Blog Credit: Andy Morris, June 10, 2021 (What Is Ad Hoc Reporting & Analysis? Definition, Benefits & Goals | NetSuite)
As the volume of data grows, so does its role in business decision-making. But for organizations to truly harness data’s value at any given moment, it must be easily accessible, accurate and up-to-date. Only then will decision-makers fully trust reports and analyses and intuitively understand the story being told by their data.
Ad hoc, or “as needed,” reporting and analysis tools can empower all employees — from nontechnical leaders to professional data analysts — to access key organizational insights so they can answer business questions on the spot and make proactive, well-informed decisions.
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What Is Ad Hoc Reporting?
Ad hoc reporting is a business intelligence process used to quickly create reports on an as-needed basis. Ad hoc reports are generally created for one-time use to find the answer to a specific business question, such as how many support tickets were resolved last week or how many calls a salesperson made yesterday. Ad hoc reports usually present information in a visual format that makes it easy to garner insights on the fly. With the right ad hoc reporting tools, anyone with the needed access to applications is capable of building reports from scratch, regardless of data expertise, circumventing the need to wait for standard analysis from IT or data analyst teams.
What Is Ad Hoc Analysis?
Ad hoc analysis is similar to ad hoc reporting in that it’s a business intelligence process that aims to answer specific business questions on an as-needed basis. But ad hoc analysis goes further, expanding on the objective data of a report to extract deeper insights.
In other words, ad hoc analysis gives business teams the ability to connect more dots — not just what happened, but why. For example, why were fewer support tickets resolved than usual, or why do sales calls made to prospects in one region tend to be more successful than another? Results are generally presented graphically so insights can be garnered at a glance.
Ad hoc analysis is a dynamic process, meaning report elements can be changed and manipulated at will, in real time, providing some level of measurement not used in traditional static reporting. For an organization to get the most out of its data, any user should be able to run an ad hoc analysis.
- Ad hoc reporting and analysis are two business intelligence processes used to make real-time business assessments on the fly and respond to business challenges proactively.
- Ad hoc reporting generally provides quick answers to specific questions, whereas ad hoc analysis enables business leaders to drill down and extract more insightful information.
- Relying on IT and data analysts to provide reports and analyses can be time-consuming, defeating the purpose of “ad hoc” (as needed) immediacy and distracting data professionals from more valuable tasks.
- Ad hoc reporting and analysis solutions should be intuitive and easy to use so everyone in an organization, regardless of technical prowess, can make more informed decisions and quickly share insights to easily collaborate with other colleagues.
Ad Hoc Reporting Explained
Ad hoc reporting and analysis differs from traditional, static reporting in which technical specialists, like data analysts, create and distribute reports. Through ad hoc reporting, employees are empowered to find answers to business questions at any given moment, without having to relay the task to other teams.
There is still a place for recurring or ongoing data reports devised by analysts. Canned reports — reports created by either business users or included in business software — are a vital business intelligence tool because they continuously provide key performance data over time, such as sales trends, market shifts and product performance. They’re capable of using real-time data, but canned reports are saved and reused while ad hoc reports are built for one-off scenarios at any moment.
Ad hoc reports are concise, precise, intuitive and shareable, which can foster collaboration and decision-making. How ad hoc reporting is used may vary from business to business, and can depend on the type of ad hoc reporting and analysis software used combined with the business team’s needs.
Why Is Ad Hoc Reporting & Analysis Important?
In today’s fast-paced business landscape, decision-makers need answers to pressing questions as quickly as possible. But when time is of the essence, employees can’t always expect to find business solutions in their traditional, static reports. Reports and analyses that take days for delivery often arrive too late. Ad hoc reporting and analysis is important because it enables businesses to quickly find answers to unique queries as soon as a question is posed, thereby hastening the decision-making process.
Further, ad hoc reporting and analysis reduces IT and data analyst workloads. The intuitive, at-will nature of these tools means even nontechnical business users can ask questions of, and interact with, company data without seeking assistance from data analysts.
What Is Ad Hoc Reporting & Analysis Used For?
Ad hoc reporting and analysis fulfills data analysis needs not already met by the static recurring reports produced every week, month or year. Specifically, ad hoc tools are used to do things like analyze how the business is doing at any given point in time, even if that data has not yet been analyzed by a scheduled report.
Ad hoc reporting and analysis affords organizations across all industries the ability to stay on their toes and react to sudden changes, giving them a competitive edge.
Ad hoc reporting & analysis use cases
Many companies across industries rely on ad hoc reporting and analysis to inform day-to-day decision-making. Here are some specific examples of how different sectors put them to use.
- Sales: Ad hoc reporting and analysis makes it easy for sales managers to tap into specific data, from creating reports that show how many items were sold over a certain period to in-depth analyses that illustrate sales outcomes based on specific scenarios, such as location or sales rep.
- Healthcare: Few industries compile more data than healthcare. Physicians, department managers and healthcare administrators may not be data analysts, but to do their jobs effectively they must be able to generate data reports and analyses at will. For example, a hospital with suddenly higher readmission rates can run an ad hoc analysis to discover what might be underlying causes and whether the problem is isolated to a certain department. Understanding the issue can help the hospital come to a solution so patients receive better care.
- Human resources: Companies collect a variety of employee data — salary, timesheets, sick days, benefits information, performance information and more. Ad hoc reporting and analysis tools enable HR departments to spot deficiencies that, when resolved, can improve employee satisfaction and engagement. For example, HR teams can run analyses on approved PTO scheduling during a given week, drilling down to see whether it aligns with any other variables.
- Finance: Accounting and finance teams rely on AR and AP figures, metrics, key performance indicators (KPIs) and other business data. Ad hoc data reporting and analysis makes it easier for finance teams to drill down into any combination of financial data at will. This would let a finance team review discounting or profitability of a new product, or even get to the bottom of why one region’s expenses were especially high in a given quarter.
- Retail: Reports and analytics can help retail organizations in a few ways, such as understanding what affects sales volume so they can optimize inventory levels to prevent dead stock. Ad hoc reports can show specific times of low sales volume, while analyses can enable managers to conclude why — whether it’s seasonality or external conditions like an economic downturn in a given area. Tapping into this information can help managers determine whether they should scale back inventory or reduce labor hours, for instance.
Canned Reports vs. Ad Hoc Reporting: What’s the Difference?
Canned reports, also known as traditional or static reports, pertain to a specific recurring set of business questions and/or interests. They’re usually created by data analysts and distributed to relevant stakeholders at regular intervals, such as weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually. Canned reports typically compile a variety of metrics and data that are relevant to a specific business department or the organization as a whole. For example, a monthly financial report might include cash flow data and the balance sheet and is delivered to the finance team and CFO.
Because canned reports are static, business leaders typically can’t change the included data sets or manipulate the report. However, canned reports are typically clean and polished and provide answers to general — yet vital — business questions. Between canned reports and ad hoc reporting and analysis, leadership, managers and employees can access a comprehensive view of the organization’s data, enabling them to better respond to potential business challenges and spot new opportunities.
Benefits of Ad Hoc Reporting & Analysis
Data is continually growing more important, and organizations will only collect more of it. But the rise in data volumes and importance mean organizations will eventually struggle to manage their data, and there are only so many data analysts to go around. Ad hoc reporting and analysis tools offer a number of benefits that enable businesses to get as much value as they can from the information they collect:
- Flexibility: Business leaders can choose the data they want to work with and select the visual format. Ad hoc reporting and analysis tools make it possible to create reports from scratch and create customizable charts, graphs and tables that can be manipulated and adjusted to answer any business question at a moment’s notice.
- Speed: Individuals, regardless of technical expertise, can access data when they need it without having to bother data analysts or IT teams for one-off requests. This means anyone has the power to find answers to pressing business questions; data professionals can remain focused on the tasks only they know how to do.
- Empowers staff: Ad hoc reporting and analysis solutions empower people to access and report findings as needed. The best ad hoc reporting and analysis tools satisfy executives, managers and staff of all capabilities by providing basic intuitive features for nontechnical people and advanced ad hoc tools for data professionals.
- Agile decision-making: Business environments are constantly changing, so businesses must be able to adapt and evolve quickly to stay competitive. Ad hoc reporting and analysis makes it possible to answer questions on demand so businesses can make decisions faster. Data visualizations associated with ad hoc reports are easier to understand at a glance compared with complex, structured reports.
- Encourages collaboration: Ad hoc reporting and analysis tools encourage collaboration by making it not only easy to create reports, but to organize and share them with other teams who can view them on-demand.
Challenges of Ad Hoc Reporting & Analysis
Despite the many benefits of ad hoc reporting and analysis, no technology is without its challenges. Here are some key factors to consider when incorporating ad hoc reporting and analysis into your business strategy:
- Partial view of data: If data is siloed, business leaders may not be able to readily access the information they need. To get the most out of an ad hoc solution, all data inflows must be fed into the software so people can zero in on exactly what they need, when they need it.
- Data inconsistency: For ad hoc reporting to be effective, everyone needs access to the same underlying data. This means data cannot vary throughout the organization; otherwise it may lead to conflicting answers and insights that must be addressed, thereby delaying decision-making.
- Lack of proper training: Although the best ad hoc tools are intuitive, managers must undergo proper training to get the most out of their ad hoc reporting and analysis solutions. Improper training can lead to limitations that yield negative results. For example, it’s important that business teams understand that ad hoc reports generally display information related to specific, isolated data sets — something that shouldn’t be confused for a big-picture business overview.
- Lack of proper data governance: Data governance, or the data management practices that ensure the organization has high-quality data that remains secure, consistent, available and usable, is key to successful ad hoc reporting and analysis. Any loopholes in an organization’s data governance practices can negatively affect reporting and analyses outcomes because data may not be trustworthy.
- Too much reliance on self-service tools: Despite the benefits of ad hoc reporting and analysis, companies that completely rely on these self-service tools will miss out on the benefits of static reporting. On the flip side, relying too much on static reports eliminates the timely benefits of ad hoc reporting and analyses. To get a complete view of data, companies should strive to find the appropriate balance between standard recurring reports and ad hoc reports.
Goals of Ad Hoc Reporting & Analysis
The ultimate goal of ad hoc reporting and analysis is to help businesses get the most out of their data at any given moment. There are three ways in which ad hoc reporting and analysis tools can make this happen:
Empowering decision-makers with data
With self-service solutions, everyone can be a data wizard regardless of technical expertise. Organizations will benefit most from ad hoc tools when they enable business leaders to ask their own questions of company data without assistance from data analysts and IT teams.
Without self-service solutions, data analysts are often bombarded with ad hoc reporting and analyses requests. When anyone can tap into their organization’s data at will, analysts can spend time on more valuable tasks and business leaders become self-sufficient — saving the business time and money.
Inspiring business leaders to explore data
When data is available to more of the workforce, it inspires data discovery. When ad hoc tools are intuitive, it can catalyze information sharing across colleagues and departments. When sharable, communicable data is in the hands of more people — not just analysts — the more likely they are to spot trends, inconsistencies, new opportunities and more.
Streamlining the decision-making process
Ad hoc analyses and reports provide an overview of the state of the business through a specific filter, be it marketing, human resources, sales, inventory, finances or other key business departments. This information is intuitively organized and displayed so it can be shared with leadership and stakeholders without the need for in-depth technical explanation. In other words, reports and analyses can be quickly and easily distributed to an entire team or organization for deliberation, improving the decision-making process.
Examples of Ad Hoc Reporting & Analysis
Companies across industries use ad hoc reporting and analysis to tap into their data. To get a better sense of how ad hoc reporting and analysis can be applied in a business context, consider these two examples:
- A Colorado-based performance sock company was experiencing difficulty in its ability to efficiently access and report on data, often requiring third-party IT consultants to troubleshoot issues and implement workarounds. This led to unnecessary amounts of manual work that stood in the way of quickly accessing important company data when needed. By transitioning to a solution that provides flexible, ad hoc reporting and analysis capabilities, the company became better able to drill down into key data when needed. For example, the company could look at product sales by variations and customers to help make business decisions, and tap into real-time inventory data to more efficiently fulfill orders from retail partners and consumers.
- A tech startup in California began to notice absenteeism issues over the past six months but was uncertain whether it was an organization-wide issue or departmental issue. Using an ad hoc reporting tool, the company discovered sick days and time off were fairly even across the entire organization. The reason for high absentee rates was still unclear, so the company conducted further analysis to spot any other trends.Ultimately, it found employees were more likely to call out or take days off during extremely busy periods, likely due to stress or feeling overworked. As a response, the company tested a hybrid work-from-home model, allowing employees to work from home two days a week and come to the office three days a week. After another six months, employee motivation and engagement increased despite several busy periods.
Features of Ad Hoc Reporting & Analysis Tools
Ad hoc reporting and analysis tools must provide business leaders with the ability to rapidly access data to answer business questions. There are several important features that not only make this possible, but they enable everyone to get the most out of their organization’s data:
- Access to numerous data sources: Ad hoc reporting and analysis tools that funnel all organizational data into one source are more effective and efficient than having to run queries from multiple discrete sources.
- Data visualization: Humans process visual information more easily than other forms. Tools that provide charts, graphs, tables and other graphical displays are more powerful than rows and columns of words and numbers.
- Self-service: The best ad hoc reporting and analysis tools empower people to create their own reports at will, saving time and money by allowing professional data analysts to focus on adding value where they excel.
- Intuitive technology: When tools are easy to use and set up, more people are more likely to use them. Any technology that is — or even appears to be — complicated is more likely to turn people off, diminishing adoption.
- Scalability: Ad hoc reporting tools should be relevant for businesses of all sizes, whether enterprise-level or small, family-owned businesses. They should also be able to scale up with businesses that set their sights on growth.
Data is only getting more important, intensifying the need for organizations to make use of their data effectively. When used correctly, an organization’s data can offer abundant opportunities for individuals to improve operational efficiency, profitability and growth. Ad hoc reporting and analysis solutions empower everyone — including nontechnical business leaders — to answer the most pressing business questions by accessing real-time data at any time, streamlining the decision-making process.
Ad Hoc Reporting FAQs
Q: What is an example of ad hoc analysis?
A: Ad hoc analysis is a business intelligence process in which business leaders can tap into organizational data to not only answer business questions in real time, but also uncover why things happened or what might happen if certain changes were made. For example, a company might run an ad hoc analysis to determine whether a drop in sales is due to price changes, recurring stockouts or external factors like market conditions.
Q: Can you perform ad hoc reporting in Excel?
A: True ad hoc reporting generally cannot be performed in Excel because ad hoc reporting requires constant access to real-time, updated data. However, there are some workarounds: Pivot tables can be used to respond to ad hoc queries for data that is already updated in the spreadsheet and external business solutions, and third-party apps and plugins can be used to feed real-time data into Excel. The bottom line: you may be able to do it, but it’ll be painful and you’ll lose most of the “ad hoc-iness” part of the value.
Q: What does ad hoc stand for in business?
A: Ad hoc is a Latin phrase directly translated as “to this.” In business, this is generally better understood as “as needed,” “as the occasion requires” or “created or done for a particular purpose, as necessary.” Ad hoc reports and analysis are typically conducted at will in order to find immediate answers to pressing questions.
Q: What is ad hoc in accounting?
A: Ad hoc reporting in accounting refers to the process of conducting any one-off analysis or report. This differs from scheduled financial reporting, such as that done as part of a monthly or year-end financial close.