Ad hoc means “for this” in Latin and refers to something done for a specific purpose. Ad hoc reporting, then, is the process of creating reports for a specific occasion (as opposed to for general use). In business intelligence, ad hoc reporting supplements canned reports by enabling end users to either duplicate and edit premade reports or build entirely new ones from scratch without assistance from IT.
BI analysts typically provide their end users with a library of pre-made, general-purpose reports that will satisfy business needs most of the time. Some of these regular reports will be fully static; all end users can do is select the report and run it. Others, however, may be parameterized, giving end users the ability to customize one or more variables affecting the report’s output.
It’s important to distinguish parameterized reports from ad hoc reports. A parameterized inventory report, for example, might permit the end user to select a date range and warehouse but would prevent her from changing anything else about the report. Parameterized reports are somewhat customizable; ad hoc reports are completely customizable and indispensable to executives and managers looking for swift, targeted insights.
Pre-built reports stored in a report library and intended for general use. They may or may not be parameterized, and their core definitions cannot be altered.
Canned reports equipped with customizable settings such as such as sorts, filters, parameters, and styling options. Their core definitions cannot be altered.
Ad Hoc Reports
Reports created for a specific occasion rather than for general use.
Ad Hoc Reporting Example
The value of ad hoc is in its flexibility and expediency. Bob is the regional sales manager for a magazine company, and he uses an application called MagaZone to keep track of all his team’s ad sales. MagaZone’s reporting suite includes a premade parameterized sales report that will show him how much each member of his team has sold into which publications over a specified period of time, but he needs more detailed information this month.
This month, some of his company’s magazines have introduced a new type of print ad called an advertorial, and he wants to see how many of these new ads his agents have sold and to whom. With ad hoc reporting, he could either make a copy of the original sales report and add the newly pertinent data fields (such as AdType and ClientIndustry), or he could build and run a brand-new report expressly for that purpose. In either case, he’d have the tools he needed to get a pulse on the new ad campaign, and he wouldn’t need to wait for technical assistance to do so.
Features of Strong Ad Hoc Reporting Solutions
Ad hoc reporting solutions vary in functionality, so it’s important to look at the details when evaluating a BI application. Here are capabilities to look for as you browse.
- The ability to create ad hoc reports from regular reports. This saves end users a great deal of time. A robust ad hoc reporting solution would make it possible for end users to clone static or parameterized reports and make changes to them without affecting the original reports or having to build them from scratch.
- The ability to create reports from scratch. When no regular reports even come close to satisfying an emergent business need, end users should have access to well-groomed data and a blank reporting canvas.
- The ability to display tabular detail. If an end user is taking the time to build a custom report, she will want access to all the data, not just totals, averages, and other aggregations. Granting end users access to tabular detail rows gives them granular control over their ad hoc reports.
- The ability to build a report without having to know anything about data modeling. Non-technical end users are generally unfamiliar with the nuances of data modeling, so it’s important to find a solution that handles modeling behind the scenes while permitting more advanced users to adjust those defaults.
- Ease of use. Business intelligence reports can be very complex, so you want the application to be powerful and feature rich without being overwhelming. Look for solutions that can be tailored to accommodate users at either end of the technical spectrum.
- Web-based access. What’s the point of being able to answer unanticipated questions if you can only do so at your desktop computer? Ensure that your end users will be able to access their data anywhere on any connected device so that their ad hoc reports can be truly ad hoc.
Real Ad Hoc Reporting Use Cases
Since the primary goal of an ad hoc reporting solution is to give end users direct control over their analytics, ad hoc reporting applications are typically designed to be easy to use and intuitive. The following software providers’ embedded ad hoc reporting solutions empowered customers in two entirely different industries (attractions and education) to craft reports without help from the providers’ IT teams, improving overall customer satisfaction and operational efficiency.
Outbound makes web solutions serving the attractions industry, and its earlier incarnations supplied users with static reports. “Customers would use those, but then they’d always want to tweak things,” says Founder and Solutions Architect Marc Jorrens. Before users have the power to make their own changes to existing reports, it fell to Outbound to field requests, build a new custom report, and add it to the static report library in an upcoming release. Once they transitioned to an ad hoc reporting solution, however, users could make any necessary report adjustments on the spot.
But ad hoc reporting did more than give customers additional leverage over existing reports: it also enabled them to author their own. With the introduction of ad hoc, Outbound quickly discovered that a number of customer reporting needs had been going unmet. Jorrens says he saw customers creating reports he and his team hadn’t realized they needed, reports like visitor flow-per-hour reports compounded with weather data, a valuable tool for predicting staffing needs. It only takes one report author to deliver those business insights to the organization at large.
Strategic Insurance Software
SIS produces web-based insurance agency management system Partner XE, which helps over 360 independent insurance carriers manage prospects, policies, claims, and financial information. Bryce Lee, Director of Product Management, says that Partner XE did offer ad hoc reporting to its customers originally but that it “wasn’t used often” because it was “extremely manual” and difficult to use. As a result, Partner XE’s IT team found itself becoming a reporting bottleneck.
Not only that, but they were getting requests for reports their solution was not equipped to answer. “We had a number of different clients calling and asking, ‘What is my total premium written for this year that had x amount of claims filed, and what’s coming in the front door but dropping out of the bottom?’ It really started to push the pace of our older platform.” Switching to a user-friendly but robust ad hoc reporting solution allowed them to build out their canned report library while empowering end users to author their own more context-specific reports.
At Converse College, an esteemed women’s college in Spartanburg, South Carolina, ad hoc reporting was the difference between an antiquated endowment program and one that would sustain the school’s scholarship program by appealing to modern philanthropists. According to Inside Philanthropy, endowment donors are becoming increasingly motivated by data on their gifts’ impact. Where in the past donors might have been satisfied to know that their contribution helped fund the organization as a whole, today’s philanthropists like to know specifics, such as which particular programs their dollars helped fund and what percentage of the costs they covered.
The Advancement Services department at Converse use DonorPerfect by Softerware to track and manage all of the college’s incoming gifts, and the application comes pre-stocked with reports. Those reports satisfy the department’s needs 80% of the time, and when it needs something a bit more customized, it uses the application’s Easy Reports tool. Neither option satisfied the department’s endowment reporting requirements, however, so it upgraded to a plan that includes DonorPerfect’s Smart Analytics feature, a full ad hoc reporting suite that allows Converse to merge and manipulate donor information in a way that meets their unique endowment reporting needs.
Ad Hoc Reporting FAQs
Most of my end users will never build a report from scratch because it’s not part of their job description. Why, then, should I provide ad hoc reporting?
It’s true that most beneficiaries of ad hoc reporting will never build a report themselves; these individuals are called “data consumers.” Many companies, however, will have one or more data analysts responsible for fielding internal reporting requests, and those individuals will be the ones taking advantage of your ad hoc reporting tools, dramatically reducing your IT workload while improving their own operational efficiency.
How can end users transition from simply running reports to building their own?
Not all users need to build their own reports, but the ones that do can begin by making small structural changes to canned reports, learning new features and tools as necessity requires.
How should I structure my ad hoc reporting training program?
This will largely depend on your company’s bandwidth, product, and customer base, but there are a host of great tips out there from companies who have designed such programs and had time to experiment.
Note: Article originally published on Exago.