What is Ad Hoc Reporting?

Data Visualization
Jun 8, 2024
What is Ad Hoc Reporting?

Remember when you thought you performed well on a test in school, but you had to wait over the weekend until the teacher graded it? In the world of business, you often need data in real-time, so you can make vital decisions that impact people, operations or revenue. If something big happens today, you’ll need a report on it today that can’t wait over the weekend.

In other words, you need ad hoc reporting. Instead of run-of-the-mill reports that you send or receive weekly/monthly/quarterly, ad hoc reports are created whenever the need arises.

Let’s show you why these reports are crucial for your business.

What is an ad hoc report?

Ad hoc is an expression from Latin that means “to this” or “as needed”. An ad hoc report is one that you create when there is a need for it. For example, you just launched a new Facebook ad campaign and you want to see the results immediately instead of waiting for a week until the next marketing meeting.

static vs ad hoc reports

Ad hoc reports help you run a more data-driven business as you can make important decisions on the go and drill down into data early, to strike the iron while it’s hot.

Businesses from all types of industries can benefit from these kinds of reports, but having this functionality comes at a cost. To be able to create ad hoc reports, business users need to be familiar with business intelligence tools. This way, they can create reports and dashboards on their own, without calling up the IT department. But more on that in a second.

Ad hoc reports can be created within organizations, when different team members take on the task of the report creation. If you’re building a data-powered product, it’s also possible to create ad hoc reports within embedded analytics. For example, a SaaS app can allow the end user to create reports with their own data, without having to leave said SaaS app.

The benefits of ad hoc reporting

Making data-driven decisions is the biggest advantage of running ad hoc reports. But there are some others you should be familiar with too.

Empowering non-technical users

In traditional BI settings, only those who are proficient in data analysis and engineering can create reports. This can cause bottlenecks and slow down decision-making. On the other hand, ad hoc reports allow for self-service analytics.

self service analytics dashboard
An example of a dashboard by Commspace

With some training and the right ad hoc reporting tools, anyone can learn how to create an interactive dashboard with data visualizations.

Flexibility and customization

When the IT or data analytics department creates a report for you, that’s a done deal. You can just look at the data and interpret it, with some level of exploration.

On the other hand, ad hoc reports let the end user customize the experience and choose the KPIs and metrics relevant for their business questions. Once again, choosing the right BI tool is crucial to turn this into reality.

If you are adding customer-facing analytics to your SaaS, these two attributes are crucial for getting more users to create dashboards and reports.

Improved decision-making

You don’t just get the right data more quickly compared to traditional reports. The added benefit is that the end-user can create the kind of tailored reports that answer their specific questions.

For example, marketing and sales could be working on the same datasets related to the most recent campaign. Sales can create an ad hoc report focusing on the cost per lead, while marketing could focus on the quality of leads and the sources they came from.

Through this data, you can make better decisions about the profitability of your specific business. One dataset could yield countless graphs, reports and dashboards, but not every graph is as valuable to everyone. With ad hoc reporting, you can pick out those insights that are most relevant to you. 

Decreased workload for IT departments

Data analysts probably have more important things to do than create a report every time decision-makers need the latest sales stats. Okay, that may not be always the case, but the reality is that when anyone can create an ad hoc report, the IT department can breathe more easily.

In the long run, this type of reporting can also save plenty of money for the company, as none of the stakeholders will have to wait for the IT department to deliver a finished report.

Improved communication and collaboration

No more 50 versions of different Excel spreadsheets. When you start out from the same datasets, everyone can create their own reports and they will all be accurate. This can streamline operations in your business environment, but more importantly, it ensures that all teams are aligned.

You can achieve higher operational efficiency by giving everyone the ability to go from raw data to valuable insights, on their own terms.

The challenges of ad hoc reporting

So far, you get the impression that this reporting type can speed up business decisions and make life easier for just about every stakeholder in your organization. But there are some considerations that you should be aware of too.

User training and adoption

Creating reports on demand may sound easy in theory, but in practice can be wildly different. While many reporting solutions today are easy to use, the end user should still know the foundations of business intelligence and data analytics.

In other words, to make the most out of sales data, a sales professional has to go beyond their day-to-day tools and metrics to be able to make more informed decisions.

Depending on the tool you choose, make sure your end users get sufficient training before they can attempt creating their own dashboards and reports.

Data quality and consistency

Your business provides the clay for the end users to shape and create their works of art. That starting point is the data, and if it’s not clean and well-structured, each of your reports will be inaccurate, leading to wrong ad hoc analysis.

This is why most teams who use ad hoc reporting have at least one expert in data governance, modeling and structure. This person should ensure the integrity, cleanliness and structure of data before it’s passed on to different stakeholders for reporting purposes.

Cost considerations

Depending on the number of users, data sources, and your individual use cases, a BI solution for ad hoc reporting can be pretty expensive. The likes of Looker can cost upwards of $100k per year, for example.

Besides the monthly and annual license costs, you have to factor in the costs of training and onboarding. If you’re starting off with something like Power BI and you don’t have experienced Power BI developers, it can take months for your team to be able to create reports independently.

Besides the pricing, carefully weigh out the pros and cons of the self service BI tool you choose and ensure the user experience facilitates easy ad hoc reporting.

Data security, compliance and access control

When IT teams create one-time, static reports, they’re the one in charge of the data from start to finish. The end user only gets to see the finished product.

Ad hoc reporting allows everyone access to that data, and you need to have systems in place to ensure the right people can use it for their reports. Good BI tools can take this off your plate and they are also compliant with most international data protection laws.

Examples of ad hoc reporting across industries

Want to get inspired on how to use ad hoc reporting in your day-to-day work? Here are some illustrative examples.

Healthcare: a patient administrator can generate an ad hoc report on the average patient wait times in the emergency room, to remove potential bottlenecks.

Retail: a sales manager can pull an ad hoc report to investigate the sales performance of different stores during a promotional period, helping to find the most efficient sales reps.

Financial reporting: a financial analyst can generate a report to assess the risk exposure of a certain portfolio in light of recent market conditions and changes.

Manufacturing: a manager creates reports to analyze the downtime of certain machines and production delays, with the aim of improving operational efficiency.

Education: a professor can generate a report on student performance in an exam for a specific class, helping identify areas where students struggle and need additional teaching materials.

Marketing: a performance marketing manager creates a report to evaluate the effectiveness of a recent PPC campaign and determine the keywords with the best ROI.

Start creating ad hoc reports today

If you have a SaaS app, you want to make it easy for the end user to view reports with their data, or even create their own reports from scratch. Just a few years ago, this seemed incredibly complex and expensive. Nowadays, embedded analytics platforms like Luzmo make ad hoc reporting for SaaS users a reality.

Sign up and within a few hours, you’ll have a live, finished dashboard in your app. Don’t take our word for it - sign up for a free demo so we can show you how it works in practice.

Mile Zivkovic

Mile Zivkovic

Senior Content Writer

Mile Zivkovic is a content marketer specializing in SaaS. Since 2016, he’s worked on content strategy, creation and promotion for software vendors in verticals such as BI, project management, time tracking, HR and many others.

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