Ad hoc reporting defined

In the September issue of Database Magazine an article was published written by a former colleague of mine and myself about ad hoc reporting. Our aim was to define this type of BI and get around all kinds of fuzzy definitions and wordings used by the industry. Ask any BI-professional to define, and you’ll probably end-up with as many definitions. So to come around this problem, we took the initiative to dive into this kind of use and see if we could find any pattern. The findings of this study are briefly presented here (the’re the same as in the article, which was written in Dutch).

To come up with a description and eventually a definition, we first sat with the actual users who we’re involved in this kind of work. Step by step we walked through their daily practice to see and analyze what they were doing. Typical users were analists, researchers and controllers: people who’s daily work consists of working with data, often using Excel to support it. This case research yielded the following characteristics:

  1. For ad hoc analysis & reporting (this is the term we used to denote this process),  the entire BI-development cycle is walked through: gathering data from diverse sources, integrating and preparing the data, conducting analysis, generating a report with the analysis results, distributing it to relevant stakeholders and providing follow-up analysis and consultancy upon the results.
  2. It is the end user who does this by himself; there’s hardly any involvement from an IT-department or BICC.
  3. A mix of data sources is used: data warehouse and operational, internal and external, formal and informal, structured and unstructured
  4. There’s a degree a manual intervention involved. In at least one of the cycle-steps, the user applies specific knowledge or skills he or she posesses.
  5. The cycle is iterative. Often, multiple iterations are involved to produce the desired output.

The obvious next question is why the ad hoc process is used in the first place and exhibits the characteristics described above. We have identified the following reasons:

  1. To answer one-off or low-frequent management questions
  2. To prototype new BI-reports
  3. Time to market: answering questions on a very short notice
  4. To periodically produce frequently requested information: this kind of use was encountered in small BI-environments, where the ad hoc process may be the only way to deliver output.

With the definition given here, a much better assessment can be made how and where to use ad hoc reporting in your organization and select the appropriate tooling to support it.

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Posted in Ad hoc query & reporting

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