Why Teams Should Embrace Ad Hoc Reporting

To better understand and act on data, teams need the agility to produce reports on-demand. Ad hoc reporting is essential for business intelligence success.
Matt Talbot
Matt Talbot
CEO of Superchart
March 20, 2023
Why Teams Should Embrace Ad Hoc Business Reporting

Why Ad Hoc Reporting is Necessary

Ad hoc reporting is an important part of any successful business intelligence strategy. It enables teams to quickly and easily access data to answer ad hoc questions that arise in the course of operations. Ad hoc analysis enables companies to gain insights beyond what established reports provide, helping to uncover patterns, trends, and other useful information to make better decisions. No matter how well thought out an internal reporting strategy is, there will always be gaps and questions that arise during the regular course of business.

Ad hoc reporting covers a range of activities and techniques such as ad hoc queries, ad hoc database analysis, ad hoc simulations, ad hoc reporting tools, ad hoc data exploration, ad hoc dashboards, and visualizations. All these methods help business intelligence professionals gain quick insights and responses when needed. Such ad hoc reporting capabilities can be used to identify new opportunities or areas for further analysis on topics ranging from customer segmentation to pricing strategies and marketing campaigns.

The benefits of ad hoc reporting are multiple:

  • it helps organizations respond more effectively to dynamic business environments;
  • it allows deeper exploration of data points; it provides up-to-date insights from frequently changing sources; it facilitates collaboration amongst team members;
  • and it improves decision-making by providing timely information with which to make informed decisions quickly.

Ad hoc reporting can also be used for predictive analytics and forecasting. Creating models that take into account past data points and trends to predict future performance is a common, once-off activity. This type of analytics helps businesses plan for resource allocation needs or market changes that may have an impact on their operations.

Ad hoc reports are beneficial for businesses in many ways since they enable teams to quickly create custom reports tailored specifically toward individual needs without having to go through the process of creating complex reports within a BI tool or platform. Furthermore, ad hoc analytics offer more flexibility than traditional BI software because they allow users to customize their queries based on specific criteria or metrics that are not available through existing toolsets.

That new marketing campaign that was just launched? Well, how did it impact reactivations in our product? What about the news that a competitor got funding? Did that impact traffic to our site? The good news is that a well-built internal reporting infrastructure can help answer these questions faster. However, in almost all cases, there isn’t an existing dashboard or report that can fully answer the new question.

This is where ad hoc reporting comes in to save the day. Ad hoc reporting is used to answer a specific question and is usually accompanied by a narrative to help put the report in context for the audience. We have previously covered the definition of ad hoc reporting if you want to read that article for more context.

Why Ad Hoc Reporting is So Effective

As many can relate, dashboards can serve many purposes, but they sometimes don’t do a great job of putting information into context.

Dashboards are often used to quickly and easily summarize data, but they don't always provide the level of detail needed to answer ad hoc questions. Dashboards are typically limited in their ability to reveal more complex relationships between data points or multiple datasets. Furthermore, dashboards can often be difficult to set up and maintain for ad hoc reporting purposes, as they could require regular updates and manual data imports.

This can lead to stale and unused dashboards. Let’s face it: it’s pretty common to open up a dashboard, apply a few filters, and then export the data to Excel to begin the “real work” of analyzing the information. The dashboard is often only a jumping-off point.

Ad hoc reporting can extend traditional business intelligence and is often necessary to answer more specific, nuanced questions. Ad hoc reporting offers a flexible approach to analytics that is quick and easy to use when responding to ad hoc questions or changes in business needs. Ad hoc reporting allows users to tailor their queries according to specific criteria or metrics, without having to rely on pre-defined dashboards or reports (or the technical teams that drive BI). This means ad hoc reporting can help users quickly and easily analyze data in real time, allowing them to make informed decisions based on up-to-date information.

Ad hoc reporting turns the information contained in data and charts into something visual that can be shared, communicated, and understood across a team. This enables everyone to quickly get on the same page around a shared document and communicate in real-time about the results. Further, ad hoc reporting creates an artifact that can be referenced and referred to later.

Finally, ad hoc reporting puts the data story at the center of the report. People remember stories and relate to them in a way that a dashboard just can’t deliver. It’s simply human nature!

Why Non-Data Engineering Teams Love Ad Hoc Reporting

At this point, it’s hard to find anyone that doesn’t understand and appreciate the importance of using data to help decision-making.

However, there is still a massive gap between those that can build a dashboard and those that are comfortable analyzing data in a no-code tool like Microsoft Excel. Dashboards are complex, require strict data model definitions, and require the skills of a data pro. The "everyday analyst" is not likely to acquire (or have the time/space to acquire) all the knowledge necessary to build dashboards unless it is vital or required for their job. A dashboard is typically built to provide a bird’s eye view of a specific set of predetermined metrics.

Ad hoc reporting, on the other hand, can enable non-technical folks to use tools they love to quickly analyze information and then communicate their findings in a highly digestible and visual format.  Analysts can answer ad hoc questions or make changes to business needs without having to rely on pre-defined dashboards or reports. With ad hoc analysis, users have the flexibility to tailor their queries according to specific criteria or metrics, giving them access to real-time information and allowing them to make informed decisions based on up-to-date data.

Because ad hoc reports focus on a targeted question, it’s important to be able to be flexible with the data. This enables a back-and-forth process to dig into the subject, which can be more interesting and satisfying than simply filtering or digging through a dashboard. This creation process gives non-technical folks a sense of control over the data, which tends to lead to better and more contextual insights.

This makes ad hoc reporting a critical part of the decision-making process, particularly for non-data engineering teams who don’t have access to tools or expertise like traditional business intelligence practitioners do. Ad hoc reporting empowers users everywhere.

The Risks of Ad Hoc Reporting

Ad hoc reporting can be a powerful tool, but it is not without its risks.

One of the primary risks of ad hoc reporting is that users may not have a thorough understanding of the data they are working with, which can lead to incorrect assumptions or conclusions. You can't ensure that data sets used in ad hoc reports are being used properly. You also can't guarantee that the data hasn't changed from the source. It can be easy to misinterpret data or inadvertently pull incorrect data, which can often happen when a data pro is not in charge of pulling the key data.

In addition, ad hoc reporting often lacks standardized rules and processes, making it difficult to maintain quality. Of course, the main perception is that ad hoc reporting is a form of “shadow IT” in organizations.

However, this can be mediated by finding ways to work together. The best case is that data teams are enabling other teams with easily accessible data that can be exported and used in different tools for ad hoc reporting purposes. There is a long way to go to enable this vision, but it is a vision we believe in at Superchart.

Enabling ad hoc reporting will often create data sets and reports that are outside the control of the data team, but the upside is that stakeholders can feel more in control and informed.

In Conclusion

Ad hoc reporting is a powerful way for non-technical teams to make sense of critical business data and answer specific questions. There are risks associated with ad hoc reporting, but the benefits far outweigh the risks. Ad hoc reporting enables users everywhere to have more control over the data and leads to better contextual insights. Superchart believes in the vision of enabling ad hoc reporting so that stakeholders can feel more in control and informed.

If you want to include Airtable visualizations or charts on Google Sheets data in your next ad hoc report, be sure to try Superchart for free.

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