ad hoc reporting is… but how does it work in practice? Click here to download the full whitepaper, talking you through the technical options to pick the right vendor for you.