What is ad-hoc reporting?

Ad-hoc reporting refers to a process that is designed to answer a single, specific business question. Users can create a report that does not already exist or choose to drill deeper into a static report to get details about accounts, transactions, or records.

Ad-hoc reports are financial reports created for one-time use. Today’s volumes of data and modern tools make it possible for employees to analyze data on an as-needed basis to answer specific business questions. Instead of waiting for scheduled reports, this allows business queries to be answered on-the-spot.

Sometimes specific business questions need to be answered quickly. With ad-hoc analysis, decision-makers obtain insights more rapidly, allowing them to make decisions flexibly and with as accurate information as possible.

Ad hoc reporting vs. structured reporting – what’s the difference?

Structured reports tend to use a formalized reporting template. Ad hoc reports, on the other hand, are generated on a needs-basis, so they tend to differ in their shape and subject matter.

Structured reports, also known as static reports, tend to be more formatted and are distributed to a larger audience. They are typically used to keep stakeholders informed on a regular basis regarding certain parameters.

Ad-hoc analyses on the other hand are produced once and are shared with a smaller audience in order to address a specific pain point or question. Are sales lower than usual? Why did we overspend this month? These are examples of time-specific questions that may arise and can be answered using ad-hoc reports.

Why produce ad-hoc reports?

There are a multitude of reasons to produce ad-hoc reports. However, the most common reasons tend to be:

  • There’s some aspect of a regular report that needs to be further examined
  • Management requests more information about a specific issue or dataset
  • Some event or trigger requires looking into the numbers

Things to keep in mind when producing an ad-hoc report

1.       Identify the question you’re supposed to be answering
When you’re putting together your ad-hoc report, always keep at the forefront of your mind what it is that you’re attempting to address. Knowing why you need it and how it can drive the organization forward is vital for ad hoc reporting. Each ad hoc report should ideally have at least one specific goal that you’re aiming to address.

2.       Remember the acronym KISS? (Keep it simple stupid)

Set a general theme for the report so that you can design it in such a way that it doesn’t overload the reader with too many details. So, go over your report and determine what the focus is and design it in such a way that it revolves around this focus without diverging too often. If you have too many data elements in the report, it might make sense to break it up into multiple reports.

Common ad-hoc reporting tools

Ad-hoc reporting is a feature that can be found in many BI systems and tools. Many BI tools such as Tableau, Sisense, and Domo offer some self-service reporting. Some create separate applications for ad hoc tools, while others offer an add-on.

Ad hoc reports can also be generated within Excel. This is a common and preferred method by many SMBs who don’t utilize BI tools, and even amongst some who do. Many users rely on the platform to save data extracts in Excel and use the variety of formulas and pivot tables that exist to get the data they need as they need it. Ad hoc excel reports are quite common and tend to be the norm- finance professionals can easily build a pivot table report with many fields in the filter area, and then use that information to answer just about any ad hoc inquiry requested by managers.

Issues with ad-hoc reporting

When producing ad-hoc reports, there are a few common issues that may arise:

1.       Incomplete data

Having some — but not all — of your data in one place can serve as a limitation of ad hoc reporting. If you’re looking at siloed or partial data, reports may be insufficient as they only represent a small part of the fuller, bigger picture.

2.       Lack of data governance

Data governance refers to the varying elements that are necessary to create consistency in handling organizational data. Since ad-hoc reports can be tailored to meet specific needs and interests, they may create insights that clash with other reports.

3.       Data availability

For things to work, everyone needs to be using the same underlying data. If this data varies and fluctuates within one organization, you’ll see many issues arising. If different people work with different underlying datasets, what will result is conflicting responses, inadequate solutions, and delayed decisions.

Enhancing ad-hoc reporting with DataRails

BI tools and the standard Excel can be great for ad hoc reporting, but with DataRails ad-hoc reporting can truly be taken to the next level.

DataRails can greatly improve the ad-hoc reporting process. With DataRails CPM software, users can continue to produce reports in Excel while leveraging the benefits of a connected centralized database of all organizational numbers. This means that instead of having to manually aggregate numbers for a particular cost center or branch, all the numbers are automatically synced within the DataRails database and can be pulled into Excel. Users can keep producing ad hoc reports within Excel while being able to pull information automatically from any system or source of information.

This way, users keep working on ad-hoc reports as they’re used to while benefiting from an extended Excel environment that allows them to build on top of existing processes instead of having to replace them.